I was in a Facebook group where we were having a discussion about the fact that there are some women who have experienced difficult circumstances who had found that the church was the last place where they got real help and support. Someone then mentioned The Good Samaritan and reminded us that the person who really helped him was the outsider. In fact someone who could possibly be considered an enemy rather than a friend.
The more I thought about it the more I realised how true that was. There are times when people are in difficulties and the last people who are able or willing to help them are those involved in the church. You get situations like so and so needs help but we cannot help them because they are not one of us.
An example that worked out as well as could be expected
Many years ago I was standing at a bus stop and I heard a noise and looked behind me and saw a man leaning against the bus shelter. I knew something was not right but had no idea what it was or what I could do. I turned round and a few moments later there was another noise. This time when I looked round the man was on the floor. He had crashed down and hit his head. What was I to do? He was a complete stranger but a man with a real problem. I had no idea about first aid but I had to do something. I tried talking to him but then asked someone to ring for an ambulance and as the doctor’s surgery was only a few yards away someone went for a doctor as well.
One of the strangest things was that I am not sure if I met an angel unawares that day. I did not have a clue about first aid and I wanted reassurance that there was nothing else that I should be doing. Then someone dressed as an ordinary man on his way home from work came running over. He was an answer to my prayer of I need help because I really don’t know much about first aid. It was seeing the two of us doing at least something to help him that led to the doctor saying he could do nothing more than what was already being done.
The bus came and the first few people in the queue stepped over the man on the floor to get on the bus. Others had more sense and more respect and walked round the outside of the bus shelter. Before the ambulance came I looked up and saw my sister in law go past on another bus. I thought great now they will know what I am doing. Actually it was worse than that she recognised the man on the floor. It was a man her father had spoken of many times because he considered this man to be a big problem in his life.
I found out later that this man had been to the doctors to make an appointment because he was not feeling very well. On the way back he had had a stroke and the first thing the hospital treated him for was a head injury where he had hit the ground. He lived quite a few more years but he was left so disabled that his wife struggled to care for him and he ended up living in a care home.
I have no idea why but I had a strong sense that I was on a special assignment that day. There was an urgency about what I was doing. Somehow I had to be in that place at that time for a reason.
It does not always work out well
How many times have you got to the point where you have felt beaten up by circumstances and those around you quite simply make a mess of helping you? I can remember going to church and complaining that someone as saying extremely unkind things about me. I was called into the pastor’s office and told that I did not really have a problem. The person I said had been very unpleasant was really a good person and that I was in no way a victim of their hate speech. Oh boy I had felt the words of a dragon scorching me but that dragon put on a chocolate coating whenever they saw the pastor. This dragon made sure that the pastor only ever saw their chocolate coating and never felt their scorching words. No wonder the pastor could not see just how unpleasant they could be. As he could not see the problem that pastor was no more helpful to me than the priest or the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan.
Then there was the time when I heard a another pastor say that no wife had the right to separate herself from her husband no matter what the circumstances. That shook me because I had been around long enough to recognise that some men are so badly behaved that it is safer for their wives to move out. That same week I saw a poster in a community centre that had a gravestone on it as it was trying to get across the message that there were some relationships that would or could end in murder and that the only way to stop that happening was get away from the person who could kill you. It struck me then that here was a secular organisation that showed more compassion and plain common sense to women in a difficult situation than had been shown by a pastor. In that case the messages from the secular organisation could be compared to the actions of the Good Samaritan.
Those who have been around the church for a while and have been in difficult situations know that these are not isolated instances. There are times when the church looks at issues and literally crosses the road to avoid them. There are people in pain who the church struggle to help or indeed tries to help but ends up making the situation worse.
What was the Good Samaritan praised for doing?
He was willing to take a closer look at the situation to see if there was anything that he could do to help. He had his eyes open so that he could see that there was a problem.
He had pity and sympathy for the man that was beaten up. People get beaten up by all sorts of circumstances. They may lose their job or a loved one could be seriously ill. He could have said what a silly man, he got himself into that situation by not taking the right precautions or not taking care of himself on his journey. If he is stupid enough to get himself into difficulties I am not going to help him. It is his fault he is in this difficult situation. Yet he did not say anything like that did he? He had pity and sympathy for him, possibly recognising that had circumstances been different he could have been the one who had been beaten up.
