During the last year, whilst living amidst a pandemic the UK has heard Boris Johnson repeatedly remind the nation of its civic duty to follow the lockdown rules, to reduce the spread of the virus and save lives. This call is specifically aimed at preventing this deadly disease from affecting those most vulnerable, such as the elderly. However, our civic duty doesn’t simply begin and end at preventing the spread of the virus but extends to wherever there is a need to be met. So what is our civic duty and how do we live it out as Christians?
What is our Civic Duty?
The definition of civic duty is ‘a responsibility expected from citizens of a country”. An example of this would be when an individual is chosen for jury service. You would be expected to participate as part of the jury for the duration of the trial. So if there are earthly civic responsibilities, how much more does God expect of us as Christians? The underlying ethic that fuels this civic duty commanded by God is love. God commands us to love our neighbour and by doing this we can fulfil our heavenly and earthly civic duties. In my opinion, the parable of the Good Samaritan perfectly explores what it means for Christians to fulfil their civic responsibility.
Are you a Good Samaritan?
In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus tells the now-famous parable of how we should respond to the suffering we see around us, especially to those who suffer the most. This parable begins with an expert of the law (presumably a lawyer) testing Jesus’ proficiency of the law (Luke 10:25). As ever, Jesus answers wisely and asks a question that would reveal the heart of the lawyer (verse 26). The lawyer responds correctly by stating that loving God and neighbour perfectly fulfils the law and Jesus agrees. (Verse 27-28). What the lawyer says next is interesting as it suggests that what the law requires of him is too much for him to bear (verse 29). By asking who is my neighbour, the lawyer seeks to determine who he doesn’t have to show love to. Jesus answers him with following the parable.
A man is journeying from Jerusalem to Jericho and on the way, he was met by robbers and was beaten to near-death (verse 30). A priest and then a Levite, both see this man in his distress and walk by him. What should be noted is that both these men are kinsmen in the flesh of this victim. A Samaritan (who would have been an enemy to the Jew) sees the victim, and his response differs from the previous two. He dresses the man’s wounds, mounts him on his animal, finds him an inn to further mend him and pays for his care in full (verse 33-35). Jesus asks a pertinent question to the lawyer, who was the victim’s neighbour (verse 36)? And I will ask a following up question, which type of neighbour are you? A Levite and a priest or a Samaritan? One looks like Christ, the other does not.
The scenario illustrated by Jesus is the one we face every day. No matter the type of suffering, whether large or small, there are people like the man travelling to Jericho that we will meet. Whether we will stop to meet their needs will be determined by a key element stated in verse 33. When the Samaritan saw the man in his need, he was filled with compassion (verse 33). This virtue is one we see repeatedly shown by Jesus when He encountered the suffering of people (Luke 7:13; Matthew 15:32; Matthew 9:36; Matthew 14:14; Matthew 20:34; Mark 6:34). Without compassion, we cannot fulfil our civic duties as Christians. Without compassion we will not respond to the needs of those we encounter, we will be like the Levite and the priest who walked by the victim. Jesus expects this of us, to see the suffering in this world and be moved with compassion. What this parable illustrates is that your neighbour is anyone in need. And anyone can be in need. Therefore what Jesus asks of the lawyer He asks of us.
“Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? ” “The one who showed mercy to him,” he said. Then Jesus told him, “Go and do the same.”
Luke 10:36-37 HCSB
The one who shows mercy is the one who fulfils his/her civic duty. The question that now remains is, ‘what does that look like?’. Once more, I think we can take our cues from the Good Samaritan. There are 3 steps each of us can take when we encounter any form of suffering: see the need, meet the need and stay with the need. In the parable, we see the Samaritan do all three of these things.
- See the need (Luke 10:33). All three people in the parable saw the need, yet only one of them actually saw the need to the point it moved them with compassion. To see pain and sorrow and ignore it, goes to demonstrate that you can’t really see; you’re blind. Pray that God will enable you to see the needs around you and be moved with compassion.
- Meet the need (Luke 10:34). It’s not enough to just see that there’s a need, we must see the need to meet the need. The Good Samaritan’s sight led to compassion and his compassion led to action. And notice the action. It met the need of the sufferer. Compassion isn’t virtue-signalling, it’s making the need your own and meeting it, no matter the cost. Pray that God will give you the wisdom to know how to meet the needs of those around you, especially those who need it most.
- Stay with the need (Luke 10:35). The Good Samaritan could’ve bandaged the man up and left him on the roadside. Or he could’ve left him at the inn. He did neither. Not only did he pay for the man’s medical bills, he came back to ensure that no further costs were left unpaid. Astounding! This is an authentic Christian civic duty. We don’t just see needs and then meet them. We stay with the need until it’s no longer a need. How often do we fail at this last point? Pray that God will give you the patience and endurance to stay with needs no matter how long they take.
The Most Vulnerable of Neighbours
There is no greater time than the present to implement the lessons that the Good Samaritan parable teaches. Globally, we face a virus that is deadly to anyone; but especially to those who are elderly. Now, we can have the same response as the priest or the Levite and ignore the guidelines that have been implemented to keep those most vulnerable safe. After all, as long as the elderly that we know are safe that’s what counts, right? You see what Jesus is teaching us is that nobody is really a stranger. So whether it’s the elderly person on the bus that you’ll never see again or it’s the elderly person that has lived next to you all your life – they both equally matter. And our civic duty in this time would be to do whatever it takes to reduce the likelihood of the elderly contracting the virus and potentially suffering dire consequences. How we operate during this lockdown and post-lockdown will be indicative of whether we really view the elderly and other vulnerable groups as our neighbours.
If we want to be people that fulfil our civic duty then we must look to the One who fulfilled His civic duty perfectly. The Good Samaritan exists only because there is a Good Lord. And our Good Lord didn’t just see our needs and ignore them. He saw our needs, came to meet our needs and then stays with us in our needs. Jesus did that for us, He now calls us to do that for others; especially those that need it most.