“‘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 10:36-37)

Some years ago, I was helping to paint my church office. One of the more disagreeable tasks I had to do was to clean up the mess I had made: globs of paint spilled on the floor. Few of us enjoy cleaning up after ourselves. Usually we want to bask in the glory of our great creative work, and leave clean up for someone else. We feel it is unpleasant and beneath our dignity to do such menial work. But I made the mess; I had to clean it up.

As I was down on my hands and knees doing this, I felt really spiritual. I felt like Jesus when He was washing the feet of His disciples. But then the Lord showed me something very profound: He was not cleaning up a mess He had made; He was cleaning up someone else’s mess. This was the entire purpose of His ministry, to clean up our mess. The point of His parable which we call the Good Samaritan is that He expects His people to do the same, to clean up someone else’s mess.

Quite often we have to clean up other people’s messes. Parents have to clean up the messes their kids make. Often spouses must do the same for each other. But when you clean up after someone you love you usually do not see it as a chore.

But what about picking up the messes that other people make, people who are not related to us, who we do not know, do not care about, perhaps even hate and despise or vice versa? That is difficult. To clean up someone else’s mess, we want to get paid. Many people earn a living cleaning up the messes other people make such as garbage men, nannies and many of those in the medical professions who work with the sick and the elderly.

Jesus exhorts us to clean up the mess of anyone and everyone He happens to place in our way. Our neighbor is not merely the person who lives next door or down the street. Our neighbor is anyone in need of God’s mercy. We are to show God’s love by doing good works for people we do not know, people we may not like, and who may not like us.