I met Mark during an Urban Mission Camp I was directing in San Diego. He looked a little intimidating – tall, African American, and muscular with a few teeth missing. But after talking to him a while I realized that he was a kind and gentle person.
He had been at the Rescue Mission for about a week and when I met him he began to pour his heart out to me, sharing his frustration: After the Rescue Mission, then what? He said that what he needed was a change of scenery. It would be great if he could move to a small town in the Midwest where he could get involved in a good church and be away from the temptations of the big city and his former life.
“Do you know someone who could help me? he asked. “Someone who could help me find a job and get settled?” I thought for a long time. I pictured myself calling several of my friends and describing Mark to them, asking them to take him in. “Too risky,” I knew they say. “You don’t know anything about him. Get real – he’s a recovering drug addict. Who knows what he might do.” Unfortunately I had to tell Mark that I was sorry. I was leaving for Mexico in just a few weeks and I didn’t think I could find someone that quickly.
I’ve thought about Mark several times over the past years and the story of the Good Samaritan comes to my mind. Was he afraid when he rode by and saw the man lying in the ditch? Did he think about all the risks he was taking? Did he wonder about the man’s past and whether he might harm him? Did he wonder why he was in the ditch in the first place? Maybe he deserved to be there. Maybe it was his own fault.
I can’t help but think that the Good Samaritan did let these questions pass through his mind. It’s obvious that the priest and Levite allowed these uncertainties to keep them from helping the man. However, the Samaritan had the same attitude as a group of missionaries that I read about once. Getting ready to begin a ministry in a new village they were warned several times, even by other missionaries, that the people of the village were cannibals. “That’s okay,” they replied. “We died before we came.”
Today as we hear the words of Jesus saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself” we, too, ask the same question, “Who is my neighbor? We are as surprised with the answer as the lawyer was in Mark 10. I believe that Jesus tells us that our neighbor isn’t always our buddy who lives next door to us in the suburbs. Our neighbor is often Mark or someone like him – those we pass by who are sleeping on the streets or the people we see on TV news programs.
I’ll never forget Mark and the lesson he taught me about Jesus’ statement, “Love your neighbor as yourself” and the story of the Good Samaritan. What will be our response? Will we be afraid and self-preserving like the Levite and the Priest? Or will we take no thought of our own lives and be risk-takers in order to be the kind of neighbor Jesus wants us to be? The next time we come across someone who needs help in a risky situation, my prayer is that we will respond the way the missionaries did. “That’s Okay. We died before we came.”