Where Does Real Courage Come From?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Meticulous Mercy

                                                           Reflections on Luke 10:34-35

…and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.'
                                                                                                Luke 10:34-35

For a moment in time, our Lord lifts mercy up on a high, exalted throne, puts heaven’s beams of glory on it -- and lets it shine!

He wants the lawyer to see it. He wants all of us to see it.

Every detail.

And so, the Samaritan stops his travels. He sees the man, feels compassion course through his veins, and does what mercy always does. He acts. He leaves his donkey, goes to the man, assesses his condition, and begins the work. He has everything he needs to treat him. He goes back to the donkey.

For oil and wine.

It’s the only medicine he’s got. Freely he pours – washing, cleansing, anointing – gently caring for each wound. One at a time. And then wraps it carefully in clean cloth before going to the next. It takes time. Mercy always takes time.

There are no words between them.

The man is still, no doubt, unconscious. The Samaritan knows he can’t leave him here. He needs a plan. He’s got to take him somewhere. But how does he do it? How does he get him – this dead weight -- up off the ground and onto his donkey with as little trauma as possible? Nobody else seems to be around to help.

He figures out a way – compassion and mercy are surprising that way.

He secures the man safely on his donkey and begins the journey. Slowly – step by step. He knows an Inn. He knows the Innkeeper. With each step, he re-orders his life. The plans he had, the places he needed to be, the people he needed to meet, the well-being of his business and family, all put on hold.

He gets to the Inn, books a room. He decides to spend the night.

He can’t leave him -- not now. He needs constant care.

In the morning, he meets with the Innkeeper. He books the room again, and again, for as long as it takes. He has no interest in asking the Innkeeper to share the expense for the care of this stranger. He wants to pay for it, all of it. Mercy -- real mercy -- always costs. Always gives. Always sacrifices.

There is trust between them.

Like old friends, they easily enter a business deal where money is transacted. The Samaritan advances him two day’s wage and says, “Care for him! Spend what you will, put it on my tab, and when I come back, I will pay it to the full!” The Innkeeper takes the money – assuring his promise to care for the man.

And as he does, our Lord ends the story.

A good story. The man lives! Mercy came. Mercy broke through the powers of evil that assaulted him and breathed life into his nearly dead body. Mercy, in meticulous detail, through this man from Samaria who gave his all – his time, his money, his heart – to love this stranger as his neighbor.

The poor, tormented lawyer.

Is there any chance this could be his story too?

*       *       *

The next few weeks, I did exactly what Leslie said.

“Love the thirty equally.”

The only way to do this with integrity, I decided, was to leave my “tool belt” home. I wasn’t there to fix anybody’s problems. Not anymore. I made sure, in the course of a week, I spent time with each person. If they didn’t want me around, I’d stay at a distance. I had no agenda but to simply be with them.

I must say – I missed my tool belt.

There is suffering on this ward. Every day – unchanging. With tools, I could focus on solutions. Without them, all that’s left is to be with them in the pain of their suffering today. And again, tomorrow. With no hope they’ll be better. No chance we can set goals, see improvement, and take steps forward.

Not here. Half way through the summer, I wrote this in my journal.

Each day, despair grows deeper. I don’t know how to love when I can’t help. Is that wrong? All my life I’ve lived in a world where love and hope are inseparably bound. Who cares if something’s broken? We fix it! We change the story. We believe with God, all things are possible. Faith, hope, and love – endure forever.

But here is different.

The longer I stay, the more afraid I get. This could be me. I could be suffering like any person here. This ward could be my home for the rest of my life. I want to run. I want to pretend it’s all a bad dream.

Instead, I force myself to stay. I ask what I’ve got to ask – if I were them today, how would I want to be treated? Honored? Loved?

Lord Jesus Christ, show me how to love each person equally.

That simple prayer was answered quickly.


He was not an aid. He’d been living at the hospital the past seventeen years. With his condition worsening, the medical staff decided to transfer him to us.

And he was simply amazing. He knew exactly how to love everybody on the floor. Fully. Whether he was loved back or not – he didn’t seem to care. There’s no question he favored the underdog. The moment somebody got hurt, or cried, or lost their temper – he ran to help them. But he cared for the bully as much as those being bullied. And rarely, did I see anyone care for him back.

One day, I wrote about the love gushing through him.

