Submitted by Pastor David Wynn, Tarkio Christian Church
Our words give us away. Have you ever noticed that? Something terrible happens. A horrible accident. Maybe we know the people who are involved in a personal way. Maybe not.
The kind of tragic events that happen almost everywhere every day. And if we are sympathetic souls, we find ourselves saying, or thinking, or maybe just feeling something like, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Sharon and I said that to ourselves last Wednesday afternoon when the phone finally rang and the nurse said first to Sharon, and then to me, “You tested negative on the COVID-19 tests you took on Monday.” While the news that night talked about the many thousands who had died over the last 24 hours, we thought, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” How many times have we said or felt that this year? There. Not here, where I stand and see the world. And maybe that is precisely the problem – that we are not able to see.
Like our esteemed governor of Missouri, Dr. Parsons, who just said, “Let’s send the kids back to school, they’ll get sick, they won’t go to a doctor or a hospital, they’ll just go home and get better.” Sometimes stupidity just rules the day. Just ask all those thousands who are in Sturgis, South Dakota.
Sometimes there is a kind of strange silence about Jesus. It is a silence that invariably takes place just when somebody wants him to say something, anything. Or when somebody has a question for him like the many who came to him. But Jesus was simple – not simple-minded – just simple, to the point, in his thinking. And that was what confused the questioners, especially his followers. You see, in some people’s minds the more hopelessly complicated a thing is, the more important it is. How often have you heard me say, “It doesn’t have to be that complicated, folks!”
Jesus’ teaching was and is the eternal deep truth that often seemed simpler than a child’s fairy tale. The trouble is that people find it hard to be simple when they talk about God. And sadly, more so now in many churches today than in Jesus’ time, they get so interested in talking about God in big words and fancy discussions that they lose sight of him completely. The Scribes and Pharisees knew all about religion, but very little about loving and serving God. Jesus was disgusted with them, and they were horrified of Jesus. So they set about quite often to trap him.
A lawyer once sought Jesus out with the clear intention of building a clever trap for Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “What is written in the Law? What do you read there?” The lawyer answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
The lawyer knows the Law and so does Jesus. What more is there to say?
But, then the lawyer tips his hand. “And who is my neighbor?” Who is it that I am to love as I love myself? Who is that I am to show favor to? Who is that I am called to work for? To sacrifice for? To pray for?
Jesus came across to where the lawyer stood. He grabbed both his shoulders, and locked His eyes into his. “A certain man went down from Jerusalem and Jericho,” Jesus began. And He did not let go of the lawyer’s shoulders until he could see in his eyes that the lawyer knew He was that man. Was there.
Then He moved away from him to tell everyone what happened to him on that journey. First the robbery, then the stripping and beating, then being left for dead by two of his own countrymen. Until a Samaritan, a foreigner, stopped to help him while all others passed by.
Jesus has him where he wants him – wants us all – in order to see.
“I now had nothing, so nothing came to me. Even through my blood I could see he was a Samaritan. But in his eyes were my tears. He cleaned me like a mother bathes a child, rubbed oil in my wounds, tore his own robe for bandage. He put me on his donkey and walked beside it, steadying me. At the inn he laid me on a cot and placed blankets over me. I could hear him paying the innkeeper and saying he would be back to take care of me if it was needed. All that time, that endless time, he never spoke to me. Except for the tears.
Jesus grabbed me by the shoulders again, and asked, with tears in his eyes, “Who proved neighbor to the one in need?” My answer came, halting, like a child speaking for the first time, “The one who showed mercy.” It is the moment of sight for the lawyer. He suddenly sees the world the way Jesus does from the perspective of the man in the ditch; and when that happens there is no more need for questions or answers or traps, because, as he later reflected upon this parable thrust upon him by the silent Jesus, the lawyer proclaims: “At the time there were no Samaritans. Or Jews. Or Gentiles. Or priests. Or Lawyers. Only those who cry out and those who pass by.”
There is only one thing we truly need to see, what Jesus wants us to see: that every last one of us is that man in the ditch because every last one of us, no matter how little we look like it, or no matter how surprised we might be to realize it, is dying for need of both treating and being treated the way people who are truly alive treat one another – which means both giving and receiving mercy, binding up each other’s wounds, taking care of one another. Not because we should, but because that is the way things are.
Not because, “There, but for the grace of God, go I”, but because there is no “there” for those who are truly alive. Because it is the only way to see and truly live.