“ … a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?” He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?” He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.” “Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.” Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”
The story that Jesus tells following this question is one that has proven to transcend time and culture. The story of the ‘good Samaritan’ has become synonymous with ideas of how to be helpful and how to bring hope to those who are hurting.
Jesus, the master storyteller, takes his audience on an incredible journey full of twists, turns, and teaching moments as he answers an initially selfish and self-serving question by a religious expert whose only intent was trying to define just how far he was required to take the whole ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ idea.
In his story about a man that had fallen on hard times, Jesus paints a picture of an unnamed man traveling down a road that was known for being treacherous. His audience was not particularly shocked when Jesus informs them that the main character in his story had been robbed, beaten, and left half dead on the street. Traveling down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was risky. In addition to the steep drop in elevation, the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was filled with craggy limestone rocks, which provided plenty of cover for thieves and robbers to lay in wait for their unsuspecting victims. This road, in many ways is analogous to life itself.
As his audience continued to listen, no one was all that surprised at the responses of the priest and the Levite, after all if the man was actually dead, they could have been rendered ceremonially unclean and left unable to do their job of presenting sacrifices at the temple on behalf of God’s people. In a way, at least at the time, their lack of help seemed justifiable.
Then there is the ‘good Samaritan’ who is the iconic image of what it truly means to be a neighbor. Jesus describes with great detail how this man felt compassion for his fallen neighbor and despite their obvious differences, went out of his way to provide this man with hope and healing so that he would have a chance at surviving the brutality of traveling the road called life.
Followers of Jesus can certainly learn a lot about how to be a neighbor from the example of the Samaritan man, but I believe there is an equally important lesson that the church can learn from an often overlooked and underappreciated character in the story.
The Samaritan was indeed a great neighbor to the hurting man, but the inn keeper was an integral part of helping to create a great neighborhood, a community where good neighbors can bring their brothers and sisters for healing, biblical hospitality, and hope for the future.
While they weren’t considered quite as bad as tax collectors, inn keepers in the first century weren’t always considered trustworthy because they were often guilty of exploiting people’s need for shelter by charging them exorbitant rates. What may be surprising is that the inn keeper in Jesus’ story seemed to be just as worthy of praise as the Samaritan man because he intentionally set up a community of hospitality on a road that was known for causing pain.
The church can learn a great lesson from an unsung hero about how to not only be great neighbors but to create great neighborhoods for those who have found themselves traveling down the road called life and are in need of help, hope, healing, and hospitality.
The inn keeper opened up his inn on a road where he knew hospitality would be needed. He was also willing to make an investment in the lives of those who are road weary because the Samaritan promised to reimburse him for his extra upfront expenses.
Churches can learn to serve the special-needs and disability communities by setting up ministries in strategic places along the road that special-needs family travel.
Here are a just a few ideas of ministries to consider as you seek to implement an innkeeper mindset in your church.
- Sibling support groups
- Marriage support groups
- Respite Care
- Hospital Visitation Teams
- Birthday, Holiday, Anniversary Care Packages
- Meal Support
- Financial Support
- School Advocates
Special needs families travel down the proverbial road from Jerusalem to Jericho daily and that road often comes with twists, turns, and surprises that leave them lonely and longing for both good Samaritans and innkeepers, good neighbors and even better neighborhoods that can take them in and give them the healing and strength needed to continue their journey. As we listen to the story of the good Samaritan let us not only ask ourselves how we can become better neighbors to special-needs familes but rather let’s ask ourselves as the church, how we can be better innkeepers.