Season 8 - Week 5
“Are you too busy to be disrupted?”
There is a rather famous study done on North American theological college students in the 1970s. Students were asked to prepare a speech either on the parable of the good samaritan or on jobs related to their theological studies, and they had to cross the campus to get to where the speech would be presented. The students, 40 in all, were given different levels of time constraints—some were told they had to hurry slightly, some were moderately hurried, while others were told they need to get to the building very quickly. On the way to give their speeches, the students had to walk by a man slumped over in an alley. The researchers wanted to know: who would stop and help the man? Would the students preaching on the good samaritan be more likely to stop?
It turns out, the biggest variable was not whether or not the student had immersed themselves in the famous parable, but rather the amount the person felt hurried. Those that felt greatly rushed only stopped 10% of the time (the overall average was 40%). In fact, they even went so far as to sometimes step over the man in their quest to get to the auditorium for the speech. What is interesting is that these theological students weren’t calloused like we might imagine them to be—in fact, the notes tell us that their faces were strained, and that they were agitated upon arriving to the auditorium. They felt the inner tension of the conflict between their message/faith and their actions. But they felt compelled by the urgency of completing their task to the point that they chose not to respond to the need of a living, breathing person in front of them.
I want to take a moment to focus in on that anguish these students felt. I feel the pressure of wanting to live as Christ did and yet finding my actual life oriented away from being able to stop and engage with the bruised and battered people in my community. I feel that same strain as I imagine the students did who “failed” this test of applied ethics. When I read the parable of the good samaritan in Luke 10 I don’t see myself as him, or as the beaten man, or as the robbers. Instead I see myself in the people who thought they were good people, and who were simply unable to respond to a person in need with love. They couldn’t disrupt their lives to help another person made in the image of the God they supposedly served.
Why were they unable? Were they too afraid (perhaps the road really was incredibly dangerous)? Numbed by the amount of need (perhaps there was a new body every day)? Did they not view this man as a real person, did they not feel a tie or connection to him in any way? Or perhaps the priest and the levite were also hurrying to give a sermon, or to a ministry they were involved with. Whatever the case, their “goodness” meant nothing to the man who had been beaten and robbed, and it meant nothing to Jesus, who makes it clear that it was the religious folks who were not the heroes of the story, who indeed were not good neighbors at all.
Take a moment to find yourself in the story. Perhaps you, like me, identify more with the priest and the levite. How is Jesus calling us to be good neighbours? How can we start to pay attention, in our own lives, to the way that our time and responsibilities impacts our ability to be present to the real needs in front of us? And finally, take some time to reflect on who Jesus centres as the good neighbour—the most unexpected character, the culturally despised. Where and how have you found unexpected models of neighbour love in your own life?
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Do you have time to stop and talk to your neighbours, or to anyone who might be begging in your town? Perhaps your schedule feels just too tight. How could you build that little bit of extra time into your day? It might mean leaving for work ten minutes earlier in case you bump into someone, or getting to the school gates a bit sooner to make time for a chat. What could you do to invite some neighbour-centred disruption to your day?
Danielle reminds us that the hero of this story is the unexpected character, the 'culturally despised' Samaritan. Who has been a neighbour to you when you least expected it? Can you think of a way that you could be a unexpected blessing to your neighbours this Christmas?