A teacher of the law quizzed Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” It was an abstract question which Jesus answered in very real terms. We know Jesus’ response as the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
One lesson we can take from the parable is that Jesus calls us to show mercy to anyone in need. Samaritans and Jews were not supposed to get along. But for Jesus, mercy is shown regardless of national, ethnic, or even religious identity.
The deciding factor for the Samaritan was that he was present with the beaten man along the side of the road. The Samaritan “came near” the scene of the crime, he “saw” the helpless man, and “was moved with pity”. These are all verbs of loving presence.
Each of the verbs, however, takes on a new dimension in today’s globalized world. We are able to translate the Greek into English, but how do we translate a 1st century command into 21st century action?
Thanks to economic integration, political alliances and transportation technologies, we have “come nearer” to everyone living on this earth. “The world is shrinking,” so the saying goes, and it is pressing us all closer onto each other. Those new gym shoes we just bought have an impact on the employment of a Thai laborer. We can book an overnight flight to Brazil at a moment’s whim.
In this context, we “see” images of disaster and hunger and despair. Cries for help are added to the daily information flood. Perhaps it is through a CNN news report on the military coup in Mali. Perhaps it is a picture of an orphaned child in Zambia, featured prominent in our cousin’s support letter for her short-term mission trip. Perhaps it is though a book we read, a person we met, or a conference we attended. We know that there is a world of need.
Like the Good Samaritan, we cannot help but be “moved with pity”. But this is where the problem lies: with so much need in the world, where do we begin? It seems as if the better response to the question “Who is my neighbor” would be Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand with five loaves and two fish.
But replacing a parable with a miracle is not theologically sincere, nor is it in this case strategically accurate. Taking a simplified view of things, we know there is plenty of food in the world to go around, the problem is distributing that food to those who need it.
With so much need and seemingly no way for any one individual to tackle it, it is easy to become frustrated. From this frustration, we may become calloused and hard-hearted to the images we see. On the flip-side, we may also become overwhelmed by the needs of those abroad so that we do not see the domestic cries for help. We pour ourselves into campaigns to show mercy to the beaten man along the opposite side of the road while overlooking the suffering man on our side of the road.
It is within these tensions that Covenant World Relief is able to act and act boldly. Through partnership with other Covenanters and other generous givers, we are able to gather our resources as the body of Christ to make a great impact in a world with great need. Through partnership with partner organizations rooted in the communities we serve, we are able to show mercy in ways that are culturally relevant and financially efficient. And, of course, it is through partnership with the God who created the world and sent his son to redeem the world, that we are able to join in his mysterious and awesome plan to transform the world for his glory.