Anna is a pastor, writer, and theologian who obtained her BA in religion in '06, Diploma of Ministry in '16, and Diploma of Divinity in '17.
When we’re too lazy to help our fellow man
In general, people are good hearted but lazy. I don’t mean the kind of slothfulness that drives a person to watch TV or play video games all day; those characteristics may not be good, but they’re rarely actively harmful. I mean the kind of laziness that prevents us from doing good to our brothers and sisters. I know I’m as guilty as anybody of this sin.
You can’t feed a brother with good intentions
How many times have you wanted to give a few bucks to a homeless person, but they were on the opposite side of the street and you didn’t want to block traffic? Not wishing to delay other drivers is good, but how many of you then turned around to go back and help the person in need? I can honestly answer that I haven’t done that near as often as I should. I then go about the rest of my day giving no thought to that moment of laziness, after all, I wanted to help my brother in his time of need, shouldn’t that intention count for something? Not to the homeless, I’m afraid. For me it was a matter of a few minutes out of my day, for him it was the difference between going hungry and receiving a decent meal.
How many people drive around for an entire season with bags of clothes in the trunk of the car? You meant to drop those off at goodwill, but just haven’t found the time. How many more have never bagged the clothes in the first place? You know you’ll eventually get around to doing it, maybe tomorrow will be the day. Meanwhile, our less fortunate brothers and sisters will face another cold winter without a warm coat.
Our spirits are willing, but the flesh is weak. We genuinely feel the desire to help the unfortunate amongst us, but we just got off work and need to get dinner on the table. Maybe this weekend we can find the time to donate blood. Perhaps next Tuesday we can drop off canned goods to the hurricane victims. The excuses pile up and the needy continue to go without. We’re not bad people, we honestly want to help others, but maybe not right this minute.
The Red Cross and other charities have certainly noticed the trend. They’ve made it easier than ever to donate. After a disaster, they’ve made it so that you can text a donation simply by typing a code into your phone. When I first saw the commercial for that years ago I was elated. I immediately typed in the code and donated money and continued to do so periodically throughout the next few days. It was fantastic, there I was helping others and I only needed to lift a finger. It could not have been easier. I donated, but am I truly righteous? I helped, but only because they catered to my laziness. Had they not made it so easy would I have gone online to their website, searched for their “Donate” button, entered an amount and my credit card number and pressed send? I’d like to think so, but the times I’ve not done that have outweighed the times I’ve followed through. Such laziness is not only selfish, but actively harmful.
The Good Samaritan
We’re good hearted and well intentioned, but we’re lazy. We like to think that we’ll step up when the time comes and help our neighbors in their time of need, but when the rubber meets the road how often do we follow through? In Luke chapter 10, Jesus gives us an example of selfless love in action, when he tells an expert of the law a parable about the Good Samaritan. In a story that’s famous to the religious and the laity alike, Jesus told of a man who was traveling to Jericho from Jerusalem when he was attacked by robbers. They robbed him of everything, even the clothes off his back, beat him, and left him for dead. Shortly after, a priest happened by, but he crossed to the other side of the street so as to avoid all contact with the unfortunate soul. A Levite was next, but he too, ignored him and went about his day. Finally a Samaritan walked by and seeing the victim, he took pity on him and bandaged his wounds. He then placed the man on his donkey, took him to an inn and nursed him. The following day he gave the innkeeper some money and instructed him to care for the victim, and promised he would reimburse the innkeeper the next day for any added expenses.
The priest and the Levite may have had their own reasons to ignore the unfortunate man. In Jesus’ day any priest who touched a corpse would have become ceremonially unclean. The religious leaders saw the robbery victim lying on the road half dead and decided that it was better not to get involved. They followed the letter of the law, while ignoring the intent behind all the laws. The greatest commandment is to love one another. By following the details, they broke a far greater commandment. They made the selfish choice to remain ceremonially pure, at the expense of a pure heart. And it was certainly a lazy choice. It takes no time or energy to do nothing. In this example, following the letter of the law was certainly the easiest and cheapest option.
While the priest and Levite ignored the victim, the Samaritan offered help. During the time of Jesus, the Samaritans were a racial minority who worshiped a different way from the Israelites. It was not a non-religious Jew who happened by to help the dying man, it was a despised minority. It is possible that if Jesus we’re alive today he would have told the story with a priest, a rabbi, and an Iranian. By making the main characters people from different religious groups Jesus drew a contrast between love and religious laws. The Samaritan man didn’t just help the poor, assaulted victim, he went out of his way to do it right. He went to great expense to offer him treatment and took two days out of his life to see that he was cared for. How many of us spend two days acting charitably? How many of us spend two minutes?
Are we the priest or the Samaritan?
According to a 1973 seminary experiment by Batson and Darley, not many of us will play the role of the Samaritan. For their experiment, they recruited seminary students. The researchers began the test in one building and then tasked them with a talk in another building. The students were to speak about jobs in the seminary, and in another test they were to give a lecture on the Good Samaritan. The researchers told the students in one test that they were late, and in another the students were told to head over, but that they still had time. On the way to the next building the students had to pass by a man sitting and moaning in an alleyway.
The researchers found that overall, about 40% of the test subjects stopped to help the man. For those not in a hurry, the number of helpers was 63%, while those who were told they were late, only 10% stopped to help, and those who were in a moderate hurry, 45% offered help. While not everybody stopped to help a stranger in need; it must be said, that those who didn’t stop appeared anxious upon arrival at the second building. The conflict between helping a neighbor and obeying the experimenter caused the subjects a bit of stress. They felt a desire to help, but their previous obligation got in the way.
Excuses are easy. Even better they’re free. Helping others, doing good, giving time and money often requires effort that we sometimes feel we can’t afford. But for the sake of our souls, can we afford not to give? It’s worth a bit of lateness to help our brothers and sisters. Jesus didn’t command us to help the poor when we feel like it. He commanded us to help the poor. End of sentence. God didn’t command us to love one another when it’s convenient, he commanded us to love one another. Often times we’re not going to want to get involved, but as children of a living God, our focus should be higher than our earthly desires.
© 2017 Anna Watson