It’s been a rough year for sure. Tensions have run high and the need for genuine human sympathy has never been greater. Right now, we could all use a little reckless kindness.
What is reckless kindness? More than just a cup of coffee purchased for the next person in line, reckless kindness goes further. It’s befriending the homeless man you see daily and getting to know him as a person. It’s reaching out to the elderly neighbor who has different political views with kind words and an offer to help rake leaves. Reckless kindness is an authentic attitude of grace as the first reaction to any situation.
You could say that the idea of reckless kindness originates in the Bible. One example is the story of the Good Samaritan. To understand the story, you need to know that Samaritans, to the Jewish people, were considered more revolting than a Gentile or pagan. The story starts with a question.
An expert in Jewish laws asks Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asks the expert to answer his own question and the expert replies, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus responds, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live!” However, the expert isn’t finished and the Bible tells us he wanted to justify himself. He wants to find a way to define a neighbor as someone he, the religious expert, would want to love. So he asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
For many, kindness is just like that. We all want to be kind to others but only when the others fit our idea of those worthy of kindness.
To answer the question, Jesus tells the following story of a man who is traveling the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. This road was known for being dangerous and difficult to travel. It is, to this day, a winding road that made for easy ambushing in Jesus’ time. Jesus begins the story by telling about a robbery along the road. A man had been beaten, stripped of his clothing and money, and left for dead. He’s was as good as gone without help.
First a priest came along and, seeing the man was hurt and possibly unconscious, moved to the opposite side of the road. He got as far away as he could and passed by without offering help. Then a Levite came along the same route. He also avoided the man, avoiding him as if he were a leper. These two were experts in God’s law and the scriptures. But they both left the man to die.
Now Jesus twists the narrative and says, “But a Samaritan.” Those three words change everything.
Jesus’ Jewish listeners may well have been thinking, “Oh no! Not a Samaritan! Just when we thought things couldn’t get worse, a Samaritan comes along to finish the job!” The Samaritan, hated like poison, comes along the same road not looking like someone who knows God or would care about God—not on the outside at least! Now everything changes as the Samaritan sees the injured man and is moved with compassion for him. The Samaritan bandages his wounds and gives him a ride to an inn. Then, he goes a step further and arranges for the innkeeper to watch over the injured man.
Jesus asked, “Which of these three was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The expert answers, “The one who had mercy on him.” Then Jesus replied, “Go and do likewise!”
The Samaritan took the risk to open his eyes and have the courage to reach out and help. It would have been easier to just pass by, go with the flow and carry on with his day. He didn’t stop to think about what could happen to him if he helped the man. He acted.
It takes more than care or concern to be kind. Kindness involves human connection and eye contact. The Samaritan had to approach this man, undoubtedly touching him or taking his hand. When the Samaritan made the decision to help the man, he acted with reckless kindness. In that moment, he became vulnerable as we all do when we reach out with kindness. With all his attention on the injured man, the Samaritan was now at risk of being ambushed himself.
The time, money, and help that he gave to the man both on the road and at the inn was provided without any thought of repayment or reciprocation. The innkeeper could have easily overcharged the Samaritan and asked for much more than required, it didn’t matter. The Samaritan didn’t consider the possibility that he could be taken advantage of, or in today’s language, scammed. He acted swiftly with a level of kindness that went above and beyond any expectation.
Jesus answers the question with a short story, asks one question and then responds with “go and do likewise.” Be like the Samaritan! Take a chance and practice reckless kindness.
Kindness can change the world.
Seriously, when was the last time you really needed a Good Samaritan and someone actually showed up to help? When your tire was flat and you were alone on the side of the road? Or when you were just a couple of dollars short trying to buy enough food for your family?
The level of kindness in the story of the Good Samaritan is difficult to practice in the real world, especially with the stress we’ve all been experiencing during the pandemic. It’s easier and even safer to look the other way or try to find the loophole (I didn’t have any change or my child was with me or I was running late).
It may seem naïve, but the reality is that a simple act of kindness makes every day better – for everyone involved. Let someone cut in line at the grocery store; maybe they have a sick relative at home they are trying to get to. Be kind to the person checking you out during the Christmas rush; they have likely been on their feet most of the day. Help the person you see struggling. And when you see the opportunity, practice a little reckless kindness.
The Good Samaritan as told in the Bible
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”