The Good Samaritan, as it's known, may be the most famous of Jesus' parables. Even people who don't claim any Christian faith often know it.
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 25-37)
I'm super convicted of this because of where I live. Toronto is a fairly big city, with its share of human drama and tragedy. Every day, it's possible to see someone in need of assistance, from small to large, from humdrum to life-changing. Because of the size of the population, it's easy to ignore these things. It's easy to pass on by, thinking that someone else will help. It's easy to be so caught up in what I have to do and getting to where I need to go that I don't stop to help someone in obvious need.
This is particularly true when the person or people in need aren't of the most socially savoury set.
A few months ago, I was exiting one of the busiest subway stations on my way home from work. Going up a set of stairs, I noticed a holdup on the other side. A couple had approached the top of the stairs, she in a wheelchair, he pushing. The stairs were narrow, so it was impossible for anyone to go by them. The rush hour crowd jammed up behind them, waiting impatiently for them to clear the steps.
There was no way for her to get down the steps but walking, so she shakily stood up and slowly, gingerly, holding tightly to the banister, began to creep down the stairs. He waited behind with the wheelchair; he would have to carry it down behind her. They would then have to navigate a second, longer flight of stairs to get down to the subway track level.
I saw and parsed all of this in a few seconds. My first instinct was to help. To cross the busy flow of traffic, to go over to their side, to take her arm and walk her down, to then take her to the subway level. But I didn't. A second set of instincts, also known as pure selfishness, took over. "Oh, they'll be fine; it's too late now to stop; someone else will help them" (even though no one else was). And, I'm ashamed to admit, another, more perverse set of instincts took over as well.
You see, the couple were not sweet elderly people. They were Native and clearly street-involved, with substance abuse problems, dirty, ragged, unkempt, and unappealing. And thus my instincts judged them as somehow "less worthy" of help, as though by their own actions they had excluded themselves from human assistance and deserved to struggle with whatever problems they faced. And secondarily, just as ugly, was my fear that I would be judged by the hip, wealthy Toronto rush hour crowd if I stopped and helped those people. So I didn't. I walked on by, on my way.
Shame on me.
I did not obey Jesus' instructions that day. I was not a "neighbour" to those people. I judged them as unworthy, as the priest and Levite of Jesus' parable likely did. I selfishly put my own comfort and convenience ahead of theirs, passing by so I could get home more quickly after a long day at work.
In a big city, it's easy to become anonymous. It's easy to feel disconnected from the people around us, to feel less responsibility for their trials and difficulties. It's easy to feel "someone else will do it" or "I don't have time" or "I don't know what to do." It's easy to be completely caught up in our own agenda. But the reality is, if they're human, they're our neighbour, and we are called to help, according to Jesus.
I want to be the good Samaritan much more often, and the selfish, uncaring priest or Levite much less often. God help us all to do that.