Do I See Jesus in the People Around Me?

Why don’t I help people who are in need?

The possible reasons are plentiful:

Am I in a hurry? Are financial concerns making me less generous? Do I have other priorities for my time and resources? Do I think someone isn’t worthy of help and needs to be more responsible? Do I believe the other person is just looking for a way to take advantage of me? Do I feel unsafe because the person in need may be high or intoxicated?

Depending on the situation, I’ve been all over the map when it comes to helping others. Sometimes I’ve initiated help, sometimes I’ve responded positively, sometimes I’ve offered limited help, and sometimes I have not offered any help at all. Perhaps money really is tight during that month, but other times I just don’t want to be a sucker. Thoughts of self-preservation can be legitimate at times, but often it’s just a convenient way to sound reasonable in my own selfishness.

When I refuse to help others, the focus is often myself. I’m considering my needs and my personal comfort. I don’t identify with them. That is what makes a passage like Matthew 25 so striking. Jesus identifies with those in need to the point that any generous act toward others is considered a generous act toward Jesus.

Am I able see Jesus in other people?

More importantly, do I see Jesus in the people I am most likely to overlook or to dismiss?

That is the whole crux of how Jesus judged those who helped or neglected to help the sick, immigrant, poorly clothed, imprisoned, and hungry. Those who cared for these people were the ones who, perhaps unexpectedly, served Jesus by serving the overlooked people of this world. Those who neglected them had neglected Jesus himself.

“And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”
Matthew 25:40, NRSV

“Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”
Matthew 25:45, NRSV

It’s as if Jesus is trying to snap us out of our self-centered daily outlooks in order to perceive the God-given worth and dignity of each person.  He wants us to imagine that we are serving Jesus himself so that we don’t get lost in the situation or the worthiness of the other person.

And if imagining such a thing remains a stretch for us when we serve others, perhaps we have a clue to consider the state of our own hearts and our awareness of God’s love for us. If we are even uninclined to serve Jesus himself, then we know we have a focus on self that must be addressed.

The hope is that the generous love of God in our lives transforms us, reminds us daily of how great God’s mercy has been for us, and prompts us to show the same love and mercy to others.

Will American Christians Fail the Good Samaritan Test?

Christians immigration and good samaritans

He was traveling to the big city when the thing he dreaded most happened—robbers descended, beat him viciously, stole his money, and left him along the road for dead. He was miles from friends and family with no one to help him.

The religious leaders passing by were too busy to help him. It wasn’t their fault and it wasn’t their problem. He probably took risks that put his life in jeopardy any way. Who would take time out of his busy day and assume the financial risk to care for this vulnerable man by the side of the road?

We all know how this story ends: The Good Samaritan stepped up to care for the wounded man, but do we know WHY Jesus shared this story? Here’s a look at the questions that led to this parable:

“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?”

Luke 10:25-29, NIV BibleGateway

With that, Jesus launched into this well-known story where the least likely person had mercy on a stranger in need. It’s implied that the Levite and Priest in the story should have had every reason to help their countryman and fellow believer. However, it was the foreigner and, according to the Jews, heretic, who stepped in.

Even with his “flawed” beliefs about where to worship God and his different priorities as a resident of Samaria, he saw the human need in front of him and took care of it, no matter how inconvenient or unfair it was.

 

Today, Americans face a different sort of crisis, but the connections to the Good Samaritan story are still relevant. Tens of thousands of children are fleeing violence in the Central American nations of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvadore. They face beatings, rape, and murder at the hands of these gangs. It’s so bad that thousands of parents have calculated that their children face better odds at the hands of coyotes who lead their children across the U.S. border, even though children may well be raped or beaten along the way by drug smugglers.

Do you think any parents would want to be separated from their children?

Can you imagine a child who would want to leave his or her parents?

What were you interested in when you were eight, nine, ten, or eleven years old? I was interested in baseball and model ships. I went to movies with my family and planted tomato plants in the yard with my grandfather.

We lived across from a schoolyard where teenagers sometimes drank and did drugs in the evening, but I could look down at them from my bedroom window knowing that I was safe. We had locked doors and attentive police who would come and care for us if we called for them.

These thousands of children crossing our borders are fleeing violence that is far worse than anything the U.S. Army faced in Iraq during the violence of 2007. Their only hope is the mercy of America.

While there are fears that these children could be deported, some government officials have suggested that the U.S. will determine ways to provide asylum. Most children have been placed with relatives, but their long-term status remains uncertain.

I’m encouraged to learn that these children are temporarily safe and that few have been returned to their countries where near certain death or exploitation awaits them. I’m also encouraged to hear that the U.S. government is stepping up aid initiatives in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

However, in the interim, it’s our role as people of faith to advocate for these children and, when necessary, to provide sanctuary to those fleeing violence until a safe place can be provided. This is caring for neighbors 101. I don’t see this as a negotiable if you want to follow Jesus. When children are in danger, followers of Jesus, the one who said “Let the little children come to me” and told us to care for “the least of these,” must take the side of the children.

 

Jesus told us that the two most important commandments are to love God and to love our neighbors.

Who is your neighbor?

How can you become a good neighbor to others?

Helping children seeking asylum is as good a place to start as any other.

What if being a good neighbor who loves others means having compassion for these children in our detention centers and offering them sanctuary? Many of them already have contact information for their relatives and can become productive members of society if given a chance.

Americans can hide behind legal arguments… “They broke the law. Deport them now. No exceptions!”

That would be correct under American law. I won’t argue the point. That just wouldn’t be a viable Christian perspective. It’s OK to be an American. However, at a certain point you have to decide on your primary loyalties—you know, that whole “no servant can serve two masters” business that somebody mentioned in the Bible once.

Being an American does not relieve us of our Christian responsibility to love our neighbors.

The Good Samaritan didn’t send the wounded man back into the wilderness where the robbers could finish him off because it wasn’t his problem. He didn’t apply a bandage and then chase him away because he didn’t have the resources to care for him.

He bandaged the man and then set him up at a local inn to recover, paying for all of his expenses. It’s costly. It’s not convenient. It’s not even fair. It’s just necessary.

For all of the time Christians spend talking about mercy and grace, perhaps we forget that both are rarely fair or convenient. For all of the Christians making noise about employers challenging contraception laws, what of laws that prevent us from loving our neighbors?

Loving our neighbors isn’t a matter of picking and choosing which people get to be our neighbors. Isn’t that the whole point of the Good Samaritan parable? Vulnerable people cross our paths unexpectedly without announcing themselves, and sometimes they simply need our help. Loving our neighbors involves stepping in to help when the chance to show love presents itself, not when neighbors meet a government-specified checklist.

Jesus doesn’t give legal loopholes for “illegal immigrants” when loving our neighbors.

We aren’t supposed to check the documents of our neighbors before offering to help them, especially when they are terrified children seeking shelter from violence.

Those who don’t want to help children fleeing for their lives because they’re illegal immigrants are free to turn them away.

They’re Americans after all. That’s their right. They can uphold the law to the letter.

However, those Americans who also want to call themselves Christians, as in those who are committed to obeying the actual teachings of Christ, will need to chop Jesus’ most important teachings about caring for neighbors out of the Bible if they want to ignore the cries of thousands of children risking their lives in order to flee rape and violence in their homelands.

If Jesus is Lord, and if children are indeed in danger, then he’s going to take their side. If the Christians in America side with immigration laws that call for deporting these vulnerable (often abused) children back to the danger they are fleeing, then it’s likely that these Americans know very little of the Christ they claim to follow.