Topic: Compassion Scripture: Luke 10:25–10:37
I've noticed that in the last 15 years or so that storytelling has gained some well-deserved notice and emphasis, especially within the church. Storytelling is not a new phenomenon by any means. In fact, it is likely the most ancient and foundational cornerstone the human race has in terms of collective memory and cultural identity. Even still, storytelling has enjoyed a resurgence of interest and energy. There are now awards given for the most innovative storytelling in the forms of writing, spoken word, film, photography and even awards for culinary storytelling. We are exposed to dozens upon dozens of stories beyond simply our own. Stories that are told on the big screen, within the music we listen to, shared by our neighbors, friends, or co-workers. Stories that are true, stories that are not, and stories that are perhaps somewhere in the middle. But one thing is empathically true: Stories are powerful. They invoke something central to who we are. The best communicators are storytellers, regardless of whether they use words or colors or rhythms. And that includes Jesus.As we journey through this season of Lent and approach Easter, we're going to be exploring just how prominent and powerful Jesus was as a storyteller. Many know Jesus as a miracle worker and a profound teacher. And those are spot-on descriptions of our Savior. But Jesus was also a magnificent and compelling storyteller. And so, this new Lenten message series will be our opportunity to examine a few of those stories a little more closely. The stories, called parables, offer us rich and moving truths about subjects ranging from the kingdom of God to the power of kindness. And these parables have the power to do something else, and that's the power to be able to speak almost directly to each of our own unique stories. Within many of these parables are lessons and realities that apply almost shockingly to our own experiences or questions. That is why I titled this message series, com(Parable) because we have the chance to see how these simple stories can offer remarkable comparisons to our own stories being told now in 2020. And we begin with, perhaps, one of the more familiar parables of Jesus. A story about not judging a book by its cover, about what it means to show love, a story about Crazy Compassion. It's the parable of the Good Samaritan, and it's found in Luke 10:25-37.
At first, we get a little context into why Jesus tells this story in the first place. It's because Jesus is asked, "Who is my neighbor?" This question comes from someone who we're told is an expert on the law. Some translations actually say lawyer. The role of this type of person was to answer any question asked concerning the Jewish Scriptures. They were the fact-checkers and the rule-makers. And to really get to the bottom of this story, we have to understand this conversation between Jesus and this law expert.
The first thing he asks Jesus is what he has to do to gain eternal life. A fair question that I think most of us have wondered at one time or another. Perhaps surprisingly, Jesus affirms the answer to that cosmic question, and the answer is this: "Love the Lord 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.'" It's at this point I can see our lawyer friend nod slightly and slowly in acceptance until his eyebrows scrunch just a little bit as he begins to consider more. And that consideration leads to the question: "Who is my neighbor?" Any ambiguity concerning why the expert in the law asked this question is erased when we read that he asked this question in order to justify himself. This question isn't being asked for the sake of others. It's being asked for his own sake. He's not asking the question with an excited smile and a hopefulness to make new friends. He's looking for what the minimum is, where the line is drawn. In other words, how little does he need to do? And that is what sparks Christ sharing the parable of the Good Samaritan. A parable that Arland Hultgren described as "an artful creation by a master storyteller."
In this story, we hear about a man who becomes victim to some terrible circumstances. During his travels, he is waylaid by robbers. After they beat him and rob him of virtually anything of value, they simply leave him battered and broken on the side of the road. A priest walks by this victimized man and sees him. This is critical for us. Jesus says the priest "saw the man" and then proceeded to walk to the other side of the road, ignoring him and his hurt. Next, it's a Levite. Another holy man who sees our poor traveler. Same story. The Levite looks at this wounded and bruised individual, and he crosses the road and pretends he didn't see anything. Look, I know that sometimes pastors get a bad rap, but we need to understand something here. These first two men, the priest and Levite, they were supposed to be the good guys! And they utterly disappoint, and they fail in their apparent calling. And that's when the third character enters Christ's story. A Samaritan.
