One of the highlights of my summer every year for the last decade and change has been joining young people from around the country to serve the folks in various communities with an organization called Mission Serve.
“Mission Serve seeks to strengthen neighborhoods by partnering with organizations and empowering individuals to address physical, spiritual and emotional needs through volunteerism and community involvement.”
To put it in more simple terms, Mission Serve creates opportunities for young people to be the hands and feet of Jesus to “neighbors” all over the country. They provide opportunities for people to put the great commandment of Jesus into practice: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind … Love your neighbor as yourself.”
During one of our evening worship services, we focused on a parable of Jesus known as The Good Samaritan. In the story, a man is traveling from one city to another. On the way, he is attacked, robbed, badly beaten and left half-dead on the side of the road.
As it would happen, a priest came traveling down that same road. Rather than stopping to help the battered man, the priest takes a wide berth around him and continues on his way.
A short time later, a Levite makes his way down the same road. He, too, takes great pains to avoid interacting with the injured man and continues on his way.
Finally, a Samaritan happens upon the hurt man. The Samaritan takes pity on the man. He stops, cleans and bandages the man’s wounds, puts him on his own ride, takes him to a nearby inn and pays for hospitality and medical care for the man. Jesus then asks a question: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man?”
The answer is as clear to us today as it was to Jesus’s original audience. The neighbor was the one who graciously and sacrificially served the man in need.
What strikes me about this story is how exceptional it makes serving others seem. I mean, really, did the Samaritan do anything other than act with basic human decency and kindness? Why is it that compassionately serving the needs of others is an exception and not the expectation?
These questions are extremely pertinent to those of us who claim to be Christians. Jesus said we would be known by our love. Are we? Or do we find ourselves falling into the same trap as the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, the same holier-than-thou religious leaders that Jesus lampoons in his story?
We are rightly appalled by the inaction of the priest and the Levite in the story. Basic human decency demands that we make some sort of effort to help the hurting when they are right in front of our faces.
I wonder, however, if our attitudes and actions aren’t more consistent with those of the priest and Levite. How often do we see the hurting person on the side of the road panhandling or the family with the flat tire on the side of the road or the single parent struggling to make ends meet or the addict fighting to overcome and rather than reaching out to help we turn a blind eye and try to pass by on the other side?
To my own shame, I have been the priest or the Levite more often than I’d care to admit. Not only have I failed to act with the sacrificial love and service becoming a follower of Jesus, I’ve failed to act with basic neighborliness.
It is always inspiring to see youth and adults from all over the country come together to serve neighborhoods in the name of Jesus. But I long for a day when what I see at Mission Serve is every day and ordinary for Christians of all ages in my community.
We are to share the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in both word and deed every day. We are to take up our cross and follow the example of Jesus. Sacrificially loving others should be the expectation, not the exception.
The good Samaritan wasn’t a super hero. He was just a regular guy who acted with basic human decency and compassion. He acted like a good neighbor. Let us heed the words of Jesus and “Go and do likewise.”
The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at jeremysmyers.com. Send comments to [email protected].