Who is my Neighbor?: 5 Virtues of a Samaritan Traveler

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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?

photo credit: GoodSam14 via photopin (license)

When Politically Correct Isn’t Enough

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I didn’t feel qualified to write this post until I realized that if I don’t, I am part of the problem. I live 700 miles away from the turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri and don’t have celebrity or expertise to give credence to my words. I didn’t witness the shooting of yet another young black man by a white police officer, nor did I shoulder the weight borne by the grand jurors tasked with bringing justice to an emotionally laden situation. No, I am safe here with my blonde-haired, blue-eyed daughter–far from fear, far from protests, fires and looting.

But while prejudice in this country was once largely perpetuated by blatant forces like segregation, hate speech, and outright bigotry–now it seems the major culprits are more subtle:

  • ignorance- the forgotten fruit of the seeds of hatred planted decades and centuries ago
  • supremacy- the deeply rooted idea that “I” can be better than “him” or “her”
  • political correctness- which causes us to believe that diplomatic words can somehow mask arrogant hearts

And perhaps, the worst of them all …

SILENCE.

  • silence- knowing that something is not quite right and sweeping it under the rug anyway (because looking the other way is easier, and stopping to help build a bridge toward change is just too inconvenient)

*This is not to say that flagrant forms of racism do not still exist today, only that it has learned to hide, convincing some to believe there is no problem.

I am guilty of shrouding my own prejudices in silence. I have camouflaged them with socially acceptable words. I have also experienced ignorance first-hand as the mother of a child with a rare genetic disorder:

  • There was the time the Dairy Queen lady looked at my then 1-year-old in 3 month-sized clothing and asked, “What’s wrong with her?”
  • Or when I tried to explain to a family member about Olivia’s diagnosis, and she replied that “it must be because her dad is part black and you are part Indian.”
  • Then there was the lady who walked up to me without ever meeting me, looked at my daughter, and said, “It takes a special kind of parent.” (As if Olivia is a burden that only the strongest among us could bear.)
  • Finally, there are the people who ask me if I am going to have more children, only to cast a disapproving glance when I don’t automatically start talking about adoption and selective embryo implantation. (After all, knowing about the 25 percent chance of having another child with the disorder and getting pregnant anyway would be irresponsible.)

Do people not realize how much that way of thinking works to devalue the life of the child I already have? I’m thankful for the certainty that I have of my daughter’s worth in the eyes of God and for the many wonderful people who remind me again and again.

I’m not writing to defend policeman or victim, white or black. But Ferguson is the flashing arrow pointing to a problem we all need to recognize. The emotional pain that so many face is the symptom of a disease we can no longer ignore. It’s the tip of an iceberg that may appear harmless to some but is evidence of a greater threat–one with the ability to capsize communities and countries.

We have believed a lie.

The lie tells us that our worth is found in the things that make us different:  race, nationality, social and economic status, skin color, personality type, strengths, weaknesses, talents, and a host of other things.

We take the things that make us unique, and stack them up against the qualities of those around us. Then, we do the math to compute our own value and theirs. Whether we come up short or look like the cream of the crop, we are doing a disservice to ourselves and to the world.

Because diversity is the product of the endless creativity of the Master Artist. God never runs out of inspiration or makes something that is sub par.

My worth is not found in what makes me unique but in the One who uniquely created me. So there is no room for comparison, no platform for one creation to lord over another.

We were ALL created in the image of God.
We have ALL sinned.
We are ALL equally unable to overcome sin on our own.
We have ALL been offered a way out in the person of Jesus Christ.

If ignorance and supremacy are a gaping wound, political correctness is an inadequate band aid. The only cure for prejudice is truth spoken and embraced.The truth is that the only name God raised high is the name of Jesus. In that name, we are one:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”–Galatians 3:28

This verse is just one sample of God’s determination to tear down the walls and hierarchies we have built.

While we should recognize the beauty in our differences and even celebrate them, we must not use differences to judge ourselves better or worse than others. The all encompassing, in-discriminating love of God is equally available to all.

Things will change when everyday, average Americans like you and I choose to stop price-tagging ourselves and each other according to the differences we see. We will learn to give and receive real love when we recognize that diversity is the beautiful signature of ONE Creator, and that we have value simply because He chose to give us life.

Tolerance isn’t enough. Neither is being politically correct. Every person is a PERSON. Each one deserves the worth given him or her by God–the value that gave life and continues to offer unconditional love. When we fully invest our hearts in the worth that only God can give, we’ll be motivated by love to step beyond convenience–bearing the pain of another as our own and sharing in joy too.