Go and Do Likewise
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
July 8, 2022, Words By: Gideon Ochieng, Image By: Blakely Dadson
This year 27 leaders from the Kariadudu area in Nairobi will graduate from our center. These are leaders who started small churches in their neighborhoods and have accompanied those churches for years. Out of love, many have chosen to serve and live in one of the most challenging parts of our city, a neighborhood often characterized with poor social amenities, insecurity and unimaginable air pollution.
John* is one of the pastors who has served in Kariadudu for close to 20 years. John lost his wife to a chronic disease several years ago. Due to cultural taboos about unknown illnesses, he was ostracized from his church and his community; his neighbors felt like he was unclean, and they didn’t want anything to do with him. In fact, he was forced to move.
It took John a few years to forgive his community and his congregation. But God helped him work through his resentment. As a part of the healing process, he redirected his energy to a motorcycle transportation business that he ran as a side job in a part of town where he was less known. While he learned to let go of the bitterness of his exile, the experience of rejection opened his heart even more to the most vulnerable in — the castoffs from society. And it has broadened his understanding of ministry — our daily call to be present for our neighbors at their point of need.
Late one evening, John saw a young woman approach a group of men on motorcycles. She didn’t have any money so she was going to ask for a ride home. What she didn’t realize was that these men were part of a gang with a history of robbery, rape and murder. John, knowing the group’s reputation, sped over on his motorcycle and put himself between the girl and the gang. He pretended to know her and offered to take her home free of charge.
It’s likely that John saved her from a tragedy. She could have easily been another statistic. But his actions also carried severe personal risk. If the gang had realized what was happening, it’s very possible they would have killed him as well. In that moment, God had given John lenses to see the world differently. And that’s why he acted differently.
As I recall John’s story, I can’t help but think of our lectionary text for today — the story of the Good Samaritan. A man is robbed and left for dead on his way to Jericho. A priest and a Levite, both members of the religious class, pass by him and don’t stop to help. Instead, Jesus tells us, it’s the Samaritan, an outcast in the eyes of Jesus’ audience, who is moved to compassion and saves the man’s life. And he did so at great risk. By stopping, he sacrificed his budget, his schedule, and his own safety.
But for some reason, the Samaritan, the despised outcast in the eyes of Jesus’ audience, had eyes to see the humanity in the injured man in ways that the religious experts could not. The move to help came naturally for him, but not for the insiders.
Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan in response to a lawyer, an expert in religious rules, who seems to have all the correct theological answers. While Jesus affirms the lawyer’s knowledge, he also completely reframes what it looks like to incarnate that knowledge in the world. In effect, by sharing the story of the Good Samaritan, he’s telling the lawyer to put himself in the shoes of the outcast (the Samaritan) in order to better understand how God wants to move in this world.
In John 15:13, Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” I think we can all agree theologically with this statement. But the problem comes when we argue over the semantics of the word “friends.” However, when we learn to read scriptures through the eyes of the forgiving victim, we come to see that at the core, we are, all of us, friends in Christ. And when that happens, it’s shocking how much more natural it becomes to act lovingly like my friend John, and like the Good Samaritan in the story.
*Name changed for privacy
Dwelling Among Us
Where in your life is Jesus calling you today to be a neighbor, even toward the “stranger” or “outcast” in your family, community or city? What are some of the areas of struggle in your life when it comes to loving your neighbor?