The Cost Of Loving A Neighbor


The_Good_Samaritan007Once upon a time “roadside assistance” consisted of some kind stranger stopping to help a person in need. I grew up watching my dad pull over to help a needy motorist with a flat tire or to give him a lift to the nearest gas station.

Once when we were crossing the desert (The Great American Desert, somewhere between Los Vegas and LA), my sister called for my dad to stop the car. She’d seen a little boy on the side of the road, she said. The “little boy” turned out to be a young man, but he was indeed out in the desert alone. With some hesitancy my dad agreed to invite him to join us.

Those were, in fact, changing times, when hitchhikers might actually be robbers or worse. The common wisdom had shifted. Motorists were to be wary of strangers. Someone who looked like she was in need of help might actually be bait for nefarious schemers planning to take advantage of kindhearted people.

More and more, “kindhearted people” began to disappear.

Now it is news when a stranger acts selflessly on behalf of someone in need, when a “finder” doesn’t turn out to be a “keeper” but a “returner” instead.

What society seemed to discover was that there was a cost to helping others. Not only were fewer and fewer willing to pay the price, we actually had public service announcements warning us not to try to be heroes. Don’t try to stop the robber or pick up the hitchhiker. Let the professionals handle it. Because getting involved is costly.

Then came the day when Kitty Genovese was murdered in New York with thirty-eight witnesses ignoring her screams for help. She lived for fifty minutes after the first attack. A more recent retelling of the event suggests that only fourteen people actually witnessed the attack and that several phoned the police, to no avail. Still, the horrific event stirred people’s conscience and had them asking whether we had become too disconnected from each other.

Some have even referred to the case as the antithesis to the Good Samaritan.

Which is precisely the point.

Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan in answer to the question, Who is my neighbor? The story revealed that the hated Samaritan who went out of his way, spent his own money, risked his own life, made himself religiously unclean, was in fact the one who acted like a neighbor to the mugging victim.

Loving a neighbor costs. Sometimes in rich western societies, it’s easy to throw money at hurting people. Certainly money can be a help to someone who can’t pay the rent or who doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from. But I wonder if that isn’t the easy out. We can write a check and don’t have to get our hands dirty or our schedule disrupted.

The fact is, the needy person might not be a random stranger, but the person across the street. The help might be weekly visits to a lonely person or doing grocery shopping for someone elderly. It might be volunteering to mow a lawn or to take on the watering. It’s hard to think about adding someone else’s needs to our own already overly busy schedule. How can we possibly love our neighbors as we love ourselves when we really don’t have time to do all we know we should be doing in our own family? After all, love costs, and sometimes the price just seems too high. After all, those people across the street are strangers . . .

Published in: on August 14, 2015 at 6:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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Love Is . . .


512px-Homeless_ManSome while ago, in the atheist/theist Facebook discussion group I’m in, someone asked how we defined love. Interestingly, the atheists who answered said love was a feeling. Christians who answered said love was an action.

I don’t want to make too much of the difference because only a small sampling of each answered the question. But it has started me thinking a little more about what we mean by love. After all love seems to be a pretty popular subject with, well, just about everyone except maybe eight-year-old little boys.

From time to time I mention the commandments Jesus identified as most important, and both mention love: first we are to love God, then we are to love our neighbors. Here’s how Matthew records it:

One of [the Pharisees], a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:35-40)

From the context and from the story that Jesus told, recorded in Luke, explaining who a neighbor is—a story we call the Good Samaritan in which a man takes care of a mugging victim—it seems clear that on this level, love is not a feeling.

It is possible to have a loving feeling for the neighbor who gives you flowers or invites you to dinner or who washes your car for you unexpectedly. It’s possible to become best friends with a neighbor, and in that case, there are likely emotions attached—the brotherly love we experience when we care about someone.

But love your neighbor as your self? That seems to go beyond the average, warm, caring response to a person in your community.

And the story Jesus told put the neighbor tag on the man who acted on behalf of a stranger—in all likelihood, a stranger who despised him. Although Jesus didn’t specifically say the mugging victim was a Jew, he was on a road in Jewish territory. I’m guessing the Samaritan wasn’t thinking, I bet that’s one of my countrymen. I need to help him. Rather, he saw a person in need. Not a countryman. Not a man with religious views like his—or different from his. And certainly not a man who deserved what he got because he foolishly walked into a trap.

The Samaritan took care of the wounded man, put him on his own animal (which meant he was now walking), took him to an inn, and paid for his extended care. He even promised to give more money if needed.

Remember, this was the story Jesus told as an illustration of neighborly love.

