What does it mean to be a Good Samaritan today

On the NYC Subway incident and asking what does God expect of us today

Friend, when you woke up this morning, what did you expect to happen today? Think about these questions, as you make your coffee or eat your breakfast: 

What do you expect God to do without you having to ask? 

What do you expect God to do when you ask? 

What do you expect others to do no matter what God does?

What do you expect of yourself as a person who knows God and what does God expect of you as an ambassador of His Kingdom and an agent of the grace revealed in and through His Son, the Savior, Jesus Christ? 

We’ve all got some expectations for the day, but I wonder, do we ever expect the unexpected and anticipate miracles knowing that with God all things are possible? Do you expect God to be God— in an in-breaking way today?

And specifically for today’s conversation— what does God expect of you today, when we encounter someone in need? 

Many of us have heard or seen the story of Jordan Neely.  On May 1, 30-year-old Neely was yelling at passengers on a New York City subway train. He said he was hungry and tired and didn’t care if he went to jail. Neely was homeless and had a history of mental illness.

Until police arrived, three train passengers held Neely down. One of them, 24-year-old Daniel Penny, wrapped his arms around Neely’s neck, making him pass out. When Neely got to the hospital, doctors said the choking killed him.

Penny is accused of second-degree manslaughter (causing someone to die because of not being careful). This summer, a court will decide if he’s going to jail.

Some people say Neely’s death is an example of how homeless and mentally ill people are treated poorly. Others say Penny was trying to be a good person by restraining someone acting unpredictably on the subway.

As a Christian, how do I think and process this information? How are you responding to and talking about the death of Jordan Neely on a NY Subway on May 1 and the subsequent arrest of Daniel Penny who had Neely in a choke hold when he died?  How are you, as a Christian, engaging with others in that conversation? 

The reality is, Jordan Neely’s story is replicated in our towns, and for some of us in our homes. Many people right now today have people in their lives and families who are dealing with mental illness. 

So we have to now consider the question, what does God expect of me today, when I encounter someone in need? Another way of asking— what does it mean to be Jesus re-presentative in the world today?

How would Jesus respond to all of this?

Jesus was gentle when people expected anger, and He was loving when people expected hate. As Christians, Jesus is our example. He is our model of self-sacrificial love. We should live life treating people like Jesus did, regardless of how we feel about this particular story. And regardless of the status or the challenge being experienced by the person we encounter.

Matthew 9:36 reminds us,”When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” 

Or consider, in Luke 8:26-39, how Jesus responded to the Gerasene demoniac. The world had completely rejected and excluded this man, forcing him to live among the tombs, because he was literally out of his mind. What did Jesus do? He didn’t avoid him, Jesus sought him out. 

What would it look like today for me to prioritize showing compassion to all people at all times?

In the specific event with Jordan Neely, we were not on that subway. This is not a condemnation of this situation, but the fact is that the end result—a man died. We have to wonder, what might have happened if someone offered Neely a cup of water or a word of encouragement? What might have been, would we be talking about a different ending? 

Let’s also recognize that this experience has affected far more people than those who were on that subway car on that day. Each of them is certainly affected. Let’s pray for them. But others are affected as well. The family and friends of Jordan Neely and the family and friends of Daniel Penny need our prayers. Let us pray for them and the trials yet to come. 

The story of Jordan Neely reveals a lot about the current reality of American life— mental illness, poverty, homelessness, hunger, loneliness, addiction, rejection, desperation, fear of the other and increased isolation from any institution that might be able to help.

This conversation is tremendously complex— do not give in to the temptation to reduce it to something simple or easy. Unless, for the Christian we reduce to see one thing: sin. Sin is under all of this— once entered into the world, sin has influenced and touched everything. We feel it every day. We live a long way from Eden.

If you read across the coverage of this event you get many different takes. People see this story differently. What does that tell us? How do you see it? How does God see it? What are the angles we might be missing? 

The parable of the Good Samaritan has been mentioned in multiple news stories covering this unfolding story. It is good to remind ourselves of what that parable actually says in Luke 10:25-37 as we engage with others. Read this passage and then reflect:

  • Who does Jesus say we are called to be? How are we called to interact with a hurting, desperate, broken person?
  • What does it mean to be a Good Samaritan today? 

Jesus was clear that our neighbors are not just our friends— those who look and act and smell like us. He described our neighbor as anyone we interact with. So do you expect to meet a desperate person today, along the way today, as you are going?

And I know how easy it is to bring all of our political-social commentary and criticism into this question. The criminal justice system failed him, undoubtedly. The social services failed. His family was unable to care for him. 

Yes, but here’s the thing, who did Jesus hold up as the Good Samaritan? The one who went out of his way, who gave in a self-sacrificial way, to care for the broken and needy, right there and then.

If this is hard for us to hear, let’s remember how Jesus concluded the parable in Luke 10:37b: “Go and do likewise.”

Listen to Carmen’s commentary on this topic on MyFaithRadio.com. 

Photo by Eddi Aguirre on Unsplash