November 12, 2014

Love Your Neighbor

Story based on “The Good Samaritan” found in Luke 10:25-37. 

Ponderings based on a journal entry by Marc Ulrich,
a man who is learning what it means to “love your neighbor.”

Once upon a time there was a child.  An innocent child who experienced from a terribly young age what it means to live in a harsh world full of sin and evil and broken people who hurt one another.  Her parents, the very ones who were supposed to love her and protect her, were unable to do so.  Instead of being fed and clothed and cleaned, she was naked and cold.  Hungry and soiled.  She wept tears of pain and loneliness, longing for someone to love her.  But instead of receiving soothing caresses when she cried, she was beaten.  “Shut up!,” they screamed into her terrified face.  And then they abandoned her, leaving her half dead.

A man passed by.  A nicely-dressed, well-educated man who loved the Lord and had dedicated his life to studying God’s Word and teaching others the truths of the gospel.  What perfect timing!  When the child saw him approaching, a small glimmer of hope sparked in her heart.  Hope that someone, finally, had come to rescue her. 

When the man saw the child, the compassion he felt was instantly overshadowed by his apprehension.  His thoughts competed in silent deliberation . . .

No, he thought, it’s much too dangerous.  It could get really, really messy.  I might have to touch that child, possibly bring her into my home, feed her, bathe her, clean her wounds.  I might contract her diseases.  She might have lice. 

And what about my family?  What if my children don’t want to share their room with her?  Won’t they be resentful of the attention that she requires?  What if she teaches my children bad words?  Oh, and we might have to give up our family’s vacation while we drive her to the courthouse, the doctor’s office, and her therapy appointments.  That wouldn’t be fair to my family.

What would people say if I brought that child into our church services?  If they smell her? If she is boisterous and ill-behaved?   I might lose my reputation, my friends, even be considered a fool. 

No, he thought, I just can’t risk it.

And so he did nothing.  He closed his eyes so that he would not see her, and crossed to the other side of the road.  He left the injured child where she lay, weak and defenseless.  Vulnerable.  Exposed.  In his brief encounter with her, the man had barely broken his stride.

Another man passed by.  An upstanding, well-respected pillar in his church and in his community.  Please, thought the child, please show some compassion.  Please be the one to rescue me before it’s too late.

When the man saw the child, the compassion he felt was instantly overshadowed by his common sense.  His thoughts competed in silent deliberation . . .

No, he thought, it would cost way too much.  I might have to pay for her medical bills and buy new clothes for her and pay for her education.  The expenses might impact my savings plan, and I might have to postpone retirement.

And anyways, that why I pay taxes.  Isn’t that the government’s job, to take care of people like her?  We have federal programs and professionals that can do a much better job of meeting her needs that I ever could.

Well, ok, I do admit that we Christians should be the ones to take care of the poor and needy and orphaned.  And we do!  There are wonderful churches, ministries, and non-profits out there that are doing amazing things.  I already tithe and donate more than average to some of those charities.  Isn’t that enough?

No, he thought, I can’t get involved.  The cost is way too high.

And so, he did nothing.  He called his wife to say that he would be home in time for dinner, and double-checked that he still had his tee-time reserved for the coming week-end.  Almost as soon as it had begun, his brief encounter with the child was quickly forgotten.

A third man passed by.  A humble, average, working class man who would most likely never preach a sermon or write a book or have a huge financial portfolio.  A family man who spent his week-ends mowing the lawn and playing with his kids.  When the child noticed him approaching, she didn’t even look at him.  Why even bother asking for help, when she already guessed what his response would be?

When the man saw her dire condition, the compassion he felt struggled to outweigh his doubts and fears.  His thoughts competed in silent deliberation . . .

I want to obey Jesus’ command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  But I didn’t know that this is what ‘my neighbor’ would look like.  I didn’t know that ‘my neighbor’ would be so filthy.  That she would require so much care at such an inopportune time.

What would Jesus do?  Well, I know what Jesus did.  He touched dirty people who had diseases.  He was willing to get messy.  He wasn’t just inconvenienced or uncomfortable . . . when He loved, it cost Him everything!

If I truly love the Lord with all my heart, if I want to be like Christ, there is really only one appropriate response:  “go and do likewise.”

With new-found faith that was growing stronger by the moment, deep compassion for the child in front of him, and profound gratitude to the One who first loved him, he took a step towards the child and reached out his hands.  

And in that moment, his heart and his life were transformed.  He would never be the same.

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