1-    He’s the Kleenex guy – two criers this morning. He got there first
2-    Watched a young man throw his juice cup against the wall. Sam cleaned it up and got him more juice
3-    When I got in this morning, he was making beds with the aids
4-    I love watching him care for the “loners” – he just knows what to do
5-    Nurse slammed down the phone. Sam saw it and went to her. He grabbed her hand and told her she looked pretty today
6-    Guy shoved him hard. Sam didn’t shove back – instead, he apologized
7-    At the cafeteria. he bussed everybody’s dishes – with no thanks

And every day, sometimes twice a day, he’d check up on me. “You’re better now, aren’t you? I can tell, you know!” he’d say. Or, “You’re right where you’re supposed to be. Don’t forget that. It’s all part of the plan!” Or maybe he’d just buzz by, pat my shoulder, smile, and give me a thumbs-up sign.

 “Sam, you’re the best!” I’d call out.

He’d shake his head and reply, “No, I’m not.”

The worst part about Sam was his cough. It was loud and guttural. Often, it came in spasms and when it started, he couldn’t stop it. Those around him, of course, reacted. They’d yell at him. Force him to leave the room. Call him names. I know it hurt him. But I also could tell the coughing scared him.

I asked his doctor about it. She told me it was one of the side effects of long term use of his medication. She added there was no treatment for it and, because of it, he’d been downgraded to our ward.

“He’ll most likely die from this,” she said. “It will continue to get worse and his heart can only take so much.”

“You mean there’s nothing you can do?”

She shook her head, “He probably has a few months. A year at most.”

And that, for me, broke my heart. Of all the people I’ve met down through my years, I’ve rarely seen someone like Sam. He knows how to love without being loved back. He has no need for a tool belt – he’s not out to fix anybody. He is, to me, the kingdom of God bursting onto the floor in acts of mercy and love – and I, for the summer, got to be his student.

“Guess who loves me?” he asked me one late afternoon.

“Well,” I said, “I do.”

“Guess again,” he said.

“Your brother,” I replied, since he’s the only one who ever visits him.

“Guess again.”

I shook my head and saw he was surprised I didn’t know.

He tapped the hospital ID around my neck that read, “Chaplain”, then smiled and said, “Jesus.”

“Do you know why?” he pressed.

Again, I shook my head.

“Because He loves me back.”

Thursday, May 22, 2014


                                                             Reflections on Luke 10:33

But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion…
                                                                                                Luke 10:33

Why not end the story?

He answered the lawyer’s question about neighbors: “That man on the side of the road, beaten senseless, he’s your neighbor! Learn from him. It doesn’t matter who people are, or what they’ve done. Go to them. Love them!”

He then accused him. The simple picture of the priest and Levite passing by the body – with no mercy – did that. When we refuse to love our neighbors, we prove our rebellion to God. Our Lord said it countless times before: “You preach but you do not practice. 1 Your right doctrine means nothing when you do nothing.”

Why isn’t that enough?

But it’s not.

He’s got more work to do in caring for his soul. He decides to press in harder this time. He’s got to confront the hatred in his heart.

Another man enters the story.

Down the same road. Breathing the same air. Seeing the same half dead body. But he’s different. This man has compassion in his heart. He is unable to leave the broken man there in his suffering. He’s got to do something. He has to! For the greatness of the second commandment has burst into flame inside him.

And that’s the point of Jesus’ teaching.

He’s not talking about philanthropists, do-gooders caring for the less fortunate. 2 He’s describing what happens when the first commandment is embraced to the fullest. For it’s when we love God with everything we are, He fills our hearts with love for others. For those who experience the first live out loud the second.

And here he comes. He’s not just any man.

He is 100% Samaritan.

Samaritans! Outcasts, rejected by God according to the Jews -- according to the teaching of lawyers, priests, and Levites. They say Samaritans are wrong about God. Wrong about the worship of God. Wrong in their view of Scripture. Wrong in every way about everything. They do not qualify as neighbors. 3

And that, for Jesus, is unacceptable.

For this reason, He forces the lawyer to stare into the Samaritan’s face. If he wants to hate him – fine! Then watch him. Watch him as he first sees the man on the side of the road. Watch him as compassion fills his heart and soul. Watch him as he goes to him and does what the priest and Levite refused to do.

He loves him as a neighbor is supposed to love his neighbor.

Poor Mr. Right has to watch Mr. Wrong do what is right.

And here, if we could freeze the frame, we might ask: Does the lawyer get what’s happening here? Does he know that just as the Samaritan is caring for this man’s broken body so our Lord is caring for him and his broken soul?

These stories are one and the same.

Same mercy. Same compassion. Two men needing the same rescue.

