ISIS rages on. Ebola statistics are finally falling, but many in Sierra Leone are still at risk. Evacuated Ukrainian families adjust to life away from home as the world looks to a cease-fire agreement for hope in ending the conflict.
The small corner of the world that I call home is not immune to tragedy. I don’t need to search for suffering; we are all confronted by it daily.
My Facebook feed is flooded with the sad stories of children who died too young and of the realities of sex trafficking in America. Homeless men and women sit in the local Walmart parking lot, even in the rural county where my parents live. I walk through a dialysis clinic and glance at the resigned faces–so many more than I expected–of those who spend hours here each week, depending on machines for survival.
So much need.
At the children’s hospital, the emotion of it all hits home. I look at the mothers waiting nervously in the waiting room, and I see myself. I look at the little children, their medical gear betraying that all is not well even as bright smiles shine through, and I see my own daughter.
Then there is the single mom, who does the job of two on her own. The widower who aches for what is lost. The child who longs for the love of a parent.
Sometimes the immensity of the heartbreak is such that we wonder what we could possibly do. The number of those who hurt is so many that we don’t know how to focus on any one person. The humanity of one is lost in a mass of adversity.
So we do nothing.
I do nothing.
But the worst response to suffering is the kind that sees nothing and does nothing. Because the worst of all pain is the kind carried alone, as if the weight of it is not significant enough for another person to take note.
I think of the times that I have taken time … to inquire, to extend companionship, or even just to say, “I care.”
I think of the times that a friend sat next to me in a hospital room as I watched my baby girl sleep, clutching a Sesame Street pillow sewn by someone else’s grandmother. I think of the casserolles that filled the fridge when we got home and of the sweet messages that waited in my inbox.
The truth is that no matter how great the need around us may be, it is possible to do something about it.
As long as we don’t pass the need by.
People who intervene on behalf of another have come to be known as “good samaritans.” This title comes from a parable that Jesus Christ told in answer to the question: “Who is my neighbor?” The account can be found in chapter 10 of the Gospel of Luke and tells the story of a Jewish man who was overtaken by robbers, beaten, and left for dead. Two religious men passed by on the other side of the road. Only the Samaritan–despite coming from a culture hated by the Jews–stopped to help. The Samaritan treated the man’s wounds, hoisted him onto his own animal, took him to an inn, and paid for continued care.
The story trencends culture, ethnicity and religion, zeroing in on the value of all human life and calling for all people to act in accordance with that value.
Five virtues can be found in the example of the Samaritan, and they function as a guide for any who would dare to travel through life without “passing by” the affliction of others.
1) Empathy: A Samaritan feels for all people, whatever their need and wherever they’ve come from.
We cannot meet every need, but we can refuse to become desensitized to the world around us. The Samaritan wasn’t halted by color or creed. He wasn’t turned away by the gruesome reality of physical suffering. He saw a human being and deeply felt his need.
2) Compassion: A Samaritan is moved by the desire to alleviate the suffering of another.
So often we feel sympathy and are even brought to tears, but we leave it to someone else to act while we remain handcuffed by complacency. The Samaritan identified with the victim’s pain, yes! But he didn’t stop there.
3) Selflessness: A Samaritan refuses to step over the pain of others to pursue selfish interests.
How many times do we forfeit the opportunity to help because we are focused on our own agenda and best interest? I cringe to think of how many hurting people I have passed by because of the tunnel-vision that allows me to go through day after day, only seeing what pertains to me and mine. No doubt, the Samaritan was traveling the road for a reason. He probably had something important to do at the end of his journey. But he stopped anyway.
4) Courage: A Samaritan sets aside security and comfort in an effort to embrace action.
The parable of the good Samaritan took place on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho–a dangerous and winding road, often riddled with robbers. By stopping to help, the Samaritan not only sacrificed what was expedient but also risked his own well-being. Today, we often put such a price on convenience and safety that we are not even willing to consider reaching out.
5) Preparedness: A Samaritan is never caught without something to give.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been presented with the chance to meet a need but wasn’t equipped to help. I’ve passed by the homeless, heart aching because I’d left the house without food or cash. I’ve rushed through the checkout line at Walmart, unprepared to offer a smile or kind word, because my cell phone had just rung. But the Samaritan carried with him the materials needed to treat the man’s wounds. He had an animal to provide transport and money to pay for a room at the inn. More importantly, he had a heart and mind that were present and prepared for the moment–something we can all offer if we choose.
So, “Who is my neighbor?” Perhaps the better question is, “Who am I?” I know who I want to be. Empathetic, compassionate, selfless, courageous, and prepared–this is the legacy I desire. I want to:
–See and take note. Feel and understand. Care and not ignore.
–Go beyond sympathy and be moved to do something.
–Set aside the pursuit of what I want, seeking to meet another’s need.
–Renounce comfort and fear to grab ahold of justice and hope.
–Step into the world each day with a backpack full of something to offer.
This is not an exaustive list of all that it will take to make a difference in the face of needs that can seem enormously overwhelming at times. Surely, none of us can do it alone. But casseroles and encourging notes, Sesame Street pillows and a shoulder to lean on–they matter!
I would do well to remember that. Would you?