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The cost of being the Good Samaritan... or of walking on by

July 8, 2014 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

Posted in: Love

“In reply Jesus said: ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.' ‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’ (Luke 10:30-37)

Ken was a high school classmate of mine, although we were not in the same circle of friends. He was what we would have referred to as a nerd – smart, but socially awkward and not very popular. Since graduation, he had probably never crossed my mind until he called me out of the blue three years ago. He had found me on Facebook, saw that I was a pastor, and wanted to talk, as he was in the process of going through a painful divorce, amidst other life challenges. We talked on a semi-regular basis, had lunch a couple of times, and I encouraged him over that time to come to Fight Club, our men’s group at NewLife. Eventually he came twice to Fight Club, but despite my invitations and the invitations of other men in the group, he never returned.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus gives an example about how loving our neighbor often involves risking our safety, as well as sacrificing our time, energy, and possessions, in order to care for a person in need. It is easy to ignore the suffering person and walk on by, as the priest and Levite did. It is hard to stop and get entangled in the suffering of another human being. For those of us who choose to get involved, it is also challenging to navigate boundary issues. We only have so much time to give, so much energy to expend, and so many material possessions to give away. How do we know when to say “no”? When does care turn into enabling? In Jesus’ story, what if the injured man required hospitalization and significant time and expense in order to get healed? What if he was crippled for life? Would the Good Samaritan continue to come back and fund his care?

As someone whose job includes pastoral care, I struggle with navigating those boundary issues. In my relationship with Ken, I struggled with the number of phone calls he made to me, especially when they seemed to be purposeless. I struggled with his lack of motivation to go to Fight Club, to get involved in a community that might help him get through his life challenges. I felt the pull to minister to people who were a part of the church and not spend so much time on one person who was not in the church. And so, in the end, I began to invest less time and energy into Ken, eventually ignoring his calls altogether.

On Monday, I received word that Ken had passed away. Although I don’t know the cause of death, I fear that the pain of life and his own depression caused him to take his own life. Receiving this news just one day after preaching on the Good Samaritan and the call to not walk by those who are suffering is difficult. I know that I am not responsible for Ken’s death, but his death is a challenge to be thoughtful and discerning about how we care for those who are suffering. The fact remains that one person can not care for every person in need. But God has not called us to live in isolation, but to be His church. How can we as His church, and how can I as the person He has called to pastor this particular church, truly be like the Good Samaritan, loving our neighbors in their times of need and not walking on by, hoping that they will be able to pick themselves up and move along?

Our world is full of people like Ken, struggling to face the challenges of their life, bruised and beaten on the side of the road. God has called his church to love as He loved, to be willing to be poured out for the healing of others, just as He gave His life for us. May we take seriously this call, and have His wisdom and His heart so that we might love our neighbors in their time of need.

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