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What Does a Modern-Day Good Samaritan Look Like?

What Does a Modern-Day Good Samaritan Look Like?

Lots of us are familiar with Jesus’ Good Samaritan story in the tenth chapter of Luke. It’s about an injured man who needed help on the side of the road and how two people merely walked by him before a Samaritan man finally stopped to help.

Tucked around this story like two pieces of bread around a cheese and turkey sandwich are two questions whose distinctions we can miss at first glance. They seem the same on the surface, but they’re different in how they were asked and who asked them. First, an expert in rabbinical law who had just asked Jesus how to live forever and was told to love his neighbor said, “Who is my neighbor?” That’s the first question, and Jesus responded with the Good Samaritan story before even asking the second question, “Who was the neighbor?”

I imagine the first question was asked with a posture of challenge, the speaker sitting back in a comfy chair, arms crossed. It’s almost a non-question question. You know, the rhetorical gotcha type of question. It was asked by a man who might have been trying to get out of being empathetic. Or compassionate. Or perhaps to preserve his comfortable way of life by asking how much is just enough to be enough of a neighbor.

Jesus, however, asked the second question after he told a story about doing something, after someone had been a neighbor. “Who was the neighbor?” is in the past tense, asked after something was acted on. This is a question not of a posture but of a lived experience. If the expert in the law was trying to wrangle out of neighboring more than just enough, Jesus was showing us what it looked like to be a neighbor wholly. With compassion and abundance. With a withness toward the man needing help.

Do you see the difference in postures? Worldviews? Starting places and actions? If you look closer at the passage, the most important difference is one of centering. At the center of both questions is a person in need on the side of the road. In other words, the centering is around someone on the margins. The differentiation between who neighbored and who didn’t is around, is centering on, that man. And a Levite and a priest, both of whom symbolized positions of power and privilege at the time, ignored him.

Let’s focus on the centering in the story, because I think that holds the key to changing us into being a neighbor rather than our simply trying to be good enough.

What Does Centering Mean?

We don’t often use the word centering. The first time that word made sense to me in an understanding that seeped deep into my bones was the result of a dream I had in high school. I didn’t and still don’t often have these types of dreams, but this one has stuck with me.

In my dream, a large crowd of religious people in long robes had formed a circle and were looking inward at one another, shouting and raising their hands in frustration. Although I don’t remember what the argument was about, I do remember it was about something religious, like debating Scripture or doctrine. Not far from them sat a woman with messy, filthy hair, wearing dirty clothes. She looked poor or sick and was perhaps both. Then Jesus walked into the scene. He looked at the crowd, then immediately moved to sit next to the woman, putting His arm around her. Jesus centered her, not the crowd.

It would be years before I told anyone — my husband — about that dream. And now I’m telling you. That was my first understanding of what centering looks like, and it’s been in my bones ever since.

  • Centering is what we give our attention to, what we focus on, what compels us.

The Good Samaritan story shows us that centering on our neighbors requires us to shift our attention and focus toward our neighbors. It’s a way of being rather than doing, and Jesus used the question of who was being a neighbor to illustrate this to us.

In practical terms, being a neighbor is going beyond simply doing good acts like giving food to the local food pantry a few times a year or making a monthly donation to an organization that serves orphaned children in countries we never visit. Neighboring means we go beyond those acts of doing to becoming people of being. That means we donate the food and give the money — and also.

We take a hard look at how we’re spending the rest of our money. We examine what we’re giving our attention to on social media or the news to determine if we’re centered too much on the loud voices there and miss the voice of Jesus. We choose the people we spend time with wisely, knowing that sometimes racist remarks can seep in to become a part of us too. In other words, we become people of neighboring.

What and who we surround ourselves with and give our attention to highlights what we center around. Is it our neighbors?

Actions of Faith

After two religious leaders walked by the needy person on the side of the road, a Samaritan man stopped, took care of the injured man’s medical needs, and then paid for him to stay at a hotel to recuperate. We can see that the centering happens around the person in need. In other words, the underlying command to love thy neighbor was the central point of Jesus’ story, displayed by action and deed, not simply by words.

From the get-go, the command love thy neighbor has been like a verb, an action.

Not a suggestion, a hashtag, or a bumper sticker. Again, asking who the neighbor was indicates someone in the story had acted like one, and I think Jesus Himself was centering the story around the act of neighboring.

Have you ever heard the saying that people will know us by our fruit? How we live, how we spend, to whom we listen, how we talk are all the fruit of whatever we’ve chosen to center on. For the Good Samaritan, caring for the man by bandaging his wounds and paying for his food and lodging was the outward display — the fruit — of his inward centering. His centering on the neighbor showed his heart and his faith. Maybe that’s what James meant when he wrote,

  • Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

So what does it mean to be a modern-day Good Samaritan? To me, it’s recognizing who is on the side of the proverbial road in the margins of poverty, health care access, or anything else that others people, and then centering on them to do something about it. This also means examining ideas like privilege, power, politics, and people. Ideologies and identities. With humility and courage.

Adapted with permission from The Science of the Good Samaritan: Thinking Bigger about Loving Our Neighbors by Dr. Emily Smith.

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Your Turn

How do you think you would have responded to Jesus? How do you respond today to invitations to be a good Samaritan? We want to be known for good fruit, don’t we? Lord, help us to recognize those in the margins and respond according to Your lead! ~ Devotionals Daily