It is easy to come away from the story of the Good Samaritan feeling overwhelmed. I mean, how can I show mercy to everyone that I encounter who is in need? Even acknowledging that such mercy will be inconvenient, persistent, messy, and personal, if I try to emulate all that the Samaritan did with every homeless or needy person that I come across – not just giving them a few dollars, but committing to help them get back on their feet — Wow! I doubt I can successfully do that with one, much less every one that I encounter.
So, what do I do with the story of the Good Samaritan? Is it just a nice story that has no real application to my life? Selectively apply it at times and in ways that seem suitable to me? Or do I risk homelessness myself to take on every needy person I meet?
As someone committed to following Christ, I can do no less than seek to emulate Him. If I want to know how He intended these principles to apply, I need only look at His life. Of all who have ever walked the face of the earth, only Jesus lived in perfect integrity. His walk, and the principles He taught were one.
So, what do we find in Jesus’ life? Well, a thorough investigation of that would require a book. Probably a very large one. But a couple of examples come to mind.
Let’s start with the story of the man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-17ff). In the story, there is a pool in Jerusalem where a multitude of sick, blind, lame, and withered lay. Out of this multitude, Jesus chooses one man to heal. Given the ruckus that this created, it seems pretty clear that Jesus didn’t heal all the others. While there is much more to this story, it is clear that even Jesus did not attempt to solve the problems of every needy person He encountered.
A second story, found in Mark 1:29-45, gives us even more insight. While He is in Capernaum, Jesus’ comes to Peter‘s home, where he finds Peter’s mother-in-law sick, and heals her. As a result, people began bringing the sick and demon-possessed for Him to heal, so that “the whole city had gathered at the door”.
The next morning, Jesus gets up before daylight, and finds a private place to get alone with the Father in prayer. Peter and company come looking for him, and finding him, say, “Everyone is looking for you.” In his account, Luke says the crowds tried to keep Jesus from leaving (Luke 4:42). What did they want? Clearly, there were more needs they wanted Him to meet. But note Jesus’ response, “I must preach the Kingdom of God to other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.” (Luke 4:43). So, He moves on to other cities in Galilee “preaching and casting out demons”.
In His travels, He encounters a leper, and moved by compassion, heals him. But surprisingly, He tells the man to keep it a secret. Of course, the former leper does not. He tells everybody. As a result, Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but had to stay out in the wilderness. Even with that, people were coming to Him from everywhere.
So, what can we learn about loving others from Jesus’ example in this story?
- In the midst of what appeared to be a prime opportunity for ministry, Jesus made time alone with the Father a priority. This kept Him focused on His mission of proclaiming the Kingdom of God.
- Jesus walked away from the opportunity to meet physical needs in order to fulfill His mission.
- The mission was not meeting physical needs, nor was the meeting of physical needs a platform for proclaiming the message. In fact, at times, it hindered the mission.
- Jesus response to physical needs was, at least partially, driven by His compassion, as He pursued His mission, even though such acts had the potential to complicate the mission.
From these, we can conclude that meeting needs is not our mission, but as we carry out the mission we must do so in the likeness of Christ. The mission tells us what we are to do, mercy and compassion tells us how we go about it. There is a balance here. The mission must remain the priority, but the pursuit of that mission must never cause us to loose our compassion for those we encounter on the way. The key to maintaining this balance involves time alone with the Father, receiving direction from Him. That is how we know who to help, and who to pass by.
One more element in this story that is worthy of our consideration – Jesus’ instruction to keep the healing a secret. But the investigation into that is significant enough to warrant a full discussion all its own next week.