A friend told me the story of 2 ducks on the side of the ride. One duck called Mr. Mallard was distressed and circling around his mate, Mrs. Mallard, who was lying on the ground. My friend presumed that Mrs. Mallard had been hit by a car and was dying. Mr. Mallard was confused and scared watching his mate die not knowing what he can do to help her. Mr. Mallard squawked at traffic passing by – who knows, he could have been asking for help or alerting drivers to stay away from Mrs. Mallard. Mr. Mallard wouldn’t leave Mrs. Mallard’s side. The friend who told me this story was fighting back tears telling me this story. I imagine that the scene was emotionally moving. One rarely gets a glimpse of 2 animals caring for one another that one is at the point of grief and distress over losing a mate. My friend was moved to tears.
What makes you cry?
I cry every time I hear the national anthem sung well. I often cry or have to change the channel when an ASPCA commercial comes on showing abused animals. I have cried this week when I watched athletes see their scores and start crying because they had won gold medals.
Carl Frederick Buechner was a WWII veteran, Presbyterian minister and prolific writer. He suggested a test to see if one is alive or test one’s empathy. Buechner wrote: “If you have not cried for someone other than yourself in the last year, then the chances are you are already dead.” (http://day1.org/1049-the_predicament_of_freedom) That test might be a little rough on those who don’t cry, but the test challenges us to consider whether or not we tend to care only for ourselves or if we have empathy for those who are hurting.
Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is somewhat of a test to consider what we’d do in the situation of finding a man lying on the side of the road. The parable asks us, “Do you have empathy for the hurting?” It starts as one man’s test of Jesus.
A law expert asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, not often giving a direct answer, turned the tables on the lawyer and asked, “What does the Law say?” The lawyer said, “Love your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus agreed that was what the Law said and told the lawyer to do so.
But, the lawyer was not done. He wanted to know he was doing what the Law said. He asked Jesus who his neighbor was. This was a trick question for Jesus. The Law clearly defined roles about how Jews should treat Gentiles and Samaritans, how men relate to women, what a priest’s role was, and so on. The Law says you should love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19: 18). The Law also says you should treat an immigrant as a citizen by loving him also (Lev 19: 34).
Jesus had a story for the lawyer to turn the tables again on the lawyer, testing his ethics defined by his interpretation of the Law. Now, when we hear a story from Jesus, we want to identify with one of the characters. We know when we begin to read this story we’re going to want to be like the one who loves his neighbor. So, Jesus begins…
“A man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and left him for dead.” We know we want to be the one who helps this half dead man.
Jesus continues, “A priest happened to be going down the same road…” If we were hearing this story for the first time, as a Jew, we’d listen to what this priest had done, because we know the priest would do the right thing…but he doesn’t. Jesus says the priest crossed the road and walked past the man without doing anything to help.
Jesus continues, “a Levite…” okay, if the priest didn’t do the right thing, surely the Levite is going to help the man, we’re going to want to listen to what the Levite does so we can do that, but the Levite also crossed the road and passed by the man without helping.
Jesus continues, “a Samaritan…” now, a Samaritan, we wouldn’t want to be like. They aren’t Jewish. They believe in God, but they don’t believe the right things or do the right things. They are the people born on the wrong side of the tracks. So, we definitely don’t want to be like him. But, the Samaritan does the right thing, not like the priest and the Levite.
Jesus says the Samaritan saw the man and took care of him because he had pity or empathy for the man lying on the side of the road. The Samaritan bandaged his wounds and poured oil and wine on the wounds to clean them. Then, the Samaritan put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn. The Samaritan gave the innkeeper money to care for the man until he is well. The Samaritan said he would be back to pay the innkeeper the rest of the expenses he would use to care for the man.
After telling his story, Jesus has a question for the lawyer, “which of the three men do you think did right by his neighbor, the man who had been attacked?” The lawyer, I’m sure reluctantly said the Samaritan, admitting that the priest and Levite had done the wrong thing, said the Samaritan had done what was right, had loved his neighbor by showing mercy. Jesus said, “go and do likewise, go and do what the Samaritan has done.”
Jesus’ story shatters the lawyer’s stereotypes of social boundaries and challenges all who hear Jesus’ parable. Neighbors are no longer included or excluded by class division or religious or racial groups. Neighbors is not easily defined by who is or who isn’t worthy of neighborliness. Mercy is not doled out by one with a calculating ethic and eternal life is not the reward for doing good. Eternal life, or life in the age to come, begins with the qualities of life which include showing mercy to others regardless of their race or religion or national origin. “Mercy sees only need and responds.” (NIB, Luke, John, p. 230.)
I’ve been thinking about prayer this week. We all pray…I hope…and in those prayers, most of those prayers are for others, for their health, well being, a change in circumstances, reconciliation among family, even for our troops and our nation. We pray for people whose stories we read in the newspaper or e-mail or on Facebook. One of the things I do is pray when I hear a siren. I pray for the safety of the first responders and the aid of the one being responded to whether they are in need of medical help or someone to fight a fire.
I was convicted this week. I read a quote from St. Augustine which read, “A Christian is a mind through which Christ thinks, a heart through which Christ loves, a voice through which Christ speaks, and a hand through which Christ helps.” St. Augustine’s words challenged me to consider how I am lending my mind, my voice, my heart or my hands to Christ’s work. All of which begins with my empathy or mercy for others. Some say it begins with what you see in the world that breaks your heart.
What breaks your heart?
I asked myself this week how I am lending my mind, my heart, my voice and my hand to Christ for His work and what is breaking my heart that Christ can use me to meet that need. Or, if I expect others to be a response to my prayers for healing and rescue, the work that I can’t do; how am I being the answer to someone else’s prayers for work that I can do? How am I showing mercy to my neighbor which might be an answer to someone’s prayers to show mercy to their loved one?
These aren’t easy questions about how we serve nor should there be easy answers, because, often, we don’t know how what we do that seems so insignificant can mean the world to someone. We often aren’t aware of how Christ uses us. But, we know what breaks our hearts. We know what we pray about and we know that things like a visit to someone who is sick or lonely can make their day or week. We know that praying with or for someone can make all the difference. Keep doing what you’re doing, because all the little things you do make a world of difference to the people broken by this world whom we encounter in need of our love and mercy.