Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Mid-life lesson #33: Loving your neighbor means having time for them


This is what bearing fruit, glorifying God, and discipleship look like in practice, on the street.

A while back, I can't really remember when or where, I read a commentary on the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) parable that referenced a relevant study of seminarians*. Seminarians were sent between two buildings with instructions to do something at the other building. The instructions on how quickly to get to the other building varied in their urgency. Then in an alleyway between the buildings they passed a man slumped in a doorway who coughed twice.

The dominant factor, above anything else, that contributed to whether the seminarians stopped or even perceived the man in need, was surprising in its simplicity. Those who stopped perceived that they had time to stop (see the link above for a simple summary of the 1973 study). Apply this to the Good Samaritan story, and you start to wonder, perhaps the priest and Levite who passed by on the other side did so not because of their religious habits (although certainly that played a role), and perhaps the Samaritan wasn't kinder or more merciful than others walking on the road.

What if the Samaritan we call good simply had more time, or at least was traveling with an internal disposition that he had time to spare?

Love and "having time" are close cousins. We experience people as saintly when they listen and have time for us.

I find this to be consistently true in my own life. I confess to being more hurried and busy than I would like. On the other hand, as one simple example, this morning after a run I was sitting on the front porch chatting with my spouse and rocking our one-year-old. It was a gorgeous Arkansas morning and pleasant to simply sit and rest and chat. While we sat there, a neighbor walked up and asked for a ride to the auto body shop. Not only did I give him a ride, and not only did he perceive that it would be fine to ask, but additionally, I took pleasure in helping him and giving him a ride.

And I was available, and enjoyed doing it, because I had the time.

This weekend I'm going to preach on another passage of Scripture, John 15:8: My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. I have a suspicion--no, more than a suspicion, a conviction, that if I am going to preach well on glorifying God, bearing fruit, and becoming disciples, I'm going to need to address the issue of time. Perhaps it is the only actual issue.

Yes, we can attempt to cajole each other into being better people. We can read a passage like John 15 and threaten with the whole vine and branches thing. I have my doubts on whether or not this works. Or we can compare notes on who is a better disciple, who is really "sold out" for Jesus. However, I think the jury is out on that one also, the whole "comparing our spiritual growth" thing.

But having time for others, making space in life for the needs of others, making enough space in our lives to even notice the needs of others--this is measurable, and concrete, and real. And it is the work of saints, the work of disciples, the fruit that endures. Time, we might say, is God's glory. God always has enough of it, and then some. And thus so do we. As Jesus also encourages in that John 15 passage, "Abide in me as I abide in you."

Dude, abide. Abide. Abide.

Darley, J. M., and Batson, C.D., "From Jerusalem to Jericho": A study of Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behavior". JPSP, 1973, 27, 100-108.


  1. Anonymous8:44 AM

    Great post! as a current seminary student I relate to this constant struggle with "available time" all to well. I'm reminded of another verse from a long time favorite Psalm of mine about God's time, "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Psalm 90:12.

  2. Anonymous5:27 PM

    Wonderful post. While reading, I could feel time expand around me. Thank you.