Two well-known parables of Jesus have been on my mind lately. You know them as the parables of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).
They’re regular fodder for sermons and devotional messages. I’ve read them many times over the years.
But there’s one thing that never really popped out until recently. Something common to both lessons.
I have a friend who is going through a really hard time. A business partner betrayed him and a series of other unfortunate events has laid him low. He is without a car and was recently evicted from his apartment. His primary daily challenges are finding a way to pay for his cell phone, his motel room, and a little food. Since the phone is his lifeline, he often goes without food.
While he’s desperately searching for work and enduring what is an impossible situation -- you imagine doing a job search and making it to interviews with no car and no income -- he’s reached out to friends for help.
Yes, he’s asking for “handouts” -- some money to tide him over. To keep him afloat. To allow him to survive one more day.
This is a humbling experience. I know because I’ve been there. On more than one occasion I’ve been left essentially homeless, jobless, and wondering what the future held. Hope was in short supply.
I got through these unbearably hard times because of one thing: People who helped.
There were the landlords who waived my rent for a time. An acquaintance who let me crash at his house for a couple of months until I was able to afford and find an apartment. The guy from my church I met on the subway as I was on the way to a job interview who shook my hand as we parted and palmed me sixty bucks. The friend from college who sent me a check for a couple hundred dollars. The client who gave me a small job and paid me far more than it was worth. Friends from church who had me over for dinner and sent me home with leftovers and cash.
There are many people I owe a great debt of gratitude for their tangible kindnesses.
As a result, I’ve extended the same tangible kindness to my friend. How can I not?
Apparently some, however, have decided that what he needs is a good talking to. A nice dose of criticism. A little shunning. After all, certainly he is to blame for his predicament! Let him take his medicine like a man!
Which brings me back to those parables. They’re very different stories yet with at least one intriguing common element.
The Prodigal Son asked for his inheritance and then threw it all away foolishly. The robbed man in the story of the Good Samaritan was left beaten, which is not something he had sought out. Both characters were left penniless and bereft.
One was able to seek out help, and did, returning humbled to his father. The other was completely helpless, yet received help from the Good Samaritan.
The common element in both stories? There was no judgment. No criticism. No conditions laid on them for receiving help and restoration.
And this brings me back to my friend.
In looking back on my dire straits I can see where I could have done things differently. Maybe taken steps to avoid what happened. I’ve tried to learn from these.
But there were also those situations over which I had no control. Where someone else called the shots that left me heartbroken, destitute, and helpless.
The point is, what difference does it make? When we are in need of help, we are in need of help. Period.
And when we see someone else in need of help, our calling, our duty, our only genuine and reasonable response as human beings created in the image of God is to provide the help we are able.
The Golden Rule says to “do unto others as you would have them do to you.”
Don’t be the priest, the Levite, or the older brother.
When you see a neighbor in need -- and there are always needy neighbors all around us -- help. Just help. Don’t judge. You may be the next one in need.
Have you ever been homeless? Jobless? In desperate need? Who helped you? Have you willingly extended help to those around you in need? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts in the comments. Wondering who is a “neighbor”? Then re-read the story of the Good Samaritan.
By the way, here’s information about my friend if you’re interested in reaching out:
"You can send money via Google Wallet payments that take place right away and can now be completed from the website https://www.google.com/wallet/ or through the Smartphone App to transfer funds from Debit Card to Debit Card using our phone numbers (727) 831-1969 or emails DWR123@gmail.com."