All of these excuses came crashing down on a Saturday morning in Nashville, when the story of the Good Samaritan was opened to me in a new light. Gregg Cunningham, executive director for The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, was in town for a one-day seminar. My mom knew Gregg and wanted me to meet him. The trip I'd scheduled for the weekend fell through. The tiny Baptist church hosting the event was a few blocks from my apartment. So I went. In fact, I was almost the only one who went, but the sparseness of that gathering has been a frequent source of encouragement ever since. Gregg could have packed it in and not bothered with such a small crowd. But he didn't. And here I am.
Central to his presentation was the story of the Good Samaritan—a story originally prompted by an incredibly significant question: "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" When a lawyer asks him this question, Jesus in turn asks him what's written in the law. When the lawyer inquires about who his neighbor is, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan.
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.' Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do likewise." (Luke 10:25-37)
Who is my neighbor? The nameless, unconscious, socially despised stranger on the brink of death. What does it mean to love him? To physically intervene on his behalf, even if it costs time, money, safety, and prestige. Jesus builds his narrative on neighbors so different, so detached, so disconnected that it becomes impossible to classify anyone as a non-neighbor. And though it's a relatively extreme example, it illustrates how far genuine love for neighbor is willing to go. When we understand the story of the Good Samaritan, not as an extraordinary act of kindness but as an application of normal, neighborly love in extraordinary circumstances, we're on the right track. But it still won't hit us as it should if we demonize the priest and Levite. When we view them as self-absorbed villains, it's much easier to escape conviction. When we see them as normal, busy, distracted people, the story hits much closer to home.
Jesus doesn't tell us what the priest and Levite were thinking, but it's unlikely these spiritual icons were so hardhearted that they could look on a beaten countryman without feeling compassion. Nor is it hard to imagine the excuses that probably went through their heads. I'm on my way to the synagogue. I can't become ceremonially unclean. Mercy ministries aren't my calling. I'm not a doctor. Someone else will help. I might be attacked and robbed myself. He's probably dead already. I'll pray for him as I go. Having used variants of these same excuses myself, I'm well aware how reasonable they sound in the moment. But Jesus makes it clear that feeling compassion and showing compassion are entirely different things. It doesn't matter what they felt; it matters what they did. And since they did nothing, they stand condemned.
In his talk Gregg suggested most Christians respond to abortion like the priest and Levite responded to the beaten man in the street. They feel bad but pass the victims by. His assessment was certainly true of me. Like so many others, I thought mental opposition is enough. As long as I knew abortion was wrong and didn't endorse it myself, everything was fine, since that's all I'd be held accountable for. But what's the underlying warning in the Good Samaritan story? It's not what we feel; it's what we do. We can act without love, but we cannot love without acting. Loving my neighbor is not a special calling; it's a response to those in need around me. And it's worth noting that the story's hero wasn't wandering around looking for someone to help. He was on his way somewhere else—but he stopped to help a neighbor in need.
How does this story connect to abortion? The parallels are many. Just like the man left for dead in the street, children threatened by abortion are utterly helpless. If someone doesn't intervene, they'll die. They have no capacity to communicate, to beg for help. They are socially marginalized strangers in a culture programmed not to care about them. And just like the persons passing by on the Jericho road, we may be innocent of the crime, but Jesus still expects us to intervene. The violence of abortion isn't as visible as a man lying beaten on a road, but it surrounds us every day. In the story of the Good Samaritan, Christ teaches us the significance of the insignificant. Even a nameless stranger on the brink of death is worth our time, labor, and love.
Editors' note: This excerpt is adapted from Michael Spielman's free eBook Love the Least (A Lot): Extending the Love of Christ to Abortion-Vulnerable Women and Children (2013). Spielman is the founder and director of Abort73.com.