These three sentences come at the end of one of the most widely recognized passages in the New Testament, commonly known as The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
An expert in Jewish religious law (heretofore known as “the lawyer”) asks Jesus, “What must I do to attain eternal life.
Jesus responds (as usual) with a question. “What do you say he asks the lawyer,” he asks the lawyer. The lawyer gives the traditional response: Love God and your neighbor as yourself. But then looking for a loophole, as lawyers often do, he asks, “But who is my neighbor?”
And Jesus answers, as he often does, with a parable.
You know the one: A man goes down to Jericho from Jerusalem. The road is exposed and dangerous, and the man is beset by a gang of thieves, who beat him to a pulp, steal his money, and leave him half dead by the side of the road. At various times, three different people come upon him: first a priest, then a Levite, both on their way to their work at the Jerusalem Temple. They both fear that touching a body they presume dead would render them ceremonially unclean, so they give it a wide berth and continue on their way. Then comes a Samaritan, someone the people of Judea think of as unclean because of his mixed Jewish-Gentile heritage. The Samaritan feels compassion for the man. He stops, treats the man’s wounds, and pays for a temporary place for him to live until he can back and check on him.
When Jesus asks the lawyer who in the story was a neighbor to the man, the lawyer’s reply can be translated severals ways:
The one who…
had mercy on him.
was kind to him.
showed kindness toward him.
showed compassion for him.
The interesting thing is that the literal meaning of the Greek word being translated (meta) is not on, to, toward, or for but rather WITH.
As UMC Bishop Cedrick Bridgeforth said in a sermon at the 175th anniversary celebration of First United Methodist Church of Portland, the way the church has consistently translated this over many centuries illustrates a problem in the way the church relates to the communities it hopes to serve.
We often say that we are doing “for” our communities, when really we are doing “to” them, and what we should be doing is engaging “with” them.
At FaithX, we believe that WITH makes a powerful difference. When we do to, or even for, our communities, we are putting ourselves in a place of superiority over them and holding ourselves apart from them. Neither of those positions is helpful to those communities. Nor are they healthy for the congregations who operate from them. Only when congregation and community engage as partners can either improve their ability to survive and thrive.
But first we have to answer that simple Sesame Street melodic question:
Because we cannot love our neighbors as ourselves until we know our neighborhoods and know ourselves as congregations.
And that’s where FaithX comes in. We provide resources and services that help congregations survive and thrive in challenging times.
We can help you see your vitality and sustainability strengths and your growing edges with our free Congregational Vitality Assessment (CVA) diagnostic tool. And if your judicatory has the CVA Judicatory Platform, you can see how your congregation compares with other congregations of the same membership, attendance, staffing, urbanicity, and several other factors.
We can help explore your neighborhoods’ demographics and trends with our inexpensive Neighborhood Insights Report. And if your judicatory subscribes to the MapDash for Faith Communities platform, you can dive even deeper into your neighborhood at a very granular level, so you can learn who they are, where they live, what they’re like and what they like. And then you can go out and get to know your neighbors and neighborhoods in person.
And finally, if you need help with any of this, we provide consultative programs tailored to the needs of congregations. Think of us as trail guides for your neighborhoods.
For more information on any of the above, contact us at [email protected].