Helping our neighbor. When is enough, enough?

We drive a small Hyundai Elantra. When our family is all inside with the car seats and out stuff, we don’t have room for anyone else. On Sunday on our way to church, we passed a man hitchhiking with a giant cross dangling from his neck, and as I realized Gabe was in the car so I could pick him up, I realized Gabe was in the car so we didn’t have room. I joked to my husband that maybe he’s a guest speaker and pastor Joel sent him there to see just how generous and giving we can be. It wouldn’t surprise me if he did. I put it out of my mind for a bit and went to church.

The service left me a good bit wearier in spirit. We’ve been going through a series called People of Justice. Our pastor is talking about what justice is and how do we act as people of justice. The series is right on my wheelhouse. It’s on an area I feel quite confident I’ve got it right and my heart lies in it. Though I am very passionate, so much so that I can’t speak to some with much tact, and this renders me ineffective.

Yesterday we looked at the passage about the Good Samaritan. I dread these trite passages because I’ve read them so many times, I can’t possibly glean more from it, and yet I did. The Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus and they ask him what is the most important commandment, he replies with a nod to the Old Testament: love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself. They reply: who is my neighbor? Several people that I have unproductive conversations with have asked me this. Who is my neighbor? Who counts? Who should we feel obligated to help? Pastor Joel said what I didn’t even know I knew that people say that not to seek out people to help but to get out of helping someone on a technicality. It frustrates me when I have this discussion because I didn’t have the biblical language to explain that we are supposed to be the neighbor. Christ doesn’t waste his time trying to answer the questions (unlike me). He tells them what it is to be a neighbor. He challenges them, are you being a neighbor? There’s also so much history in this passage. I know a bit about the samaritan reputation to the Pharisees at the time. It’d be like an Iranian refugee (someone who perhaps screamed death to America as a child) stopping to help after Jerry Falwell and Ivanka Trump walked on by. Then the Samaritan pours doterra essential oils on him, gives him good wine, pays for a hotel and medical care for him with several days wages and tells the person he’s leaving to care for him “I’ll pay all his medical bills when I get back, just care for him.” Who among us has ever done that? Who of us would? Christ nearly skips over who the man being helped is at all. Why? Because it doesn’t matter who he is, are we going to be a neighbor?

I sat in my seat agreeing and grateful that finally, finally there was a pastor who takes Christ seriously. Finally, we have a pastor who takes Christ at his word and doesn’t look for loopholes for us. He went on to say asking if we are helping to much is the wrong question. We’ve never missed a meal for helping too much. The real question should be what is it going to take and we should be ready to give sacrificially. This sits heavy on me. The man hitchhiking in the rain flashes in my mind. We left Christ standing there. We could have squished into the back seat and given him the front. I started making rolling denials and rationalizations: we aren’t going far and it’s less likely he’d get ride farther from our somewhat isolated church, he wouldn’t have want to cram in with us. Etc. That will keep coming to my mind, just like the people who’s room I paid for but I wouldn’t get them two rooms even though I had the money, just like the woman I didn’t go back to see because she had a man with her that time and it didn’t feel right. The times I didn’t do enough weigh on me. Where was my faith in those times? It was absent. It was lacking. I’ve tried to start being less hard on myself thinking I’d start being less hard on others, but now I worry more about whether I can ever do enough. Not for salvation but to ebb the flow of self criticism and anxiety that I’ve let someone down, that I’ve left Christ down. It makes me think to myself that this is what being Christian feels like. Being burdened in spirit for others. For years and years I heard that we were free from duties and laws and doing enough. That we could never and that’s why Christ died. True, but Christ also loved and died to show us what we should be, what we could be. What is expected of us. We’ll never live up to it, but aren’t we supposed to die trying?

Love. That’s the sum of the law. Love God, love your neighbor. Greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends. For his neighbor?

The sermon in its entirety. Definitely worth listening to as is the whole series.

3 thoughts on “Helping our neighbor. When is enough, enough?

  1. A thought-provoker – thank you.

    “We’ve never missed a meal for helping too much”

    I remember once seeing a passenger on the station platform asking for help. People walked straight by without even eye-contact. as usually happens. I had my day-pass ticket I had finished with – I was coming home after a day in the office – no reason why they shouldn’t use it the rest of the day. and as I prepared to stop and hand it over – I got a very assertive and loud “No!” in my head. GSHJ is often very concise! So I passed by with a smile and a shake of my head. To this day I don’t know why – I can speculate and rationalise and all the usual – but I will never know why that “No!”.

    So I wonder whether we are brainwashed into believing we should help everybody no matter what. That “that” is what Christians do. And over the years I have come to question who is the real beneficiary in such a “blanket transaction”. Knowing the heart of others and what help is really “help” is far more nuanced than we like to think.

    e.g. ” … a man hitchhiking with a giant cross dangling from his neck … ”

    Stood out in your recollection. Only because Jesus wore no such decorations/symbols (nor do I read of him looking “homeless” – as is often used as evidence of the “church’s hardheartedness”).

    And – once again – reading your post I find myself mulling over what and who and why as I walk though my life – and that has great value. Thank you.


    • I’ve become much less discriminatory with my giving in the past few years. To me, if I’m doing it to be faithful to Christ’s example, God holds the onus of misuse. This has worked out pretty well. I’ve had instances where people have declined my giving saying “we don’t take from people like you. You’re the real deal.” Or knowing that I shouldn’t stop or shouldn’t give something quite clearly. One thing I find truly helpful for discernment is that I stop, get out of my car and speak with people. I ask them how I can best serve them. Most don’t even ask for money when I do that, to be honest. Most say a coat, or a place to stay.
      Also, I tell myself and God, hey none of this money is mine. If they’re ripping me off with some sort of scam (which, pretty shitty scam), it’s not me they’re ripping off. If God’s cool being ripped off, who am I to disallow it. Does that mean I don’t stop funding micro loans because they severely harm many in third world countries, no. Does that mean I keep sending my money to wounded warriors even though they’ve misused funds and scammed people? No. It does mean where I can look someone in the eye, I will believe them until I have reason not to, and I will serve them as I can no matter what because that’s Christ. In that while we were yet sinners, He died for us. He didn’t wait for us to stop before giving His all to help us, He did it anyway.
      That’s where my heart is.
      It’s hard though, I know I’ll never measure up, and to try is what I’m called to do.

      Liked by 1 person

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