This kind of love seems to be all action, not emotion. In fact the action takes place without relationship. There’s no clear idea that the mugging victim was conscious during the entire time. He might have been. But whether he was or wasn’t, whether he was grateful or wasn’t, whether he promised to repay the Good Samaritan or didn’t, never factored into the way the neighbor acted.

He wasn’t doing a good deed in hopes he’d receive a good deed. He wasn’t repaying a good deed that someone had done for him. He wasn’t even paying one forward. He acted, regardless of the consequences to him personally, because someone needed help.

Of course, the tendency is to think, well, OK, I can commit to helping strangers out in dire trouble. If I’d been at the train crash site in Philadelphia, I’d help. Or if I saw someone fall onto the subway tracks, I’d help. If I came across a man trapped in his car by the cement truck that overturned, I’d be part of the rescue team.

Most of us won’t ever encounter those kinds of extreme circumstances, so are we off the hook? We don’t have to love the way Jesus was talking about because we aren’t coming across mugging victims.

We are coming across people who are different from us, though—maybe different in age or gender or culture or language. Or religion. The challenge that Jesus’s story gives us is to love the people around us who we wouldn’t “naturally” love, who don’t engender the emotion we normally associate with brotherly love.

Because we don’t have a lot of dealings with people who are different than we are, perhaps the first act we can take is to pray. We may spot a homeless person or see someone of a different ethnicity, we may watch a gang of high schoolers strolling down the sidewalk, and we can pray. It’s possible God will show us what we are to do next. But even if He doesn’t give us something more to do at that moment, we’ll soon discover a shift in our hearts. It’s hard to pray for someone and not care about them. Praying changes us, changes our attitudes.

We might even find that suspicion and anger and fear and mistrust melt away in the presence of God’s love which He infuses into our hearts. Who knows but our action might turn into emotion. Love has a way of becoming more than what we expect.

Published in: on May 13, 2015 at 6:23 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Cost Of Loving A Neighbor


The_Good_Samaritan007Once upon a time “roadside assistance” consisted of some kind stranger stopping to help a person in need. I grew up watching my dad pull over to help a needy motorist with a flat tire or to give him a lift to the nearest gas station.

Once when we were crossing the desert (The Great American Desert, somewhere between Los Vegas and LA), my sister called for my dad to stop the car. She’d seen a little boy on the side of the road, she said. The “little boy” turned out to be a young man, but he was indeed out in the desert alone. With some hesitancy my dad agreed to invite him to join us.

Those were, in fact, changing times, when hitchhikers might actually be robbers or worse. The common wisdom had shifted. Motorists were to be wary of strangers. Someone who looked like she was in need of help might actually be bait for nefarious schemers planning to take advantage of kindhearted people.

More and more, “kindhearted people” began to disappear.

Now it is news when a stranger acts selflessly on behalf of someone in need, when a “finder” doesn’t turn out to be a “keeper” but a “returner” instead.

What society seemed to discover was that there was a cost to helping others. Not only were fewer and fewer willing to pay the price, we actually had public service announcements warning us not to try to be heroes. Don’t try to stop the robber or pick up the hitchhiker. Let the professionals handle it. Because getting involved is costly.

Then came the day when Kitty Genovese was murdered in New York with thirty-eight witnesses ignoring her screams for help. She lived for fifty minutes after the first attack. A more recent retelling of the event suggests that only fourteen people actually witnessed the attack and that several phoned the police, to no avail. Still, the horrific event stirred people’s conscience and had them asking whether we had become too disconnected from each other.

Some have even referred to the case as the antithesis to the Good Samaritan.

Which is precisely the point.

Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan in answer to the question, Who is my neighbor? The story revealed that the hated Samaritan who went out of his way, spent his own money, risked his own life, made himself religiously unclean, was in fact the one who acted like a neighbor to the mugging victim.

Loving a neighbor costs. Sometimes in rich western societies, it’s easy to throw money at hurting people. Certainly money can be a help to someone who can’t pay the rent or who doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from. But I wonder if that isn’t the easy out. We can write a check and don’t have to get our hands dirty or our schedule disrupted.

The fact is, the needy person might not be a random stranger, but the person across the street. The help might be weekly visits to a lonely person or doing grocery shopping for someone elderly. It might be volunteering to mow a lawn or to take on the watering. It’s hard to think about adding someone else’s needs to our own already overly busy schedule. How can we possibly love our neighbors as we love ourselves when we really don’t have time to do all we know we should be doing in our own family? After all, love costs, and sometimes the price just seems too high. After all, those people across the street are strangers . . .

Published in: on April 11, 2013 at 7:02 pm  Comments Off on The Cost Of Loving A Neighbor  
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