One of the basic facts of human existence is that we all experience changes of mood. Our moods take place with other people around. If we are feeling argumentative, we will argue with someone. If we feel affectionate, there’s a high likelihood that we will display that affection. If we feel judgmental, often someone is feeling judged. If we are in a supportive mood, someone is being comforted. The net result is that we have an effect on those around us. Our moods and attitudes, and the choices that we make because of them, make a difference in the lives of others.
Remember the Bible story of the Good Samaritan? It teaches us about how we as individuals, and as believers, affect people by the way we respond to them. It also serves to remind us of how we need to help people when they are in desperate need. It reminds us of the need to consider our responsibility to take care of others, our neighbors. So who is our neighbor? Jesus answered that question in Luke 10:29-37. “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
The Jews typically interpreted “neighbor,” meaning “one who is near,” in terms of members of the same people and religious community, that is, fellow Jews. The Pharisees tended to exclude “ordinary people” from their definition. In Jesus parable he used an example of a priest and a Levite because they were well known figures in society. They believed that under the Levitical law they did not have any obligation to help the injured man. They placed religious purity over helping a person who was perhaps still alive, which is gross hard-heartedness and selfishness. Walking on the other side of the road displays a deliberate “I don’t want to know!” attitude. The less they saw about the man’s condition, the less they would feel obligated to help him. After all, he might be dead that then there would be nothing they could be obligated to do. Our modern-day equivalent of this attitude is, “I don’t want to get involved.” The Samaritan, on the other hand, binds up the wounds, gave him first aid, provided supplies to cleanse and soothe the man’s wounds, gave his own clothing to bandage him, his own animal to carry him while the Samaritan himself walked, his own money to pay for his care, and his own reputation and credit to vouch for any further expenses the man’s care would require. Jesus brings home his point when He asks the lawyer which of the three proved to be a neighbor to the wounded man, and the lawyer is forced to reply, “The one who had mercy on him.” The lawyer began by asking for a definition of “neighbor” in order to justify limiting his love to his fellow Jews only. Jesus doesn’t define “neighbor” in so many words, but his story makes it clear that our neighbor is whoever has a need. It doesn’t matter who they are. Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves knows no self-satisfying limits. Jesus wasn’t content just to define what “neighbor” meant. He commands us to do as the Samaritan does, to show mercy to our fellow man who is in need.
Our motivation for doing good as Christians must be our love for others, our interest in meeting their basic needs, and a heart of mercy that is moved by compassion. We need to examine our own hearts to determine what motivates us. When “push comes to shove” do I put myself first, or do I put the needs of others first in the name of Jesus? “Only one life will soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
Robert Andrews, Ph.D.