Years ago, I served as a youth pastor at a great church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. We had one of the largest and fastest growing youth groups in the country, with a vibrant service called TAG every Wednesday night. This wasn’t one of those services students attended because their parents wanted them to. Instead of talking, texting, or passing notes, each week hundreds of students actually engaged in worship and took notes on the teaching because they were so eager to connect with God.
One week, a young kid showed up dressed all in black, his dark hair in a severe style and a sneer on his face-clearly a “goth.” Now, working in youth ministry, I had learned quickly not to judge anyone based on appearances. But this guy clearly had an edge to him. And he immediately let us all know it.
He sat in the back row, made obnoxious comments, and laughed throughout my message. I tried to correct him nicely, but when he persisted I decided that I had had enough. I told one of our youth workers to get him in my office after the service to settle things between us.
When I walked in the office and glanced at him, I noticed he had a little smirk on his face, which only irritated me more. I sat down across from him with a sigh of frustration and we just glared at each other in silence. Finally, I leaned in toward him and said, “Bro-what’s your deal?”
Before I could launch into my rant, he stood up, turned around, and pulled up his shirt. Angry red scars-some fresher than others-ran across his pale back, where someone (his father, I would later find out) had been beating him. “This is my deal,” he said in a quiet voice. I was undone. In one second my anger dissolved into compassion and we immediately began the process of working with him and his family.
I learned a lot that day. How you see people determines how you serve people. And most of us tend toward the extremes: we see people as either a problem to be avoided or a person to be loved.
This is the lesson Jesus taught in the famous parable of the Good Samaritan:
Approaching Jesus was a man who was trying to figure out who he was supposed to serve. “Who is my neighbor?” he asked Jesus. And in classic style, Jesus responded to the man’s question with a story.
“There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off, leaving him half dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him, he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man. A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill-I’ll pay you on my way back.’“
Then Jesus asked, “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?“
“The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.
Jesus said, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:30-37, MSG)
Our traveler in this story encountered three different types of people. First, of course, are the robbers. They beat him, robbed him, and completely exploited him. While most of us would never even consider doing anything like this, sometimes we’re still tempted to see people as commodities, resources, or obstacles rather than flesh-and-blood human beings. We want to manipulate them, avoid them, or take from them. They become our adversaries instead of individuals God has called us to love and to serve.
This affliction hits home with me when I’m driving in traffic. It’s so easy for me to get irritated with people when they cut me off or get in my way. When we see people as a problem-the person taking forever in the express lane at the grocery store or the teenager working the fast food drive-through who gets our order wrong-we tend to mistreat them right back.
In Jesus’ story, the second group our victim encountered was the priests. These religious leaders didn’t rob the man, beat him, or exploit him. They simply avoided him altogether. They were too busy doing what they saw as more important spiritual work to stop and help someone in need. Before you think that you would never ignore someone bleeding on the side of the road, think again. From time to time, we all think the best way to handle a situation is to avoid it altogether. The priests in this story didn’t think they were responsible-after all, they were busy, important people. So they didn’t serve the man; they went around him.
Maybe we think someone else will do it. Maybe we think someone else is doing it. Either way, we are not seeing the situation the way God wants us to see it. The Bible says “When He (Jesus) looked out over the crowds, His heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36, MSG) This explains why Jesus was so effective. He saw people in the condition they were in, and their need motivated Him to do something about it.
The Good Samaritan
The last person this poor victim encountered, the Good Samaritan, was the only one who saw him through the eyes of a servant leader. He didn’t see a victim to exploit or a problem to avoid. He saw a person to be loved. And that’s why he served.
Choose to Serve Anyway
So how can we see people through the lens of a servant? Simple. It’s a choice. Every day we have to choose to see people the way God does. Too many of us wait for our feelings to lead, and then if we feel compassion, sympathy, or obligation toward someone, our action will follow. Too often we view love as a feeling. But love is intentionally caring or helping another person by doing something regardless of our feelings. Real servant leaders make choices about people first, and then the feelings follow. The Good Samaritan didn’t necessarily feel like interrupting his travel plans or spending his hard-earned money on a complete stranger. He simply saw someone in need and he made a choice.
What you see when you look at someone determines how you serve. Many of us say we want to love others-but we see, feel, and move on. Servant leaders remember that someone with a chip on their shoulder may have scars on their back-so their approach is not judgment but loving action. Servant leaders serve people differently because they see people differently.
About the Writer
Chris Hodges and his wife Tammy have five children and live in Birmingham, Alabama, where Church of the Highlands began and where he continues to serve.