What does it mean to love my neighbour?
We know the response that Jesus gave to someone who asked a very similar question as probably the most famous New Testament story of all: the story of the Good Samaritan.
The familiarity of a story can often be a huge barrier to truth – we grasp the facts, and maybe even the essence of a story, without any of the urgent immediacy of prophetic truth – without any of the insight that leads to real change.
We all have these blind spots; areas of our lives where we’re blinkered. Sometimes we’re completely unaware of our need for transformation in a particular area, and other times we’re aware, but just don’t think it’s that big of a deal. Either way, the familiar story fails to grip us, and the familiar challenges from the text only give rise to a shrug – “Yeah, I’m not that good. I’m not in any good Samaritan category, but I’m not that bad, either.”
It’s only recently that I realised that the priest and the Levite, if interviewed later, would wholeheartedly profess to care about the welfare of the injured man – you know, in an abstract sort of way. He’s a member of the human race, after all. We’re not monsters. Sure, it’s difficult to care about everybody, but in general, we try. There’s just nothing we could do. A glance could have told you that. There’s no point in endangering yourself for a man who’s going to die anyway. Better leave him; don’t move him. A quick death is more merciful, giving him hope at this late stage is just cruel.
You can hear the justifications, the protestations now. I know this, because I’m sure I would have made them, too.
That’s the thing about us good people, us decent folk: we care about the poor, the broken, the wounded. We do. We’re happy to be kind, as long as nothing crazy is expected of us. Nothing too sacrificial, too uncomfortable. Nothing that would jeopardise my savings plan. Nothing that would require me to have an awkward, public conversation. Nothing that would risk rejection, or the possibility of stepping out of my comfort zone.
I think the reason for this is that I’ve bought the lie that most of the time someone else is ultimately responsible for my neighbour. Let’s call it global diffusion of responsibility. I’m so overwhelmed with the news of another global disaster, another episode of horror in world history, another humanitarian cause to sign up to, that I seek to alleviate the psychological burden by shrugging my shoulders and saying: “Yeah, that’s sad, but it’s not really my problem. I can’t really help. I’ll pray for them, though.” (James had a bit to say about this, incidentally.)
Sometimes I worry that maybe I don’t really believe in my own agency. That maybe I don’t believe anymore that I can really change the world (that’s a rite of passage in your 30s, right?!).
But then I realise that that’s not what’s being asked of me in this story.
Jesus didn’t say that my neighbour was every suffering person I see on TV. He said my neighbour is the person in front of me. He pointed out that it’s by doing the one thing in front of me that I can do – being there for that one person, that things start to change.
I could say more of course, about the relationship between the Samaritan and the wounded man – about how the call to love our neighbour is really a call to love our enemy. And that’s true.
But right now, the essential question for me is: “Who’s standing right in front of me?” Whether it’s a grieving colleague, a rough sleeper, a trafficked woman, or an estranged family member – the choice is, do I throw myself into the situation, or count myself out?
Real change is often incremental. It’s often slow. But it always starts with one thing. One action, one step, one person.
So, what’s the one thing for you today? Who’s the one person in front of you?
What if change is possible?
What if the Holy Spirit is saying that it starts with you?
This post is a part of our series for Anti-Slavery Day on 18 October. Read more posts about the issue of modern slavery and human trafficking here.