Jesus tells a story of a person who was traveling down from Jerusalem to Jericho. Along the way the person gets attacked, brutally beaten, robbed, and left in a ditch on the side of the road. Three people come across this dying man. The first two, as Jesus tells it, are respectable people in the community who, when seeing the man, pass by and avoid him. But it is the third person, a Samaritan, a hated outsider in that neck of the woods, who sees the man in the ditch, feels compassion for him, reaches out and rescues him (Luke 10:29–37).
As this peculiar year draws to a close, I have been thinking about the different ditches in which people are finding themselves.
Everybody has a 2020 story. Our stories are not all doom and gloom, there have been celebrations, routines, and silver linings, but across the board, our stories have involved disruptive, unsettling, and overwhelming circumstances. We have been walked off the map. We have had our legs knocked out from under us. And we have been put in holding patterns without any end in sight.
In listening to many different people’s experiences of the year, as well as to my own experience, I don’t think I am exaggerating to say that many of us know a bit more firsthand what it feels like to be left in a ditch on the side of the road. It has been a hard year.
I have also been thinking about the Samaritan’s neighborliness as this year draws to a close. What does it mean to be neighborly in such a time as this? How do I reach out to those I see with compassion, rather than fearfully avoid the trouble?
Over the past week, Simone Weil’s words have come to mind:
The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say to him: “What are you going through?”
At one level, I want to simply say to those with ears to hear, Everybody has a unique 2020 story, will we just ask them about it? What are you going through?
I remember back 25 years ago to a Jeep drive with the Reeses down to Diedrich’s Coffee in San Juan Capistrano when Randy, who I was just getting to know, turned to me in the back seat and asked, “Rob, what have you been thinking about recently?” That was all it took. Randy’s simple question would prove to be the Samaritan’s kindness at a pivotal time in my own life.
At another level, I am convinced that reaching out to others in the ditch, loving our neighbor in this ongoing pandemic, requires much kindness and curiosity.
Kindness. “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” Kindness disarms the many fears that can so often distance us from others. We avoid trouble rather than engage it because we are afraid. Ultimately, it is the Spirit’s kindness that transforms us into courageous and loving people who refuse to “pass by on the other side.” Spirit of Jesus, be generous to us, help us learn to extend kindness to one another in small ways so that deeper conversations about what matters most are cultivated.
Curiosity. “So many people are trying to be interesting, but it is the people who are interested who have had the biggest impact on our lives.” How easy it is to look through, around, and at persons without curiosity and wonder. One of the mindsets of neighborly love we must learn and re-learn in today’s world is that there is always more to the person next to us than we can possibly imagine. And what do curious people do? They ask a lot of good questions, with follow-up questions, and they listen and listen and listen with a sincere desire to know what it is like to be in your shoes.
Over the past months, our VP3 team has been inspired by the many ways the church throughout history has run toward the fire in times of trouble. We have felt more called than ever to “run toward people” during this ongoing pandemic.
In our particular sphere of influence, we are paying prayerful attention to the many ministry leaders who in serving and leading during this challenging time might find themselves, emotionally or spiritually, in the ditch on the side of the road. How can we with kindness and curiosity make space for them to be seen and heard? What are they going through? What is their 2020 story?
How about in your sphere of influence, among your neighbors and congregation, your co-workers and family? Here’s a good place to begin: Everybody has a 2020 story, will you ask them about it?
Perhaps the most necessary of all skills today is the timeless knack of being able to listen to others, allowing them to tell their story, knowing that telling it will ease their burden and help them become stronger.
Michael Casey, Toward God
The good news amidst this challenging year is that Jesus is always up to far more than we can possibly imagine. He never leaves us with the heavy lifting in this loving-our-neighbors, running-toward-the-fire work. In his words, Take my yoke and learn from me … walk with me and work with me… My yoke is easy and my burden is light. Jesus goes ahead us, walks with us, and comes behind us. May we trust and relax our way into this Jesus-reality … for such a time as this.