To Serve is to Take a Risk
This blog is a follow-up to To Be or Not To Be a Good Samaritan. So, if you haven’t read it yet, you may want to go back to it.
Mercy is Messy
Some readers of the last blog questioned whether it is wise to try to be a Good Samaritan in all circumstances. For example, should a woman stop on the highway to help a motorist? Should a team of teenagers go into a neighborhood with a bad reputation to do a compassion ministry project? In reflecting on those comments, I have thought about the place of risk in serving. What I believe is all serving carries with it some risk. It may be no more than the risk of being criticized or rejected by the person we are trying to help. Or, it may be the risk of bodily harm or financial loss or something else.
The nature of serving is to take a risk. To say that another way: mercy is messy. To serve another person is to give something of ourselves for another person—some of “our” money (I say it that way because I believe it’s all God’s; He just allows us to use it for a while), some of our affection, some of our wisdom, some of our time, and so forth. To serve is to share some of ourselves with someone who needs it. Serving, then, costs something and with that cost is the risk that it will be misused or abused or, at least, misunderstood.
Presumably, (Jesus doesn’t explain) that’s why the priest and Levite in the parable in Luke 10 passed by on the other side rather than stop to help the robbery victim on the Jericho Turnpike. To do so would have been to risk defilement according to Jewish law or it would have been to risk the loss of time and/or money or both. One way of explaining the difference between the Samaritan who helped the victim and the two who did not is to see him as willing to take the risk that came with helping. If he was aware of the risks involved in helping the man, he did not allow them to keep him from helping.
Risk Is Bad . . . Or So We Think
Here is the truth: We are averse to risk. How’s that for stating the obvious?! We live in a culture that promotes self-protection evangelistically. Lock your car every time you go out. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Don’t just keep the doors of your home locked, install a video security system so that not only when you’re home but also when you’re gone, your stuff is safe.
Without a doubt, the world we live in is a dangerous place, more than it was a few decades ago, so that security has become a higher priority than it was for my grandparents. Is it not true that our fear of risk is a boon to the billion-dollar security business? No wonder we are averse to risk. No wonder the fear of risk is a barrier to serving.
To Serve Is To Be Vulnerable
Another way to talk about risk is in terms of vulnerability. If serving leads to risk and if serving requires us to push past the risk to do it, then serving is a matter of allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. The fascinating TED Talk by Brene’ Brown on “The Power of Vulnerability” reveals the role of vulnerability in a purposeful life. Years of research led her to affirm vulnerability as the key to authenticity which leads to meaningful connections with others and genuine, lasting joy. She looked into the emotional makeup of people who, by her description, have a strong sense of love and belonging. “They believe what makes them vulnerable also makes them beautiful.”
I would add that vulnerability is necessary for serving. It may even be the key to serving effectively—putting ourselves “out there” for the benefit of others when there is no guarantee it will go as we expect. Most serving does not require much vulnerability, but sooner or later we will encounter a need that requires more of us than we anticipated and that is when compassion must be stronger than vulnerability. It was for the Samaritan in Luke 10, and it will for us.
The biblical view of serving is to give of oneself to another without regard to safety. Serving is not a matter of convenience and certainly not a matter of being blessed by our service. Authentic serving includes some level of vulnerability. I know this is hard to hear . . . because it’s hard to say, but it’s the truth.
Jesus, The Vulnerable
We have a proven model of vulnerability in Jesus. In fact, that one word may be one of the best descriptions of his life—vulnerable. Paul said something like that in Philippians when he said Jesus “made himself nothing” to become one of us. Jesus’ service to the disciples in the upper room just before his arrest in Gethsemane was vulnerable service. And if anyone questions Jesus’ vulnerability, look at the cross.
Back to the question of whether or not to take the risk of helping people on the road. Don’t ask Jesus what He would do. You may not like the answer you get. You can’t trust a person who not only was willing to make himself totally vulnerable but also suffered all the terrible consequences of that vulnerability to give a simple, easy answer to the question of serving in circumstances that are not safe.
Not everyone will agree with this blog. Whether you agree or disagree, I would LOVE to hear your thoughts. To be or not to be a Good Samaritan is not a simple question. Perhaps God has given you special wisdom here and others would benefit from reading it, so please share.
Beginning with this blog, I am adding a brief section at the end of each blog for pastors who have the opportunity/responsibility to teach about biblical service. We are often challenged to differentiate between serving others in Jesus’ name and “giving back” to the community, e.g., the Boy Scouts collecting food for homeless people. Talking about the risks of serving and pushing past those risks to help others is one way of making that distinction.