As I read through the Gospels, there is a major juxtaposition between that time and ours that keeps shouting for attention. Everyone traveled on foot for the most part. (Not what you were expecting, eh?) Jesus and disciples walked from town to town, throughout each town, and only traveled by boat when necessary. Other than Jesus riding on a donkey into Jerusalem in fulfillment of prophecy, there are no other mentions of differing modes of travel.
With Henry Ford and the invention of the automobile came all kinds of wonderful new amenities, and since that time, with all the advancements made in vehicular science, there is no doubt that the car is the most widely used form of travel, at least here in the West. We get to travel more quickly, control the temperature, listen to our favorite songs, and even have things like GPS maps and heated seats. We get to keep our bodies from weariness and our shoes from being worn out. It is no doubt that the car improved the comfort of life.
But there is one thought about all this that keeps eating at me. What if we are forfeiting opportunities to engage with people, particularly in the ways the Jesus did? He walked through crowds and was therefore able to engage many with the gospel of the Kingdom.
We justify that we are able to do that with the people who happen to land where we land, after we get to point B, but he clearly saw the journey as just as important as the destination.
I think of the story of the Good Samaritan often when driving past people who are broken down on the side of the road, especially in dense heat or biting cold. Jesus, in answer to a question about the greatest command we’ve been given – to love our neighbors – tells a parable about a man who was mugged and beaten, left with nothing but wounds on the side of a well-traveled road. A priest and a Levite walk past the man, only taking notice of his (uninvited) uncleanness, and cross to the other side of the road so as not to contaminate – inconvenience – themselves with the plight of the man.
Later, a Samaritan is traveling along the same road and he sees the man; he is what I like to call a true “noticer." He moves toward him, binds up his wounds, sets him on his donkey, puts him up in an inn for convalescence, and foots the whole bill. Jesus’ point is clear: that’s what loving your neighbor looks like.
So how does this translate into 2016 and Western Christianity? Frankly, we embody the priest and the Levite in Jesus’ tale. We keep driving, sometimes not even noticing those who are peppered along the roadsides in trouble or fear or need. To contrast ourselves as Westerners to the Samaritan, do we notice and run (drive) towards those who are clearly in need of help? Do we offer to bind up their wounds, whatever that may look like – help fix their flat, offer our cell phones, or just minister in presence to assure them that they aren’t alone? Do we offer them rides in our own vehicles to get them to the point B they were headed to? Do we help them pay for the tow truck or the roadside assistance or the medical bills, if needed?
I’ll answer for you because I’ve driven on Dallas highways enough to know what we do: we keep driving.
This is not a drive-by (get it?) guilting, as my pastor likes to say. It is an observation and a confession of my own. I fear that the person might be broken down on the side of the road and also a rapist or thief or murderer. Or that they might just need more time or money or love than I have to give. When I notice, I consider for a half-second turning around or stopping, but then I remember that I’m on a schedule and don’t have the time to stop. This is so anti-gospel.
What if we as Christians became noticers of other people’s needs or obvious displays of brokenness? Yes, you tithe at your church. Yes, you probably give to the needy or sponsor a child or support a missionary. All of those things are good and right, definite examples of loving our neighbors. But Jesus calls his disciples in John 15 not just to love, but to love others the way he loved them, laying down our lives in the service of others. That’s a radical call and it will look crazy to the watching world. But Jesus told us that we would be known by our love.
Loving our neighbors begins in our hearts, and overflows into our actions. Romans 13 exhorts us to let our love be genuine. It doesn’t mean that we get to be self-ruled and entitled, but appear loving sometimes, or love those that serve us well. We love others genuinely, as fruit borne of the Spirit, and in turn we bring glory to God and a witness to a watching world.
So, Christian, what is the solution here? Surely I can’t be suggesting that we all sell our cars (giving the money to the poor, of course) and travel everywhere on foot. I’m not.
I am suggesting first that we consider deeply if our love for others is genuine, and if not, pray that the Holy Spirit would bear that fruit.
Second, I encourage all of us to become noticers, a people who look for opportunities to serve and engage in Jesus’ name, being creative and intentional with how that can look. Do we schedule some time to walk through downtown and engage the homeless? Do we spend some time just driving and seeking out people to help? Do we leave a little earlier so that we have the space in our schedules to stop? Do we intentionally carry cash with us so that we are able to give readily when we come upon a need? These are just some ideas. Again, creativity and intentionality will be key here.
And third, when we notice a fellow person in a circumstance in which we ourselves would be so grateful for some help, we must consider running toward them in genuine love of neighbor and compassion, rather than crossing to the other side of the road so as not to be inconvenienced.
I'll leave you with this thought out of Matthew 25:34-36: Jesus so loves the least of these that he identifies his own self with them. That car broken down on the side of the road, that homeless woman holding up a sign and begging, the man walking in the stifling heat clearly far from anywhere and left with a long journey: these people are, in a sense, Jesus, waiting to see if we will notice and act. We have been given a great task as believers, but if we are truly bought in to this Kingdom to which we belong, the task becomes a way to serve our Lord and King, to love our neighbor as we would love ourselves in that situation, and to bear fruit for the Kingdom.