Today, we have virtually no predisposition or opinion concerning Samaritans. But in the time when Jesus shares this parable, Samaritans have about as bad a reputation as you can imagine. Regardless of whether it was warranted or not didn't matter to the greater population at the time. Samaritans were seen as the lowest of society, as distrustful and sneaky, and were oftentimes actively avoided or even run out of towns and villages. And it is a person with that title and condemnation heaped upon their shoulders that is revealed as the hero of Christ's tale. And the reason why is because of what the Samaritan did for the man who was mugged. The Samaritan showed him Crazy Compassion.
The Samaritan took pity on the man. In other words, the plight of this complete stranger touched and pulled at the Samaritan's heart. That is the spark of mercy, the kindling for Crazy Compassion. And it leads to the Samaritan offering as much healing and care as he is able and then doesn't hesitate to take the man to a local inn where he can receive all the care he needs, regardless of the cost it incurs upon the Samaritan. It's then that Jesus asks the expert of the law, "Which of these three is the true neighbor?" In other words, Jesus is asking him which of these three individuals is the one who will inherit what it is the law expert is really interested in…eternal life. Maybe begrudgingly, our lawyer has to grit through his teeth that it isn't the priest or the Levite, the two characters who are more like himself, but the Samaritan who is the embodiment of God's declaration to love the Lord and love the neighbor. The law expert can't even say it. He can't even say the word "Samaritan." Instead, he can only utter as the Amplified Bible translation says, "The one who showed compassion and mercy to him." And Jesus simply says, "Go and do likewise."
Now, at first glance, we love this parable. It's a story about kindness and not judging others and the underdog, and, as I've mentioned, a story of Crazy Compassion. But we're missing something if we think this is an easy lesson for us to absorb and practice. Maybe it's because the concepts of Levites and Samaritans are foreign to us, but I think we underestimate just how reaching and challenging this parable truly is.
When it comes to compassion and mercy, we love to celebrate examples we come across. Mother Teresa is a prime example. We hear the record of the life and love of this beloved saint, and we are filled with a sense of joy and gratitude. But there is also a distance that creates a safety for us. Realistically, we do not anticipate being able to hold the sick and dying in the streets of Calcutta. That doesn't mean we can't admire that kind of Crazy Compassion, but, as I said, it does create a distance that I think we can become comfortable in. So our challenge is to find our own opportunities to show Crazy Compassion in our everyday lives, to do something that makes the story of the Good Samaritan com(Parable) to our own stories. And the example that jumps to my mind immediately is a story I recently read about Fred Rogers.
An intern from Rogers' show, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, recounts the story in Maxwell King's incredible biography of Fred Rogers called The Good Neighbor. Fred was scheduled to have dinner at the home of a very influential executive of a Boston public TV station and the station had sent a limo to drive Fred and this intern to the dinner. When they arrived, the limo driver asked Fred when he should plan to pick them up. Instead, Fred invited the driver to come in for supper at the executives' home, much to the executive's surprise. The account goes on to tell how, after the supper, Fred sat upfront with the driver and struck up a friendly conversation so he could get to know him. This led to Fred and the intern going to the home of the driver, named Billy, to meet Billy's parents. Fred played on the piano for Billy, Billy's parents, and several neighbors. A friendship between one of the most influential men on TV and a Boston limo driver was formed that night that would last until the day Billy died.
That is Crazy Compassion, and it is the kind of crazy we can all jump in on. We meet countless people every day who are victimized, waylaid, or otherwise weighed down by the pressures and pains of this life. Neighbors, co-workers, restaurant servers, cashiers, baristas, gas station attendants, and more. People who have value and purpose, and sadly, pain. And maybe you are like me. Ashamed – that oftentimes, I am more like the priest than I am the Samaritan. I see those people, I notice them. And move on as quickly as I can to what I was doing.
I told you that the focus of this series is to see how we can find a comparison between the parables Jesus offered and our own stories. When it comes to the parable of the Good Samaritan, perhaps the most meaningful comparison we can make is not trying to affirm ourselves that we're the Samaritan, but to admit that we want to be the Samaritan. So, let's begin that work together, friends. Let's go from this place, looking for an opportunity to love our neighbor. Let's be people who offer Crazy Compassion.