As a teenager, I liked to take construction paper and dry erase markers or colored pencils and create pictures with profound quotes like favorite scripture verses or something I read in a book or heard on the radio. Unlike now, there were no computers with search engines, to quickly track down any words of wisdom so they came from the world around me. Needless to say, the Internet, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook now provide me with a much easier way to find quips from all sorts of online resources. Recently, I posted a picture of Mother Teresa, which also contained one of her quotes, “Do things for people not because of who they are or what they do in return, but because of who you are.” Facebook has a way to track this post to see how many people visit my page. So far it has reached over to 29,000 people and viewers have shared it close to 400 times already. It seems to me that even though Mother Teresa has died, her message about caring for others still resonates with people. On social media, her wise words have been shared by many people but I wonder if the people who read them, like them and share them, understand what her words truly mean?
Mother Teresa’s words are particularly meaningful to me in light of the recent events that has happened in our communities. Following the deadly events that have transpired nationwide, the TV and social media are filled with feelings of criticism, mistrust, anger and frustration on so many levels that I will not even attempt to address them here. Instead, I would like to better understand how could we bring the good sister’s meaningful words to life in our ordinary lives. One of the best-known examples of serving others is found in the biblical parable called the Good Samaritan found in the Gospel of Luke (10:25-37). It is a story of a conversation between Jesus and a lawyer and the search for eternal life. The lawyer asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Instead of answering him, Jesus asks him what the Law of Moses states. He was a lawyer, after all, so he knew the Law. He replied correctly that the Law’s instructions was to love God with all his heart, soul and mind and to love his neighbor as much as he loved himself. Jesus commends him on his answer but the young man was not satisfied so he then asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Again, instead of answering him, Jesus tells him a story of a man who was attacked and left for dead on the road near Jerusalem. Following the attack, two religious leaders moved past the man on the opposite side of road in order to avoid being in contact with the man. The third person to arrive, on the scene, was a Samaritan man who was culturally hated by the Jews. The lawyer would be very aware that the Samaritans were hated because of some of their religious practices and intermarriages, which the Jews viewed as defiling the Law. According to Jesus, the Samaritan stopped to assist the man, dressed his wounds, gave him a ride on his animal and took him to a nearby inn for healing. He then paid for his care while also agreeing to pay any outstanding debts that might occur by his next visit. Once the story was finished, Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which one of these three men acted like a neighbor?” The lawyer had to confess that it was the Samaritan, not the religious leaders, who acted like a neighbor.
I have read this parable many times, and have always identified the injured man as the neighbor in this story. In my interpretation, I thought Jesus was teaching the lawyer a lesson in caring for someone just like the Samaritan did. This makes sense to me. When people need our assistance, the right thing to do is help them with their need. I believe that most of us are willing to assist others right? Imagining the injured man as the neighbor answers the lawyer’s question about who is his neighbor might be. However that was not the question that Jesus asked him. He asked the lawyer, “Which one of these three men acted like a neighbor?” This question changes the focus from the injured man to the caregiver. When I look through the lens of the caregiver, I begin to see the story in a different way. What I realize is that in order for the Samaritan to assist the injured man, he had to get close to him, in his space. He could not treat him from a distance. He had to touch him to treat his injuries. He had to touch him as he lifted the man onto his animal and assisted him to the inn. Jesus did not go into detail as to who the injured man was but he did describe the three men who were in a position to help him. Unlike the religious leaders who passed him on the far side of the road, the Samaritan willingly helped the man without regard of his skin color, his race, or his economic status. As Jesus often does, he challenges us to think beyond our normal expectations.
If we were sitting with Jesus, how would we answer the question posed in this story? Whom do we identify as our neighbor? Is our neighbor the person living next door, or someone at church, or one of our friends? Do we serve only those who live in our neighborhoods, who have the same religious and political beliefs or people with the same skin color or culture? I will admit that it is easier to help people who don’t make me go to far outside of my box. It can be a challenge to see the face of Christ in people of a different culture. It is easier to write a check to feed children “over there in Africa,” than to actually serve the homeless here at home. In the story, the Samaritan did not hesitate to assist the injured man. He put himself at considerable risk by attending to him on the same road where the man was attacked in the first place. He served the man as the hands and feet of Christ. Like the Good Samaritan, most of us are familiar with Mother Teresa’s legacy and praise her commitment to served people on the margins of society. Both Mother Teresa and the good Samaritan cared for people because it was in their hearts to do so. Her statement to, “Do things for people not because of who they are or what they do in return, but because of who you are” was fulfilled by the Good Samaritan as he cared for his neighbor because he saw a need and filled it.
I continue to check the Facebook post and the number of shares is now up to 32,200 people and has reached 416 shares and is still climbing. with so much attention to Mother Teresa's message, I wonder how our lives would change if we all served one another like the Good Samaritan and the good sister. Would the rhetoric on TV and the ongoing violence stop if we would first “see” people in need and then actually reach out to them close up? The lawyer learned a lesson in the biblical story as Jesus challenged him and us to follow the example of the Samaritan to “go and do likewise.”