“Which is these three do you think was a neighbor to the man?..”
The expert in the Law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” — Luke 10:36-37
When Jesus explains to His listeners what it means to love our neighbor in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), people in the first century could do little more than care for those physically proximate to them. Limits to information and technology kept them from reaching out to those outside their fold. Today in the 21st century, global technology not only presents us with information about our global neighbors on our televisions, tablets, and cell phones, but gives us tangible and effective ways to care for their needs.
I am a development economist and throughout my career, I’ve noticed that people tend to move through six stages on the road toward loving their global neighbor, and I refer to these stages as the Six i’s.
The first stage is simply ignorance, in which we are mostly unaware of the happenings and needs outside of our own little hamlets.
Growing up as an upper-middle-class boy in Davis, California, I was ignorant about issues like global poverty. Foremost on my mind was how I could save up enough money to buy a pet king snake, something that also preoccupied my mother but for a very different reason. When I was in the third grade, I did not know that almost half the world could neither read nor write. When I was in the fourth grade, I did not know about the famine sweeping Bangladesh that year. I was ignorant of these things. I did not know.
I did not know then as a child, but like many I am aware of facts about the world like this today as an adult. And it is difficult to imagine how a person living in a rich country today in the age of cable television, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and smartphones could remain in a state of ignorance about the lives of people in poor countries. But life happens, and as the life-stages roll by, we become absorbed with finding the perfect skateboard, the perfect hair, the perfect college, the perfect life partner. Then we long for children, then worry about whether our children are normal (or sufficiently above normal), whether we have become self-actualized in our career, dream about buying a bigger house (for the benefit of the children, of course), contemplate whether we have made the right friends and social connections, fuss about our creaky backs and declining health, long for the freedom retirement brings, then worry about the purposelessness we feel once we get there. At every stage of our lives we can find an adequate excuse to fail to engage outside of our self-contained, self-absorbed little world.
In a second stage we may move past ignorance of the needs of the global poor, but unfortunately to indifference, where we are cognizant of the needs of our global neighbor, but in practice are too concerned with our own lives to care for them. I believe it was in the seventh grade when I learned that there were starving people in the world. I remember when I heard about this in church, and I remember wondering briefly what it would feel like to starve. But I didn’t reflect on it long. I was too worried about whether my friend Mike was going to buy one of the new skateboards with the polyurethane wheels, because then I would have to buy one too, or feel left out, especially if Kevin, the new kid on our block, got one. Then Mike would skate around on his polyurethane wheels with Kevin, and I would be left behind on my old skateboard with metal wheels, flying off the front of it every time I hit a tiny pebble on the sidewalk.
I wasn’t living in ignorance anymore, but I was living in indifference, the second i. Perhaps we nominally care about our global neighbor, but in the great thought-hierarchy that governs our brains, thoughts of global neighbors take a low precedence to thoughts about what we will wear that day, how to attract desirable members of the opposite sex, how to deal with an ill-tempered boss, or how to get ahead in life (in whatever special way that applies to us). In the end, that precedence amounts to practical indifference, which is, of course, not an allowable option for Christians.
In subsequent stages we may move to a stage of idealism, in which we try to absolve ourselves of guilt by giving our resources thoughtlessly and to little effect. Hopefully, we later begin a stage of investigation, in which we learn to understand the real needs of the poor, and then of introspection, when we begin to thoughtfully reflect and consider which of the many roles we can effectively play in the effort to care for our global neighbor. After this we are able to successfully begin a stage of impact, in which we are able to engage in a meaningful and fruitful relationship with our global neighbors.
I describe this road to a meaningful and fruitful relationship with the poor in more detail in Shrewd Samaritan: Faith, Economics, and The Road to Loving Our Global Neighbor, my book released today July 9, 2019. In the book I ask questions such as these which you might consider today:
1) At what stage do I lie on the road to loving my global neighbor?
2) What is the specific role that I might play (Investigator, Giver, Advocate, Creator, Director, and Practitioner) in caring for the poor at home and overseas?
3) What kind of tangible action can I take that doesn’t just alleviate my guilt, but is genuinely effective at promoting human flourishing among the global poor?
4) And even further, how might I move toward the seventh i: identification, where I learn to identify with the poor in not only my role, but my own brokenness, and how might I learn to identify with a specific group of people to whom God has called me to serve?
Written for Devotionals Daily by Bruce Wydick, author of Shrewd Samaritan.
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Where are you in regards to the Six i’s? Are you aware of the needs around you (even globally)? Consider Bruce’s questions above and come share with us on our blog. We want to hear from you about loving our neighbors! ~ Devotionals Daily