He did something practical to help him. He dressed his wounds in the expectation that this would help them heal. Even if they did not heal his intention was to at least stop them getting worse and to protect him from further harm. Put that into the context of someone who has been wounded by the harsh words of a third party. They would love their wounds to be dressed so that they were better able to recover. If they were being wounded again and again by similar words it would very similar to being beaten with a stick on the same spot. Every time the words or the stick made contact the wound would get worse. Dressing the wounds would at least give them some kind of protection from an additional impact.
He used his own resources to get him to safety. I once had a fall and landed heavily on the side of my arm. I picked myself up and continued doing what I had planned to do that day. After a while someone noticed I was hurting so took me to the accident and emergency department of the local hospital. I left there with a piece of foam in what was effectively a figure of 8. My head went through one loop and my wrist through the other. They had dressed my wound. One problem, I still had to get home. I got a ride home but it was a terrible ride. Going round some corners led to me yelping with pain yet turn other corners that went in the opposite direction and my arm did not hurt. After that experience I would not be surprised if that ride on a donkey was a very painful experience. It might have jarred broken bones or damaged muscles. He might even have struggled to stay on the donkey at all. Yet despite this it was the best way of getting him to a place where he could recover. The Good Samaritan not only let him ride the donkey so that he had to make more effort in terms of walking or carrying stuff but he walked with him to a place where he could recover. He did not leave him where he was after dressing his wounds but went with him to a place of safety at quite some cost to himself. If he was in the sort of state I was in it would not have been an easy journey but he went with him anyway.
He took responsibility in terms of providing resources for the place of safety to help him. Yes the victim was in a safe place where he could heal but if someone did not take on the financial burden for helping him then the innkeeper would have been within his rights to say get out you cannot pay me. There are number of places where I have sought help or have considered places of safety over the years. Some of them are recognised as places where Christians go to be healed. Other people over many years have taken on the financial burden of buying buildings, paying staff and generally making sure that those places of safety stay open.
What should we be doing for our neighbour?
This idea of loving our neighbour sounds easy until you look at this passage in detail. How many times do we walk around with our eyes closed not noticing people with problems? OK we cannot help everyone but like I found with the man who had a stroke there are times when God puts us in a position to help someone. There are some problems that we see because we have seen them before in one form or another. I must admit that doing Safe Haven has opened my eyes to the needs of both disabled people and their carers. Maybe that is what is meant about us having good works prepared for us to do.
Ever heard the saying that you cannot know what someone is going through until you have walked a mile in their shoes. It is by going through problems that we learn how to help others. I wonder had this Samaritan been beaten up himself at sometime so knew how to respond to that kind of need? God can show us how to use all sorts of experiences in our life to help others. Even in this post I have drawn on my own experiences more than once.
Sometimes the best thing we can do for our neighbour is to do something practical like call for help. I needed help from someone who was a confident first aider. Whether they were a man or an angel in the form of a man they were an answer to my prayer for help. There are many sources of help books, websites, even just the time to be a listening ear.
Walking alongside someone who is hurting is not easy. I must admit I would find it very hard to work in a hospice. Yet there are people God has designed to do this kind of work and who do it magnificently. Yet who was carrying the load of the injured man? The donkey of course. God had provided the Good Samaritan with the resources he needed to help the injured man. The Bible tells us that we are provided with all we need for life and godliness. Could that really mean that if we need a donkey to do what God wants us to do we will have a donkey? Could it mean that He will provide us with the strategy to help people and the means to put that strategy into action? Look at it that way and we have been given all we need to help the people who come across our path. Sit and ponder that a moment. You have everything you need to help others. You lack nothing because God has provided you with everything you need to live the life that He wants you to live. I have heard it said that God knew what problem you were going to face on a particular day so made sure that you had the resources to cope with it. All I can say to that is wow thank you God.
We are all on a journey and we need places to stay along the way. There are people who are used by God to provide places for people to stay. I don’t just mean that good teacher you invite to your home so that you can expose your children to so they learn from the experience. I mean working with a charity that links homes with people people who are in crisis and need somewhere to stay for the night. A refuge could look like a craft group or a cafe or a drop in or an adult and toddlers group. It could look like a retreat centre or a quiet room in a training centre. A place of safety could look like a college or a library or even a church building. It could look like your front room when someone calls to escape the chaos in their own home. All those places of safety or refuge are only available because someone has been willing to provide them and that includes being willing to pay the bills.
The idea of financing places of safety is a whole other topic. Those who know me know that I think there is a role for social enterprises and a variety of other forms of funding. But this post is getting long and it is time I brought it down to land. I hope that this has given you some food for thought.