The Bible is pretty clear about God’s intent that we help others. For instance, Proverbs 3:28-29 says:
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to act.
Do not say to your neighbor,
“Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”—
when you already have it with you.
Likewise, James 4:17 admonishes, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”
But for whom? For whom are we to do good? The verse above references a “neighbor.” And like the Pharisee, who—trying to justify himself—asked of Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”, we also tend to draw boundary lines on our goodness. But Jesus’ answer doesn’t allow for these artificial boundaries. Instead, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan, wherein
“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. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 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. 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.’” (Luke 10:30-35).
Through this parable, Jesus taught the lesson that neighbors are not just those closest to us, but also strangers, and even enemies. And in Deuteronomy 10:18-19, we see that we are to “love those who are foreigners,” just as God himself “defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.” I don’t recall whether I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. There is a Mennonite saying that goes like this: “If I have two coats and my brother has none, then I am stealing from my brother.” This tracks with James’ instruction to the Jewish believers of his day (2:14-17):
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
Paul echoed this by instructing us to “share with the Lord’s people who are in need” (Romans 12:13). So then, from whom may we withhold good? Enemies? Strangers? Foreigners? Friends? Family? I’ll let Jesus answer for us (Matthew 25:41-45):
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat,
I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,
I was a stranger and you did not invite me in,
I needed clothes and you did not clothe me,
I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these,
you did not do for me.’
The least of these…who in your life, your path, your sphere of influence, is the least of these?
Lord, may we find them, and do the good we ought.