Who’s My Neighbor? (Finale)
And a woman named Martha welcomed [Jesus] into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened … (Luke 10:38b-39–ESV).
Pondering the protagonist from Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan might cause one to take pause, ask–
Who is he … really?
Well, I can speak my thoughts concerning who he isn’t, and in doing so, I somehow feel better about myself. That’s just the honest truth, because too often I feel more like an antagonist–overwhelmed, bombarded with a barrage of opportunities with so many in need, worthy organizations to support, noble causes to promote. Defensively, I want to remind the world that the Samaritan was only presented with the needs of one man. One, for crying out loud! Unlike me, he didn’t have daily emails flooding his computer, requests for prayer and financial support. He wasn’t emptying snail-mail from his box nearly six days out of seven, thumbing through letters and advertisements, each a plea for pledges.
The one Jesus called a ‘good neighbor’ didn’t face a plethora of ministry opportunities, GoFundMe requests, and envelopes stuffed with complimentary stationary, address labels, and calendars containing photographs of disabled veterans, sick children, or inmates awaiting letters of encouragement–much of which arrives with return envelopes, where compassionate (obligated) recipients can conveniently send cash or checks
Am I alone in my bewilderment, too often crying out–
How can I do it all, Lord?
Because, quite honestly, I’m more like Expert who selfishly asks Jesus how he might inherit eternal life. Wanting to justify myself, it’s me who pridefully polishes my knuckles, chest puffed out, feeling I’ve hit the mark. “Oh yeah, and just who is my neighbor?” I ask, because, in truth, I know how I’ve recently donated to an honorable ministry and volunteered to take a meal to an elderly shut-in. Eternal life? Ha–In the bag!
But just as he desired more for Expert, Jesus wants more for me. For you too. Though he longs for us to spend eternity with him, he also offers true life here. Now. Hence, the story–about this merciful passerby who’s moved by compassion to tend the needs of the one wounded man, thus finding life by offering Life on the dusty road.
And that’s really what we want, isn’t it? To serve as Samaritan served–be Jesus’ hands and feet? But, unlike his, our dusty roads don’t merely possess one wounded man. Oh no! It seems we travel congested thoroughfares–the needs too many to count, let alone tend. There’s simply not enough time, energy, or resources to do it all.
It makes my head spin, until I stop, get quiet. Then, in the silence I think I hear the Lord’s sweet whisper from His word–
Be still and know … (Psalm 46:10).
Ah. To know–now that’s what I’m needing.
To know who to help.
To know how to help.
To know when to help.
To know where to help.
After all, that’s really what my heart longs to understand. Yours, too, I imagine.
In fact, isn’t that all God asks of us? To know. After all, not every opportunity is my opportunity, nor is every circumstance or situation mine to answer. If I attempt to say yes to every need, I’ll rob another of the opportunity to serve. I’ll be depleted of time and resources that perhaps God desires I invest elsewhere.
Interestingly, when Jesus told Expert the story of the Good Neighbor, the Samaritan was likely a fictitious character–not merely one man. Rather, he represented the many who were (are) merciful. Perhaps as Jesus spoke, he thought of the woman who, prior to his death, would wash his feet with her hair (John 12:1-3). Maybe the face of Simon of Cyrene, the man who would help carry the cross to ease Jesus’ burden, curled the corners of Jesus’ lips (Luke 23:26). Or maybe it was Joseph of Arimathea who would offer his untouched family tomb as a burial place for our Savior who flashed across Jesus’ mind (Luke 23:50-53).
Maybe, just maybe, he thought of you—when you answered the call to serve on a short-term mission. Or me—when I, along with my family, committed to sponsor a child from Honduras, to pray for her, write her letters, and pay a monthly fee that would merely cost us an extra few cups of Starbucks coffee.
Because Jesus, being Jesus, likely thought of any and all of those who’ve ever served another mercifully. With compassion, been his hands and feet to bring heaven here. Now.
But read on, dear friends—because immediately after Luke’s account of Jesus’ interaction with Expert, he writes about another encounter, and herein lies truth that must not be overlooked.
Jesus enters Bethany, the small village where his friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha live. Likely tired from his journey, hungry for physical bread, Jesus sits down to rest. Scurrying around, Martha becomes irritated with her sister–frustrated that she’s not helping her prepare the meal or serve the wine. Mary’s chosen, rather, to sit at her Savior’s feet—look up at him, eyes filled with love, and soak up all that he has to say. After all, this sister understands that even moments of silence with Jesus speak much, and her heart has come prepared to listen. To her, no preparation is more necessary, no service more worthy.
Jesus, seeing Martha’s frenzy, says to her—
Martha, Martha—you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen this, and it won’t be taken from her (Luke 10:41—paraphrased).
Yes, Mary knew that simply being still in Jesus’ presence—listening to and learning from him—was what she needed that she might go and serve appropriately, according to God’s perfect plan. To attempt to do otherwise, apart from him, is to spin one’s wheels and merely stir up dust—never being much good to anyone, not serving as one should.
By being still in God’s presence, one gains a clearer understanding of who and develops a more particular strategy for how he or she can serve as a Good Samaritan.
After all, we can’t be everything to everyone, but Jesus will certainly direct us to those to whom we’re to offer an added measure of mercy as we travel Life’s congested highways and byways. The key is sitting at Jesus’ feet and, like Mary, learning to listen.
Only then will one know the answer to the age-old question–
Who’s my neighbor?
Dear Jesus, there is much to learn about being a ‘good neighbor.’ Frankly, one can feel overwhelmed by the myriad of opportunities–many which tug on heart-strings, vie for our attention. Honestly, the list is endless, and there’s not enough time, energy, or resources to do everything. Please–remind us, as we quiet ourselves in Your presence, that You care more for each and every need than we ever could. Whisper to our listening hearts Your plan. Tell us who we’re to help. How we can help. When we should help … but also tell us when it’s not our job to help. Perhaps there are times when being a good neighbor means allowing someone else to step up and assist–that to do otherwise is to rob another of an opportunity. Mostly, help us be like Mary–who sat at Your feet, quieted herself in Your presence. Only then did she learn best how and to whom to serve. Oh, Jesus–The More I Seek You …