Reflections on Luke 10:38
Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.
What happened to him? One minute we’re there -- standing with Jesus. He’s telling the lawyer to go, do what the Samaritan did. Go live mercy! Go love God with all your heart so you can love your neighbor with all your heart.
The next minute – he’s gone?
But this is it! It’s the key moment of the conversation. We need to know how he responds to Jesus. Did he get it? Does he understand he’s not allowed to pick and choose his “neighbor”? We’re to love the stranger. We’re to love the Samaritans. We’re to love anybody and everybody no matter if we think they’re a nobody.
But we get nothing. No nod of the head. No sign he agrees.
The scene blacks out. Next scene pops up: our Lord is traveling toward the home of Martha with His disciples. The lawyer has vanished from the stage. Forever. We don’t know his name. We can’t trace him in other gospel accounts. We have no way of resolving the question of what happened to this man’s soul.
Are we to assume everything turned out well?
It did for the man beaten unjustly. The Samaritan brought him back to health. Are we to assume our Lord did the same for the brilliant lawyer?
If so, did he go back to his colleagues and align himself with Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea? Did he stand in defense of Jesus at His trial? Or, maybe he left the conversation with Jesus and didn’t know how to process it all. Then, after the resurrection, he joined his colleagues as “a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7) Is that his story? Does it turn out well for him?
Or did he leave Jesus – his heart hardened all the more?
Is it possible he helped rally the political forces that seized Jesus and put Him to violent death? Was there was no Damascus Road conversion in his life?
Why don’t we know?
Mercy was extended. Was mercy received – was he changed by it? Or did he reject it? Why do we have to live in this uncomfortable world of uncertainty?
There are too many Bible stories like this. What happened to the prodigal son’s brother? Did the rich man who walked away from Jesus walk away forever? What about our Lord’s disciples who left Him? (John 6:66) Did some come back? And what about Demas? He’s there with Paul. And then he’s gone – having loved this present world more. (2 Tim 4:10) Was it a phase? Did he come back?
Why all these black outs?
What does it mean for us? Why can’t everything be neatly resolved? Why can’t all our questions find clear, simple answers? But that’s not the Lord’s design. Not here, in this life. We have to live with some mysteries and ambiguities.
But one thing is certain: Mercy is here. Mercy has come. It is ours to receive.
Before – way before -- the blackout comes.
* * *
I stayed with Sam until he finally got up and walked off. I didn’t follow him this time. Instead, I got out the little notebook in my back pocket and wrote down some of our conversation. He’d said some things I never wanted to forget.
“God doesn’t look down on anyone.”
“Jesus is my only friend. He’s all I’ve got.” 1
He was skittish the next few days, doing his best to stay away from everybody. His respiratory infection passed and, with it, the memory of his ward mates turning on him. Sam was Sam again – doing everything he could to make everyone around him feel loved and cared for.
On the day before the program ended, I had my final meeting with Leslie.
“I think your bishop is going to be pleased,” he assured me. “You worked hard this summer and I think achieved what he had in mind for you.”
“That is not fair!” I teased.
“Because you helped me not care about the bishop’s reaction. You put my focus where it should’ve been when I first got here – with the people and staff on my ward. You tried to throw me out of this program! Remember?”
“Yes I did!” Leslie laughed.
“I can’t thank you enough for that. I was pretty angry when I got here.”
“So, you’re glad you stayed?”
“Yeah, and I want to ask a favor. I want to come back this fall, maybe a couple of Saturday’s during visiting hours, and check on Sam. Is that OK?”
“No,” he said firmly.
“There’s like a 1:00-3:00 window where family and friends come visit. I asked Sam’s doctor if it would be alright, and she seemed to think it’d be fine.”
“It’s not happening,” Leslie stated. “When you leave, you leave. It’s over.”
“What if I did it with you? Maybe came on a weekday. I could go to the ward for a little while, spend time with everybody, and then report back to you after it’s over. Maybe once a month. I really want to keep coming back.”
He didn’t respond this time.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Why are you doing this? For you or for Sam?”
I didn’t have an answer to that.
“Tomorrow you’ll go to the ward for the last time,” he instructed. “Afterwards, you’ll hand me the key to the ward and that’s it. Is that clear?”
I nodded, but tried again.
“Could I could call you once and a while and see how Sam is doing? The doctor said she doesn’t think he has a lot of time left. I’d like to know how he’s doing. Would you mind?”
He smiled gently and I thought for just a second he’d say yes. He didn’t. He told me again I had one more time with Sam and that would be it. As he explained his reasons, I realized the same was true with him. This was our last one-on-one time together and he, like Sam, had impacted my life. Both of them had a gift from God I could only dream of having.
They knew how to love others – Jesus’ way.
As he prayed for me, I felt a deep sadness seize my heart. I didn’t want to leave him, or Sam, or this hospital. But I had to.
It was time to say goodbye.
And so, the next day, I went on the ward for the last time. It didn’t surprise me to find Sam sitting next to the guy who’d attacked him the week before. For whatever reason, he was crying. Sam was there with a box of tissues in hand, sitting close, his hand resting on his back. Sam looked peaceful, not scared.
A little while later, he saw me.
“You’re leaving today,” he announced.
“Yeah,” I said back, amazed he remembered. I was never sure if Sam even knew my name. He quickly grabbed my hand and slowly paraded me through the ward. He wanted me to spend time with everybody. A proper good-bye. Not just a few – all of them. Without missing anyone. Did he know that was my summer job? I was supposed to love the thirty equally. Something Sam did every day of his life.
Truth be told, I didn’t. I loved Sam more.
Mid-afternoon, it came time to leave. Sam and I parted abruptly. He smiled and said what he said when he first met me, “You’re going to be alright!” He patted my hand and walked off – heading for the game room. He looked happy. Still coughing – loud and guttural. And I was left with no sense that tomorrow, a month from tomorrow, a year from tomorrow, he’d remember me.
But I’d remember him and always have.
Soon after, I left the ward and closed the door behind me. Like the ending of some movies, everything blacked out and Sam disappeared into time.
That was 28 years ago now. I often wonder what happened to him. And every time I do, I come to the same conclusion. I think about what he taught me. For he was, to me, like the Samaritan of old. He showed me – practical and real – how to live the second commandment.
So I’d understand what Jesus meant when He said: “GO AND DO LIKEWISE.”
Or, to say it as I saw Sam live it: “Show mercy. Then after that, show mercy – no matter how they react, no matter how it feels. And when you’re done showing mercy, do it again. And again. Till you reach always and forever.”
1 Excerpt from “Real Love”, devotion 34, published this coming August, 2014.
+ + +