Friday, April 9, 2010

Following Jesus - The Good Samaritan

"Who is my neighbor?

In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. A Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'"

A man, presumably a Jew, traveling down a dangerous passageway between Jerusalem and Jericho, is attacked, beaten and robbed. We are not told the point of his journey. We do not know why he was on this road. We do not know if he was a good man or not, if he was hardworking or not, if he was faithful to God or not. All we know is that after the robbers leave him, he has nothing. Not even his clothes. Penniless, physically close to death, humiliatingly naked, lying in the dust waiting to die. Powerless. Filthy. Defiled. Broken almost beyond repair.

It is interesting that Jesus sees no need to delve deeper into the man's character. Does he even deserve help? Without his clothes, who could tell what kind of man he was? Maybe he was a robber himself, deceived and betrayed by his fellow thieves. Who knows? It's Jesus' parable, so Jesus probably knew. But He didn't say, and we can assume by his silence on the matter that it is of no consequence. There are only two things that Jesus needs us to know about this fellow. He is there and he needs help.

We like to know more, though. We like details. The amount that we are willing to give is directly related to how much we approve of the facts behind the need. There is always an underlying question in our hearts. Do they deserve it?

There is a young man in our lives that we love very much. My husband and I have taken him into our hearts and are mentoring him, as much as he will let us. Recently he was in a situation that served to reveal to us the depth of his difficulty with relationships. In the process, he deeply hurt a dear friend of ours, in ways that were outlandishly callous, disrespectful and rudely uncaring. We love him, and were not completely surprised at his behavior. I felt angry with him, though. His behavior was unacceptable, and I suspect he will do everything that he can to avoid taking responsibility for it.

My husband and I were discussing how to best help him now, in the light of his behavior. The question of what he deserves is not the issue. Of course he does not deserve help, especially not after what he has done. But we love him, and God loves him, and so the only question that remains is how to help him in a way that will produce more positive results, that will not interfere with God's natural working out of the consequences of his sin in his life. Essentially, we need to stay out of God's way as the consequences of his actions come down on him. We need to make sure that he understands our love extends to our friend that he hurt, that we also are hurt for her.

The real challenge for us, or for me anyway, is to keep my heart humble and clean before God. I need to make sure that self-righteousness does not raise it's ugly head and that I don't pull away from him in an effort to "punish" him for his sins. I want to say, "Listen, buddy, you're on your own". In many ways, we do have to pull back from the hoops we used to jump through to help him, because part of the problem is a disturbing sense of entitlement. But we must do it because it is a viable part of the solution, not out of anger and vengeance. The fact is, the more we know about a situation, the harder it can be to serve without pride and self-righteousness. The harder it is to plug into God's plans and will, because He is almost always more inclined to grace and mercy than we are. He is a just God, and but His justice is redemptive. It is meant to bring about salvation, healing, wholeness, reconciliation with Him and with others. Punishment desires only to inflict pain for pain received. God is merciful. (Hosea 6:6)

I believe in tough love. I also believe that the operative word there is love. The term "tough love" gets thrown around a lot these days to justify attitudes and words that are anything but loving. Tough love may have to close the door, but it sits, crumpled and weeping on the other side. Tough love hurts the lover as well as the loved one. If we walk away from a "tough love" incident or conversation feeling right, strong, accomplished or satisfied, there was probably not much love involved. Tough love may say, I can't help you right now. The love part, though, will spend the rest of the day/week/month in prayer because our loved one is struggling and our hearts and minds can't help but be with them. This is not guilt. It is not about us at all. It is about them. Our tough love may cause them pain, and as necessary as that pain may be, we weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. God knows that it is not easy. He is the Master of tough love!

We may think that these things are so complicated. Situations are multi-faceted, relationships are tricky, the truth can be hard to find, do we meet felt needs vs real needs and then who decided what needs are real? The real challenge, though, is within our own hearts. Christ-followers follow Jesus' example and would gladly ignore details if they could. Who is this guy? What's his story? Does he deserve help? For a Christ-follower, as for Jesus, the passion to reach out in love is so strong that even when details must be addressed, they are an irritation, a speed bump that has to be navigated before they can eagerly get to work. It's not that they throw out wisdom, but the passion and love is so strong that the details can feel like a bit of a nuisance.

The one thing the Christ-follower never forgets is that Jesus loves her, has always loved her and always will love her. She lives daily in the light of a supernatural, powerful, eternal love that she in no way deserves, or ever will. It has never been about that, between her and Jesus. His love just is. And, as it is for her, it is for others. Everything that she does for Him is an expression of her love, a celebration of His love, but never an earning of His love. There is freedom and joy in this. When that joy pours into the lives of broken, wounded travelers, great things happen.

Stay tuned...

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