You might have noticed that our devo series is focused on stories of Jesus - different encounters he had, stories he told during his ministry. Today is no exception - I’ll be telling you about the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
Like me, you’ve probably heard this story a million times, but it’s still a hard one for me to wrap my head around. No matter where I go or who I am friends with, I sometimes get wrapped up in all of this worry about who’s in and who’s out. I don’t always have the most expansive definition of neighbor. But I think it’s really important to think intentionally about who we are afraid of and who we don’t like. Is there anyone that you’re afraid of, who you’re not friends with just because they act a certain way or belong to a certain group? Who does society tell us to fear?
I want to tell you about a time when asking those questions really helped me. I was getting ready to go on my study abroad trip -- it was my junior year of college, early fall, and I was set to go to rural Tanzania that January. Tanzania is in East Africa, on the Indian Ocean. I didn’t know very much about the place, and I was trying to wrap my head around what it might be like to go there. I was pretty scared -- of the unknown, for one, but also because there are a lot of stereotypes about Africa -- that it’s full of starving children, that the people and are sort of wild or something, that everyone there is poor and desperate, that there’s lots of violence, no order, and very few resources… I knew enough to know that those stereotypes weren’t all going to be true, of course -- but I didn’t quite have a picture of what would be true instead. This giant unknown place had me feeling pretty scared.
But these people, a world away, were about to become my neighbors in a very literal way. So I followed a friends’ suggestion and I signed up for a class called Contemporary African Literature. I wanted to learn more about the economy in East Africa, how people make money and spend their days, what the cities look, smell, and taste like, what I should look forward to instead of fear -- and I love to read, so this worked for me. I learned a ton. I learned about the concept of a gift economy, which is where people ask for and give away money much more freely than we ever would here. There isn’t the same sort of shame about needing money in that sort of economy, and there are lots of relationships that form and are strengthened by giving back and forth. It’s a whole other way of thinking about money. I was so glad to have read the books I had read, in which the narrators gave me a window in the characters’ thoughts and feelings, so that when I got to Tanzania and my host aunt asked me for a large sum of money, I knew a little bit better where she was coming from. She was inviting me into relationship, saying that she wanted to include me in her life. I gave her much less that she asked for, but that was okay - the gesture made a big difference and she found ways to give to me, too, teaching me to cook and making all sorts of food for me. I could have been offended and assumed she was just trying to benefit from having an American in her house. I could have refused to give her anything. But because I’d read so many novels and learned to understand this way of thinking about money, just a little bit, I was able to respond in a way that worked for both of us. And I came back from Tanzania thinking a little bit more critically about how attached I can be to money sometimes here, worrying about every little dime.
So, think about a category of people who are different from you, people you’re taught to be afraid of. What if you watched a few more movies where someone like that was the hero instead of the villain? What if you listened to a podcast by someone from that perspective? Read a book they wrote? Followed someone like that on Instagram just to gain a little more familiarity.
I’m guessing you all know that if you know someone in a certain group, it’s a lot harder to be scared of that group as a whole. Building relationships across boundaries breaks down some of the stereotypes we hold and gets us a little bit closer to that whole loving our neighbor business.
The story of the Good Samaritan is a surprising story, because it was the Samaritan who turned out to be good, not the priest or the Levite. It was the outsider, the one who was different, who stopped to help.
So, think about this -- who might your neighbor be? Not just the people you live next door to, but the groups that you encounter, the people who seem like outsiders and yet still make an appearance in your life in some little way. How could you take some time to learn about them? It’s hard hard work but it’s the work Jesus is calling us to -- to love each other, regardless of tribe or nation or language - as an expression of God’s love.