by: Chris Kaufman
What Makes A Good Person?
Allow me to paint a picture for you.
It's Friday evening, 6 o'clock sharp, and you need to do your weekly grocery shopping. You get out of your car and walk to the entrance of Walmart. Shoot, you forgot your shopping bags, back to the car.
You get to the entrance for a second time and pull your mask over your face. You grab a shopping cart from the nice fellow wiping them down and you descend into the abyss that is Wally World. As you begin your quest no one even attempts to follow the isle direction arrows, some lady had gotten as physically close to you as possible to reach the can of tomatoes on the shelf in front of you, and you've encountered seven men wearing their mask as a chin strap. To top it all off, apparently everyone in town has decided their quarantine activity for the week is going to be baking because there's not even a hint of residual powder where the flour should be.
Finally, you get everything you need (save the flour), and you head to the check out. You wait your turn in line for one of the two working card machines and when you do eventually make your way to one the scale decides it has no clue how to perform the only function it's ever been programed to do properly. By the time you make it outside you're hot, tired, and ready to be home. You pack all your groceries in the car and turn to put your cart back in the dolly.
You pause. That's a pretty far walk, and in every parking space around you sits an abandoned grocery cart. What's one more cart for the attendant to chase down? What do you do?
You've probably experienced what I just described to you innumerable times in your life. Believe it or not this situation actually has a name and place among modern ethics conversations; The Shopping Cart Theory. To summarize briefly, The Shopping Cart Theory proposes that a person’s moral character can be determined by whether they return their shopping cart to the designated spot or if they leave it wherever it suits them. To return the shopping cart is an easy, convenient task and one which we all recognize as the correct, appropriate thing to do. To return the shopping cart is objectively right. There are no situations other than dire emergencies in which a person is not able to return their cart. Simultaneously, it is not illegal to abandon your shopping cart. Therefore, the shopping cart presents itself as the apex example of whether a person will do what is right without being forced to do it.
The debate about what makes a person good has raged as long as people have had the desire to argue with one another. Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius claimed to have finished the debate when he said "Waste no more time arguing about what makes a good man. Be one." That's great and all, but consider the source, Aurelius was a categorically horrible person. He routinely set Christians on fire and slaughtered the poor under his rule. So, thanks for the advice Marcus, but I think we are going to have to argue a little bit more if you are our standard.
The Shopping Cart Theory got me thinking this week, is there a way as simple as this theory for Christian's to measure their moral character? Is there a way we can know that we are either a good person or a bad person? Can we have a litmus test that will tell us if we are really living our faith to the extent we claim? I think the answer is a resounding yes.
Turn with me to Luke 10:25-37. It's a story we are all familiar with if by name alone, the parable of the Good Samaritan. In it Jesus is asked by a Pharisee what is required to gain eternal life. Jesus retorts by asking this man what is written in the law. Our Pharisee friend answers with "Love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul with all our mind and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself."
That's a great answer! Jesus congratulates him on a job well done, 50 gold stars!
That would have been it, had this guy not opened his mouth with the next question; "And who is my neighbor?"
Jesus responds by telling a parable of a man who gets mugged and left on the side of the road to die. Both a priest and a Levite walk by and think, I certainly don't want to get involved with that, and they continue their journey. But when the Samaritan man sees this poor Jew he stops, bandages him up and takes him somewhere safe and pays for a room for him.
Jesus ends the parable by asking the same Pharisee which of these men he believes was a good neighbor. Of course, the answer is the Samaritan, and Jesus ends by telling him to go and do likewise.
Allow me today to propose to you my own version of The Shopping Cart Theory that will allow us to measure if we are really the good people we claim to be; The Neighbor Theory. This is simple, when you see anyone in need what is your first response? Is it; "is this person my neighbor?" or "this person is my neighbor." It's a similar response but the small difference is so important. If our first response to a hurting person is to question if we have the moral responsibility to get involved then we have already failed the test.
The Samaritan in our story doesn't question his ethical responsibility to the Jew, he recognizes hurt and steps in to offer help. Even though his offer of help will gain him nothing and potentially actually cost him something. It would be much easier for him to turn a blind eye like the religious men who walk by, or to question the validity of his responsibility as the Pharisee does, but instead he jumps into action.
Let me ask you today, do you accept your duty to help your neighbor though it will gain you nothing? Or do you view people as disposable and not worth your time like the shopping cart you left in the middle of your parking spot. The answer to that question will ultimately determine what makes a person good.