[If you haven’t seen Parts 1 & 2 I hope you’ll take a quick look at them for context. These posts are a cursory glance at Luke 10 and three key components to a balanced walk with Jesus. I introduced it in Part 1 and talked about being “missional” in Part 2. Based on the Good Samaritan Parable in this post I talk a bit about being “merciful.” Hope it’s meaningful.]
I’m embarrassed to admit that while as a pastor I had taught the Good Samaritan Parable on several occasions over the years, I had very little understanding about how to apply it in my top dog social status as a white middle class American male who’s never faced a day of injustice in my privileged life. I simply had a blind spot in my view of one of the things that is quite important to the Lord – there was a hole in my holiness (probably tons of them). I’ve learned that, like the Pharisees, I should never underestimate my power to be wrong about God and what he wants.
In the last few years, Micah 6:8 made it to my short list of favorite verses: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” If you want to know what pleases God start where he starts, not on doing church, doing worship, doing evangelism, doing leadership, or even doing good preaching; but with doing justly. Even a cursory reading of the Gospels will yield the deduction that Jesus almost always sided with the least, the last, and the lost. I like what someone said that we should be “the church in the heart of the community with the community at heart.”
He taught that when (not “if”) we feed the hungry, show hospitality to the roofless, give clothes to the inadequately clothed, look after the sick and visit the jailed; since he’s so closely identified with “the least,” we are doing these things for him – Matthew 25. Mother Teresa equated the ministry of her Sisters of Mercy among the poorest of the poor in Calcutta with serving Christ “in the distressing disguise of the poor.”
I came to realize that as a comfortable suburbanite I couldn’t very well see Jesus in the hungry person if I never went to the neighborhoods where hungry people live. Most Christians know a lot of statistics about poverty but they don’t know any poor people. In the past few years I’ve been on a quest to remedy this in my own life. I’m now honored to call many roofless people in San Francisco true friends.
The Bible “expert” knew he should love God and his neighbor, but by asking for a clarification on the exact meaning of “neighbor,” he attempted an escape from any actual responsibility on his part to love anyone he didn’t want to love. “Who is my neighbor? Cuz’ I don’t want to love anyone more than I have to. My neighborhood only extends to… I don’t have to love people on the other side of town, do I? They aren’t like us. They’re darker than us, their houses are run down, and I can’t understand them when they talk. I’ve worked all my life to be able to live in my neighborhood, it’s just not natural to have friends over there.”
He was more interested in knowing who his neighbor wasn’t that who it was. He had an enormous list of the kind of people that he didn’t love and didn’t want to love. He had to know who he was required to love so he could love as few people as necessary.
At the top of his “People I Don’t Have To Love List” were Samaritans. Then Jesus went and made a Samaritan (“Sam”) the hero of the short story. “Sam” didn’t stand there and examine his list of neighbors. He saw a need and met it, which made him the bleeding guy’s neighbor. That the hated guy acted neighborly showed that “Who is my neighbor?” is the wrong question. It should be, “Who can I treat in a neighborly way? How can I be the best possible neighbor to people who come from other neighborhoods?” Not to go on and on about this, but with the world shrunk down to a computer screen or iPhone, it’s now possible to treat people from all over the planet in a neighborly way. I’m just saying…
There’s no doubt that some Christians are so attracted to social justice that their gospel is nothing but social and their worship virtually non-existent. “Social action without prayer and conversion to the Lord,” wrote Mary Poplin in Finding Calcutta: What Mother Teresa Taught Me About Meaningful Work and Service lacks power and the ability to produce long-lasting change in the socio-economic conditions of the poor.” She went on to say, “Likewise prayer and evangelism without social action leads to pietistic withdrawal from the realities of the human condition and an escape from social problems rather than a confrontation and challenge to change.”
Can you name one or more friends, or at least acquaintances, of yours who are poor? By poor I mean “roofless” or inadequately housed, fed, and clothed. If you can’t, you might think about getting out of your own neighborhood more often to find neighbors in other neighborhoods who fit this description – not just for “drive-by ministry tourism,” but for actual friendship.
Is your church active in social justice? Does it do what the Samaritan did? Please feel free to pass this post on to others in order to light at least a spark of interest in reaching out to the poor in your community and beyond.
A couple of books for a jump start in mercy ministry:
- Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne
- Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Ronald Sider
- Make Poverty Personal, Ash Barker