*       *       *

This week, I focused on the patients.

Rather, people.

You see, that was my problem. Every time I went to the ward, I felt this rush of anxiety. I knew nothing about mental illness. It was easier for me to shadow the doctors, nurses, and aids. I’d ask all kinds of questions, take copious notes, and, occasionally, read medical charts (when they’d let me). Then, after they left, I’d sit with the patients and observe them through the lens of their illness.

I hate admitting it – but it was safer for me that way.

This week, I resolved to change all that. I made three calculated decisions. I stopped hiding behind the staff. I stopped thinking of the people as “patients”. And I started honoring each person with the love and dignity they deserved.

Great plan – it just didn’t work very well.

Being on my own was hard. I found some people wanted nothing to do with me and told me so. Some walked away the moment I approached. Others let me sit with them but ignored me. While others latched on, talked a mile a minute as if we were best friends and then, later in the day, turned on me for no apparent reason. My brilliant new strategy was failing miserably.

I needed to find people who wanted me in their space.

People I could impact for the better.

Of the thirty people on the ward, I soon identified eight as being the most accessible. They didn’t mind having me around. A few seemed to enjoy it. So, I decided I’d spend the rest of the summer – the remaining two and a half months – caring for them. I’d see them as my summer family.

Not that I wouldn’t pray for the rest – or visit the rest (as they’d let me.) But I’d invest myself – my time, my gifts, my heart – into these eight people.

“How’s it going for you?” Leslie asked at our weekly meeting.

“Pretty well,” I responded cheerfully. I told him about the changes I’d made. When I mentioned the eight people in particular, he registered surprise.

I stopped and asked, “Is something wrong?”

“Why these eight? Why not the others?” he inquired.

“They respond to me. I think I can make a difference in their life.”

“Is that why you’re here?”

“I’d like to think so.”

Leslie shook his head but stayed quiet. I knew I’d upset him.

“If I can win their trust – day after day, week after week,” I stated, “I can do something for them. I can bring help in their lives. Even hope. Maybe pray with them. I want the Lord to use me this summer to make their lives better.”

“What if it doesn’t work?” he said curtly.

“I’m hoping it will.”

“What if you make no difference at all? What if, on the day after you leave, no one on that ward even knows your gone? No one misses you? No one even remembers your name? And what if they’re exactly the same – no change from when you first met them at the beginning of summer. How will you feel then?”

I couldn’t answer him.

“It’s hard for you, isn’t it?” Leslie observed, leaning toward me. “You’ve got to make a difference in people’s lives. For them – yes. But -- for you. It makes you feel better about you if you make people feel better about them. Isn’t that right? And sometimes in life, that’s not how it works.”

“But I’d like it to work,” I said slowly, trying to respond. “I can’t imagine being in a world where I make no impact at all – on anybody.”

Leslie nodded and said, “I believe that’s why you’re here.”

“What?” I reacted, and then remembered. At our first meeting, Leslie told me the bishop wanted me to experience people in suffering – real suffering -- where I could do nothing about it. I couldn’t fix them. I couldn’t quote a Bible verse or give godly counsel that would rescue their situation or ease their pain. I’d have to learn to stay there with them. Powerless and compassionate.

I nodded and simply said, “Ok.”

“Then change your strategy,” Leslie directed. “Love the thirty equally. Not just the eight. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir, it is.”

“And if you don’t know how to do that, trust the Lord to help you.”

I thanked him and, before heading home for the weekend, made my way back to the ward. I wanted to go to the game room and just sit for a while. Most were there – just hanging out, watching TV, doing what they do every afternoon before their 5:00 dinner. And, as usual, no one seemed to notice me. I’d become, as I now understood, invisible and insignificant. And I felt it.

“Hey there,” a man said, sitting down next to me. He was dressed casually – like everybody on the ward. Not recognizing him, I assumed he was a new aid.

“You’re going to be alright,” he assured me. “I’ll see to it.”

“Excuse me?”

“Call me Sam,” he answered. “And don’t worry about anything. I know what’s going on here and I’ll make sure things go better for you. I promise you that.”

He grabbed my hand, shook it, and somehow I believed him.

1 Matthew 23:2-3
2 The secular world defines Good Samaritans as people who help those in need – without making any reference to God. And yet, the actual story of the Samaritan is impossible to understand without God at the center – the source of real love and real mercy. Jesus is teaching us that the second command is lived to the fullest when we give ourselves fully to the first.
3 John 4:9

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John 15:1-11, the Vine and the branches. "Is He everything to you?