Have you ever read the parable of the Good Samaritan? Yeah, me, too. At least a billion times. Well, nearly.
But I’m not sure I understood it until today.
When my twenty-something daughter, who has traveled to Berlin on a Fulbright award, contacted me to say, “Mom, I’m getting ready to go to the Berlin central train station… to bring stuff for the Ukrainian refugees coming in, who are mostly women and children. If anyone wants to contribute you can send me money to get some more stuff. Here’s the items they need right now.”
And I looked at that list. And I cried. Some things are listed as “urgent.” Some things are “just important.” baby bottles. wipes. diapers. shampoos. detergents. hand cream. combs and hairbrushes. panty liners and tampons. lip balm. toothpaste. shower gel. disinfectant. coloring books. matchbox cars. plushies. sketch books. stickers. URGENT.
Oh, please someone buy so many sketch books and plushies.
The former me thought that it was a cop out just to send cash. Today’s me is waking up to a world that needs all I have to offer. Whatever I have to offer.
Oh, but that Good Samaritan from Luke, Chapter 10, on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho … he set a very high bar. he stopped to help the man who had been robbed and beaten and left half dead. He dressed his wounds. He transported the man to safety. where he took care of him. and then he could be cared for. and he could rest and recover. And, after covering expenses, he told the caregiver, whatever it costs, put it on my tab. I’ll be back to settle up the expenses.
When I read the parable of the Good Samaritan, I “hear” this is what you need to be. This kind of good neighbor. who does it all, going above and beyond for his neighbor, whom he doesn’t even know.
Today, I am a continent away from one who needs my help. Who needs me to stop and look, treat their wounds, attend to their needs, deliver them to safety, ensure their care, and provision them for the journey.
All I can offer is, “any expense you have, I will reimburse.” But my understanding today says, that is enough. Because I know someone, who by the happenstance of circumstances, can provide for the one who has need and can reimburse the innkeeper for the kindness he or she is administering.
I had always set the Good Samaritan as the highest of bars: Stop. treat. Deliver. Care. Provide. Reimburse. All of these in order to fulfill my obligations. The “what more must I do? clause.” By this standard the Kingdom is very far off and always will be.
But today, by the grace of God, and amidst the disgrace of mankind’s behavior to his own kind, I see the Good Samaritan not the work of just one man, but as the work of all of us together. For you who are bold enough and brave enough and whose circumstances have placed you in the midst of this fray, you can be the stoppers, the treaters, the deliverers, the carers. And may God bless you and protect you. We, whose circumstances place us at a distance, can be the providers, the reimbursers and surely, oh surely, the prayers of prayers.
Together, not alone, not separately, but all together, we can be The Good Samaritan: not just proclaimers, but demonstrators, purveyors and benefactors of those who are being the Good News. News you can believe and believe in. Because you see it in living color. In the person next to you. In the one far from you. And inexorably in the deepest version of you.
Together, let’s believe the good news of the gospel as we live it out.
In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. Thanks be to God.
I don’t deserve what I have
any more than
the desperate refugee
deserves to flee for his life
or the starving child
deserves to go hungry.
Yet, I know them by heart.
As the mother
with hungry children
gives them what little
there is, and her portion, too.
As the one
without a home
respite and a way home.
I, with a home,
a kind word, a drink of water,
to offer in shelter
to the one who needs sanctuary.
I, with life’s bread,
to offer in sustenance
to the one who is hungry
and the one who is going without.
This is my nature, too.
A visitor to an Austrian refugee camp felt sorry for a little wisp of a girl, carrying a bucket of water along a muddy path. He asked her, “How long have you been without a home?” Surprised, the nine-year-old looked up at him and replied, “Our family has a loving home. We just don’t have a house to put it in.”
This vignette begins a newsletter edited by Dr. Rilling which was meant to offer commentary and sermon ideas for pastors set to preach during the upcoming season. Story took first place. Ah, the power and poignancy of a few lines of dialogue to bring one into a space and to set the stage. At once, we’re the visitor set on our heels by the child, who has shown us ourselves.
Story has the power to do this, and to accomplish it across generations and distances of miles, cultures and times.
Unless, we press for the facts of the case.
Was there really such a camp? such a visitor? such a girl? And would she have replied so? Is this a true story or just a fabrication? Did it really happen or are you just making this up? I’m not easily tricked, you know!
As soon as you ask all these things, you feel differently about the story. You erect walls of protection against, rather than opening windows to, the message and meaning in your midst.
While in our modern day rush to know exactly what happened and when, who said it and how, we may have honed our delivery so it is defensible and fact-checkable, but we also may distract ourselves from the truth at its core. That one could have a loving home without a ‘house to put it in’ is a truth we could all rally around. And, in fact, that may be just the truth we need to embrace to ignite our concern for those who, even without houses, have hearts capable of loving just as ours are.
Stories which inspire us with truth need not be factual, annotated or attributed. Oddly, they may have the power to teach us more about truth than ‘true’ stories do.
In Dr. Rilling’s day, it was not customary to attribute all quotes or verify all sources. He regularly uses poetry, lines from hymns, and conversations where “a famous preacher once said.” Only occasionally does he mark these with an end note. Perhaps if he had had the internet, many administrative assistants, and a schedule he could clear for several weeks, he might have included a few more clues as to his sources.
As it stands, I’m left to guess which words are his alone and which he borrowed from acquaintances in conversation, dinner guests (I understand that Billy Graham was one), fellow pastors, or the volumes in his study. At first, I found this uncomfortable, as it is so unlike the documents I read and the world I live in, but I’m getting accustomed to it. It makes for fewer stops in the reading and more flow to the story.
And the story, after all, sets the stage. All that’s left is to give myself over to the possibility that these words have something to teach me, and then I’m home free.