I want to briefly paraphrase a very famous story for you:
There was a man going along the road from one major city to another. At a lonely place in the road, thieves jumped out from behind the bushes and beat the man within an inch of life, taking all his money and valuables. They left the man there to die.
A few minutes later, a certain religious leader was walking that same way. Seeing the bloody mess from a ways off, he crossed to the other side of the street so he wouldn’t feel obligated to stop. After all, he was a religious man, and touching someone else’s blood would require him to go through a series of cleaning rituals. It would be a great inconvenience. To him, this was a complicated matter.
A short time after that another religious leader—from a different tradition—walked along that same road. He, too, crossed the street to stay away from the wounded man. He was in a hurry.
Moments later, a man from an unfavorable background passed by. He saw the wounded man lying there, bloody and beaten. He had compassion on him. He felt sorry for him in spite of the fact that the wounded man was a foreigner, and, under normal circumstances, would likely despise having any interaction with this third passer-by because of his race. The prejudice between the two races ran deep.
Nonetheless, this third passer-by cared for the injured man as if he were family. He spared no expense, taking him to a hotel and paying the hotel extra money just to look after the injured man. He promised that if the hotel incurred any further expense, he would return and pay it himself.
Jesus told this story. And since Jesus continues to hold the outright title for the most famous and influential person to ever live, I figure it serves us to let Him challenge our ways of thinking.
When Jesus originally told the story He was talking to a group of religious leaders—who also, by the way, despised the race of the hero in the story (the third to pass by). Imagine their frustration when Jesus challenged their comfort and their worldview.
Imagine the “elephant in the room” as the religious leaders gradually recognized that the story was being told to challenge them—that Jesus was suggesting that they were like the men who avoided the issue and didn’t lend a hand. Imagine the conflicting emotions: “Whoa, is this Jesus guy suggesting that an ‘immoral’ Samaritan from the other side of the tracks is more spiritual and more loving than I am? Could he be right? Never mind; let’s just kill him…”
Empty religion steps over hurting people to stay “clean” and to stay on task or on “mission.” But Jesus repeatedly talked about loving people, serving those in need, and giving of our resources and of ourselves.
Some people have it in their minds that they are more spiritual than others because of their religious practices. It seems Jesus would disagree.
Others think little about their spiritual health because they associate spiritual things with prideful religious people and all their rules. Jesus had one rule: love others like you love yourself.
Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world. —James 1:26-27
How often do we ignore an obvious need around us? Perhaps it’s a hurting individual, or a marginalized group of people, or even an environmental issue. Our culture is desperate for tolerance. Love goes further still.
How can you spread a little love today—even if it costs you something?