I’ll Be Back:
Five Lessons in Disaster Recovery from The Good Samaritan
As a child, I loved Mr. Rodgers. The avuncular, cardigan-clad educator was the first to teach me about being a good neighbor. What kid wouldn’t want to be a part of his neighborhood, filled with make-believe puppets and real-life humans?
In Sunday School, I also learned about neighbors. The story of the Good Samaritan unfolded on a flannelgraph board. It began with a weary traveler, robbed, beaten and left for dead. (Hey, those flannelgraph folks kept it real.) I watched as the holier-than-thou priest cautiously moved to the other side of the street, avoiding the appearance of impropriety and uncleanliness. Then along came the hero of the story, The Good Samaritan, a despised foreigner himself, who was moved to compassion to help the hurting man.
Since then, I have heard this story preached many times, including this past Sunday. In a series on “How to Neighbor” my pastor stressed how sometimes our neighbors don’t always look like us. How sometimes, in fact, the people we are least likely to accept help from are the very ones God sends to our rescue.
As he was preaching, I read the familiar verses from Luke chapter 10. But this time, something new caught my attention.
“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” Luke 10: 33–36
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, many people have felt paralyzed wondering how to help their fellow citizens. Here, in these familiar verses, we are given a field guide to gospel-centered disaster recovery.
1. See and Feel
The first thing the Samaritan did was accept the reality of the man’s situation. He didn’t look away. Rather he went to where he was, saw the pain that had been inflicted on him and then he allowed himself to be moved with compassion. He didn’t try to minimize his experience with tired clichés and encouraging Scripture verses. He didn’t offer him the biblical equivalent of a “Hang In There” kitty poster. First, he just bore witness to the situation and in doing so, he gave the Holy Spirit room to move his heart with compassion. Compassion is more than sympathy, or even empathy. Compassion compels us to action. Compassion must be stirred in our hearts in order for us to act in obedience to what is required of us next.
2. Go and Heal
The next thing he did was go to where the man was. He left his zone of comfort and entered the man’s zone of discomfort. He allowed himself to be inconvenienced. This transition from the distant to the proximate shakes us from apathy to empathy. It awakens our human instinct to help those who are hurting. But The Good Samaritan didn’t just go and gawk, he “bound up his wounds pouring on oil and wine”. To the extent that we can, we are required to physically make right what has been broken. In this case, the man needed medical attention. In the case of Hurricane Harvey, the needs are vast from mucking houses to drafting legal documents to registering children for school. Here, The Good Samaritan teaches us that we are the hands and feet of Jesus. Sometimes those hands wear work gloves, other times they wear surgical gloves — but they always are required to get dirty.
3. Sacrifice Your Own Comfort
I think it is fascinating that we are told The Good Samaritan placed the man on his own animal. Jesus is making it clear that compassion requires personal sacrifice. It is not enough to give out of our excess, we must give until we feel the pain, too. We have to give up our vacation days, our weekend, our evening plans in order to help someone else on their path toward healing. Sacrifice creates solidarity.
4. Give Generously (And Continuously) to Relief Organizations
The Good Samaritan didn’t just shove a few dollar bills into the man’s hand and tell him “good luck”. He gave generously to the innkeeper that was entrusted with his care and rehabilitation. He was a good steward of his financial resources by giving to those who had the means and expertise to provide long-term care. The Good Samaritan gave the equivalent of two days wages, a meaningful sacrifice. But he also committed to continued giving of whatever was required to bring the man back into the community, healed and whole. Once we have given of ourselves, then we are called to give generously of our finances–not just once, but until the need has been met.
5. Come Back
The most overlooked part of this parable happens at the end of verse 35 when The Good Samaritan pulls a Terminator and basically says, “I’ll be back.” Think about it. Earlier today, this Samaritan was just minding his own business, trying to get from point A to point B. His whole day has been disrupted and, while the cause was worthy, I’m sure he missed a couple of conference calls. It would be easy for him to pat himself on the back and say, “I did my good deed.” But his responsibility to his neighbor doesn’t stop there. He makes a commitment to come back. He decides to continue in compassion. He chooses to become his brother’s keeper. How many times do we meet the acute needs and leave the long-term wound to fester through apathy, isolation and the busyness of everyday life? Many of the deepest wounds experienced by flood survivors are mental and emotional traumas that will require the renewal of their minds long after the new floors have been installed.
Throughout this story, we see echoes of the story of redemption modeled by Christ. The Word became flesh and he walked among us. He noticed those in need and he wasn’t afraid to name their pain. He took in his own body the wounds of all who had suffered and sacrificed his own comfort for our healing. Through the power of the resurrection we hold fast to a promise of all things made new.
The Good Samaritan is more than just a good neighbor, he is the Gospel personified. His story gives us step-by-step instructions on how to become the Good News to those who have been left beaten up by bad reports. We only have to heed the instruction of Jesus at the end of the chapter.
“You go and do likewise.”