Responsibility to help othersPutting the whole before self

Joanna Adams is a retired Presbyterian minister in Atlanta. She writes for the Higher Ground Group website at

One of the familiar Bible stories of the Christian tradition has to do with a man who was beaten within an inch of his life.

The poor fellow had been traveling on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho when, according to Luke, he “fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him for dead.”

After being ignored by two passersby, a man from Samaria came along and had pity on the man in the ditch. He bandaged his wounds, carried him to an inn and paid for his lodging in advance.

Even then he was not through.

He said to the innkeeper, “Listen, if I haven’t given you enough money, I’ll come back and give you whatever more you spend.”

We are not told where the Good Samaritan went after he left.

Perhaps, he went on about his business, having done one very good deed and being done with the travails of the stranger.

Yet, I wonder.

Given the amount of compassion in his soul, isn’t it at least possible that when he left the inn, he headed back to Jerusalem, the place where public policies and priorities were set?

Would he have tried to get something done about the bandits on the Jericho Road?

Right now, our Georgia Legislature is busy setting significant public priorities and policies that will affect the well-being of millions of Georgians.

Is it not our responsibility as citizens to speak up on behalf of those among us who cannot speak for themselves, especially the most vulnerable among us — the children, the elderly, those who suffer from mental and physical disabilities, those who are daily beaten up by poverty?

Isn’t good policy nothing more or less than compassion gone public?

Yes, government can drive us crazy with its excess and its inefficiencies, but we can’t leave home and travel safely through life without it.

John Winthrop, a Puritan layman, spoke aboard the immigrant ship Arabella before it landed in the New World in 1630.

In his sermon, he outlined a vision that would eventually become the moral framework of a new nation.

He spoke of the need to put the good of the whole before the good of self.

He said that if those coming to the New World were unable to share their abundance with those in need, if they were unwilling to take their public responsibility more seriously than their private convenience, then the new society they were trying to create would be no better than the one they were trying to escape.

“We must be knit together in this work as one. … We must make each other’s condition our own,” he said.

Self and society: It’s the only way we’re going to make it another 383 years.