Tuesday Notes

What Does It Mean to “Help”?

By March 26, 2019 No Comments

In the sermon on Sunday we studied one of Jesus’ most famous parables, the so-called “Good Samaritan.” If you were basking in the Spring Break sun this week, you can listen to the sermon here.

Jesus tells a brilliant parable that gives an example of what we would call social work. Feeding, sheltering, liberating,  and meeting holistic needs. Financial needs, transportation needs, health needs. Jesus is asked what it means to love your neighbor, and he tells a story about meeting concrete, physical needs. 

And in the story, Jesus addresses 3 limits that a lawyer in the crowd of listeners is hoping will hold. The lawyer is hoping Jesus will limit the “who” we are called to love, limit the “when” we are called to love, and limit the “how much” we must love. Jesus shows in this story, not the mandate for love of neighbor but the magnitude of love his disciples are called to exhibit.

In the story, a priest and a Levite pass by the Jewish man lying the road. Why? Because they are smart. They know it’s a dangerous location and they know, if the man is half dead, as Jesus describes, the robbers are likely still nearby. The situation is dangerous. The Samaritan man risks his own well-being in order to help. He is sacrificing. He opens his wallet up and says, “I will pay whatever the expense is when I return.” He is willing to risk his own suffering in order to relieve this man’s burden. 

Jesus teaches his followers to love without limits. He teaches that every person in need is our neighbor, that loving involves risk and personal sacrifice, and that we are called to love and to meet physical needs, even when the individual in need has put himself or herself in a perilous situation of his or her own causing. 

After the sermon on Sunday I had a number of wonderful conversations with folks struggling with what this means in their own lives. “What about the family member who borrows money and spends it foolishly?” “What about the drug addicts who want money in order to feed their addictions?” “What about helping an individual who has demonstrated he is a danger to me?”

These and other questions point to a secondary question we must confront after becoming convinced that Jesus wants his followers to love the way he loves; sacrificially, without regard to the “deservedness” of our help, and across racial, religious, ethnic and socio-economic bounds. 

The secondary question is “What does ‘help’ actually look like in this situation?”

For example, am I truly helping someone if I am enabling their destructive behavior? Am I truly helping someone if I just throw money at a problem? Is it helpful to meet a chronic need with a temporary solution? 

These are hard questions and often emerge in complex situations. They are questions that are without hard and fast rules and often without clear answers. I think this secondary question points us to another truth about loving others as ourselves. Loving our neighbors requires intelligence and creativity. Again, Jesus’ parable proves a helpful model for us. In the story, the Samaritan man did the hard work of diagnosing what helpful help looked like in this particular situation. He did not allow the complexity of the need to prevent him from intervening. He assessed the sorts of creative solutions required to intercede in this man’s life and love him toward healing. 

I am excited to discover alongside you the creative and innovative ways we can love our neighbors toward healing and fulfill the teaching of Jesus to love others with the same sort of force, persistence, optimism and sacrifice with which we love ourselves.