Summary: God places us in the midst of affliction to relieve affliction
“A Mission Mindset: Operation Impact”
Did you see yourself in the video? I saw myself. I saw myself as I way too often am. Just a few weeks ago I left here late at night following a long meeting. As I drove out of the parking lot a man was sitting on the rock at the island by the entry drive. My first instinct was to stop and see if he was all right – but then I quickly rationalized that there were still others left in the building who will stop if there’s a real need. After all, I needed and wanted to get home. It bothered me all the way, but not enough for me to turn around and go back. So, yes, that’s me in the video. Is it you, too?
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers? …The one who had mercy on him.” I wonder how often we see the wounded and helpless in our paths each day and just move on. How often do we fail in being good neighbors? Jesus wonders, too. That’s why He used this story we call The Good Samaritan to teach us about ourselves and our response to people, to educate us on how to have an impact for Him.
Although the story may be very familiar, let’s visit it again. The lawyer asks Jesus to define ‘neighbor. And Jesus responds with this story of a mugging. He is saying something about the world in which we live. GOD’S WORLD IS FILLED WITH AFFLICTION. It cannot be avoided.
Notice what Jesus teaches about affliction. First, AFFLICTION IS NOT ALWAYS THE FAULT OF THE SUFFERER. The traveler could not be blamed for being beaten and robbed. This sort of thing happens; affliction is a fact of life. Someone is struck by lightning; another person loses his job just because the economy went south; a vibrant, seemingly healthy person is slowed down by a ravaging case of cancer; still others are homeless because floods, typhoons, or earthquakes destroy their homes and land; death breaks in and alters emotions and relationships.
A second lesson is that AFFLICTION IS OFTEN CAUSED BY OTHERS. The traveler is accosted by other men – thieves and robbers, murderers. So rapists rule by power and terror; alcoholics and drunks maim and kill others and destroy families; Slanderers lie and destroy reputations; divorce injures children for life; abuse ruins people of all ages; young men and women are killed and injured in battle. All of this is unavoidable. We do not control it and cannot avoid it. Affliction crosses all our paths at some point in our journey through life. We all travel the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, most of us more than once.
Apparently NEIGHBORLINESS HAS SOMETHING TO DO WITH AFFLICTION. Remember that the man was asking Jesus for clarification about identifying his neighbor. He was asking “Who am I responsible for? Just whom are you saying I should love?” Jesus responded with a question of His own: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Jesus reframed the question. IT IS NOT, ‘WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?’, BUT ‘TO WHOM AM I A NEIGHBOR?’ Jesus’ says we are to focus on being a neighbor. We cannot pick and choose certain people as neighbors. We must not choose whom to love. To love God means to show mercy to those in need. The essence of the Christian life is serving God and caring for others. Neighbors are not determined by race, creed or gender; they are not determined by personalities we like or by common interests.
In the story Jesus also tells us that GOD PLACES US IN THE MIDST OF AFFLICTION. “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho…” Some translations state it, “Now by chance a man…” Whenever that phrase appears in the Bible it means the exact opposite – it was not by chance. It means it happened by plan, design, by providence. God designed it so the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan would come by. GOD PUTS US IN CERTAIN PLACES TO MEET CERTAIN SUFFERERS. Jesus wants us continually ask, “Who’s at my door?” – “Who sees me as neighbor?” “Who’s on my path?” – “Why am I here in this place at this time?”
You know people whose marriages are rocky, people and families where drugs and alcohol are destroying life, people who are lonely, individuals who are grieving, families struggling with layoffs or job reductions or job loss, patients in the hospital; you drive by the homeless and the beggars. HOW OFTEN DO YOU LOOK FOR GOD’S ASSIGNMENTS IN THE PEOPLE AROUND YOU? Unfortunately the priest and the Levite were not looking. Most likely they had just spent their month of duty in the temple. They had been assisting in worshiping the most high God. They had been as near to God as was humanly possible. Their prayers, sacrifices, and psalms had been lifted high and had uplifted them. Yet they were not ready to sacrifice themselves. They had repeatedly heard God’s words, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice.” Yet they could not show mercy. They had been so near to God and yet were so far away. The most religious of people were the least neighborly.