I was reading the familiar story of the Good Samaritan1 from a well-illustrated cartoon Bible to a group of eight- to nine-year-old Sunday school students. It ended with the question Jesus asked: “‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”2
One boy with a head full of red hair and a freckled face asked, “How do I find a neighbor that needs my help?”
This question got me thinking! True, it isn’t every day that we come across a beaten person lying on the street, if ever, or not often that we witness someone being robbed or mistreated, and my physical neighbor rarely needs something from me that I know of.
Exploring the thought further, I pictured one of my routine days, which went something like this:
Half an hour of early morning reflection and prayer, followed by some exercise and a quick breakfast. Getting out the door on time to beat the rush-hour traffic is often a scramble. Even if I’m on time for appointments, most everyone in our African city isn’t, often leaving me running late for my next appointment, which forces me to join the circle of latecomers. In turn it leaves me disgruntled, with little compassion to stop and place a coin in the hand of the bedraggled elderly beggar woman at the street corner or the man in the wheelchair with stumps instead of legs sitting by the road with his hand outstretched.
I’d rushed by. Were those my neighbors?
I’d moved from one event to the next with little time to answer an SMS from a friend who needed a few minutes of my time. A listening ear might have meant the world to him. Was he my neighbor?
I’d glanced over an email from an old acquaintance who explained how his life had taken a downward turn and that he needed someone to talk to. This has to wait until later, I’d decided, as I turned to pressing business emails. Could he have been my neighbor?
When I’d reached my car in the parking lot later that day, the man parked next to me was frantically turning over his engine, trying to get his car started, but to no avail. It seemed he was in need of a jumper cable. Yikes, that had to be coming from some Good Samaritan, but not me. My jumper cable was deeply buried in the trunk of my car, under some supplies which I needed to deliver to one of our projects on my way home. Surely he isn’t my neighbor, I’d thought as I jumped behind the wheel with a sorry look. In any case, I was on my way to an aid project and was running late.
After reflecting on this day, I realized that each day brings along a neighbor or two, and how easy it is to brush them aside and go on with “important” business. I also contemplated the many times I had benefited from a friendly Good Samaritan who’d decided that I was a neighbor and reached out with a helping hand when I was in a tight spot. So I decided to pay more attention to the little deeds of kindness and the small niceties I could extend to the neighbors who might come along the path of my busy days.
The very next day, I was tested on this decision when a friend called, asking if I could babysit her toddler for an hour while she went for a dental appointment. I’d planned to take that Saturday off, but remembering my resolution, I said yes, trusting that I could spare an hour and still have enough time left for relaxation afterward. I also dropped a note to my sad acquaintance and pressed a coin into the hand of the old lady at the corner. Thankfully, nobody needed my jumper cable that day.
There were other neighbors throughout the coming weeks, and there will always be plenty more in the future. Even a smile can go a long way, as well as a helping hand lent, a coin spared, a bag carried, an encouraging SMS sent, a meal shared, a moment of undivided attention given, or that overdue phone call made.
It’s surprising to see the countless little attitudes and deeds that can improve the world around us, if we pay attention and remember the Good Samaritan and ask God regularly, “Who is my neighbor?”3