You remember the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus tells this story to help explain a question about how to receive eternal life. A man tells Jesus that he knows the way to receive eternal life is to “love your neighbor as yourself” but he goes on to ask “who is my neighbor?” He wanted to narrowly define the term neighbor. The command would be so much easier if we could exclude certain people from the definition of neighbor.
What group of people might we want to exclude today? I’m sure you can easily think of a couple of groups of people that are marginalized. Go ahead and substitute neighbor for something else, illegal immigrant, LGBTQ, Christian, Muslim, White, Black, really whatever group you don’t want around will suffice. Because, as we are about to find out, the real travesty in this story is a sin of omission.
Jesus illustrates his answer to the man by telling him the now popular story.
He tells him, a man was walking from Jerusalem to Jericho. The man was attacked by robbers and left to die on the side of the road. We are never told whether the man deserved his fate or not. We know the road was famous for being dangerous but his guilt or lack thereof doesn’t play into the importance of the story. In other words, the man that got beat up may have been at fault but that doesn’t stop him from being a neighbor.
Later the man was approached by a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan but only the Samaritan stops to help. To underscore, the man attacked was a Jew and the man helping him was a Samaritan. These two groups hated each other, it’s even been told that some Rabbis would instruct Jews not help a Samaritan woman in labor because if they succeeded all they would have done is helped bring another Samaritain into the world.
The help the Samaritan offered wasn’t a struggle to overcome weakness but struggle to overcome strength. The sin in this story doesn’t address where people are weak and are trying but where they are strong and not bothering. We are so concerned about the sins we commit while struggling that we forget the sins we commit without even bothering.
Who have you overlooked lately? What person that needs your help are you withholding it from? Who do you wish you could exclude from the definition of neighbor? If the way to eternal life is loving your neighbor as yourself, then maybe it’s time to stop avoiding them. After all, it’s pretty hard to love someone you don’t know.
Johnathan Coker is one of the founders of Enspire Productions.