11:45 a.m.- I should warn you right from the start that I have had A LOT of coffee this morning. In my Lenten quest to spend more quality face-to-face time, I have scheduled several coffee dates for this week, including a lovely two hour visit with a fabulous friend this morning. It is almost noon and I have pretty much been drinking coffee since 6:00 a.m...so watch out!
SO, let's continue with our story of Jesus talking about His pick for the most important part of God's Law. Yesterday, we looked at the account from Matthew. Today, I would draw your attention to Luke's account. Again, this is your time to go read it, so I don't have to cut and paste the whole thing. Yes, as you see, this time the discussion of the greatest commandment is the precursor to the story of the Good Samaritan. And this time, the question is a little different from the expert who is testing Jesus. He asks "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus, as He often did, answered the man with another question, " what is written in the Law...how do you read it?" When the man answered with the two commandments that we talked about yesterday, Jesus told him that he was correct and told him to live that way. I love how this next part is written in The Message translation, "Looking for a loophole, he asked Jesus 'And just how would you define neighbor?'" Aren't we often "looking for a loophole" when we read something in God's word to us that sounds really difficult?
What follows is the story that many of us have known since childhood about how the unexpected traveler is the one who stops to help the wounded man on the side of the road. As He often did, Jesus turned expectations upside down by making the hero of our story a member of a race that was despised by His Jewish listeners. Despite his lack of the proper religious pedigree, the Samaritan embodies the definition of the "good neighbor" by showing mercy and grace to someone who needed a big dose of both. We don't know if the wounded man on the side of the road was "deserving" of this mercy, just that the Samaritan's "heart went out to him (The Message)" and he felt compelled to change his plans for the moment to take care of the stranger's needs. In contrast, the "religious" travelers' who came upon the man turned their heads and looked away...in fact, crossed to the other side of the road to avoid dealing with the neediness in their path.
A couple of things strike me about this story today. In my suburban existence, I don't often wander onto injured people in the road. I like to think that I would stop and help someone should I be presented with the opportunity. I mean, I have a cell phone, I would certainly call 911, right? Clearly though, we all know that Jesus calls us to a broader definition of "neighbor." Using this story as a guide, who is MY neighbor? Who has God placed in my path today to whom I could extend mercy? If I'm honest, I wonder how often I inadvertently turn my head and cross to the other side of the road to avoid meeting the eyes of someone who could benefit from the mercy and grace I might be able to offer.
I passed a scene yesterday that made me think about how we can be the Good Samaritan in our story. I have a friend, a suburban "homemaker" just like me, who works as a crossing guard in front of a local elementary school. She has worked there for years, although none of her 4 children attend that school any longer. In fact, I was surprised when I drove by the other day to see that she was still there. Yet, as I drove by, I recalled hearing her talk about her work there...work that she considers her ministry. Because of its location, this school has a large number of kids who will be going home to an empty house...homes that are faced with many challenges. She has made it a point to really get to know these kids, to connect with the kids, to offer help or a listening ear to these kids. While her job is to see them safely across the street, she chooses to really SEE them and follow God's leading in offering whatever she has from her storehouse of mercy and grace.
I have another friend who knows the stories, worries and concerns of all the cashiers at our local grocery store. She remembers their kids' names, their health challenges and shares with us prayer concerns that they know they can share with her when she comes to their register with her groceries. If I am honest, I have to admit that I often go in and out of the grocery store without ever looking directly in the eyes of another human being. After all, I am usually in a hurry, right? If they had been asked, would our priest and Levite have said the same thing?
Those are just a couple of examples of people who I know who personify the Good Samaritan without ever leaving their ordinary, everyday path. Of course, we all know the stories of people who serve as missionaries in impoverished areas and that is awesome, but I don't think that is necessarily the heart of this particular story. To me, this story reminds me to open my eyes to the possibilities to "love my neighbor as myself" while I am living my ordinary, everyday life AND to be willing to deal with interruptions to my agenda. After all, Jesus performed most of His miracles while He was "on the way" to somewhere else. When I learn to live out of the grace that I receive from embracing the First of the two commandments, I am equipped to pour out the grace required of the Second commandment. Divine love in, divine love out. For me, it is only through the first that my eyes are opened to the second.
2:00 p.m. This is not the way I expected to finish this post.
I just returned to my computer after taking a break for an appointment. I wrote the previous section and then left to go to my 1:00 nail appointment. As I drove there, I was thinking about how I wanted to finish up this post and about the one I am looking forward to writing tomorrow. With this prayerfully in my mind, I arrived to see my precious friend, M. I have been getting my nails done by this lovely young lady for about 6 years. My husband teases me that I keep having my nails done because I am so crazy about M. Over the years, I have had the privilege of getting to know her as she successfully navigated the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, through her pregnancy with her son (who turned 4 this month,) through the ups and downs in her relationship with her son's father, and through some tragedies in her family. Today, I went in to see her with my heart full of our "discussion" here. As God always does when we open our eyes to His presence in the midst of us, He blessed me with the opportunity to put into practice what He has been showing me in His word. Through the course of our discussion, it became clear that my usually upbeat, positive, glass-half-full friend was struggling today. She shared with me about a very, very difficult circumstance she had recently experienced. While it is not my story to share here, suffice it to say that she shared with me at a deeper level than she had ever done before. As I quietly and prayerfully listened to her share her pain, I marvelled at the "coincidence" that brought me to her side right smack in the middle of writing this blog about having my eyes open to the hurting stranger on the side of my road. Because God had opened my eyes and prepared my heart in a particular way today, I had the opportunity and willingness to address some very difficult issues with her, to encourage her with my love for her and, more importantly, with God's love for her. It was a holy moment.
I share this story not to pat myself on the back for being a good friend to her...that was my privilege. I firmly believe that it had very little to do with me and everything to do with God. The timing was miraculous. God is good and I am in awe. I am hopeful that this story does not end here. My heart is too full to say anything more.
Tomorrow I want to look at the last scripture which is found in Mark. Stay tuned...it is my favorite and the whole reason that I wanted to write these posts in the first place.