Reflections on Luke 10:36-37
"Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?" And he said, "The one who showed mercy toward him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same."
Of all the preachers who’ve ever lived, of all the sermons ever preached, no one ever explained the commandments like this.
And Jesus does it here, with him -- a gift to the brilliant lawyer.
With it, comes a simple question. It wasn’t designed to trick him, or embarrass him, or give even the slightest possible chance he might get it wrong. He won’t. Even a child can answer it.
But it’s the most important question of all. It’s not, “Do you believe this?” But rather, at its very core, “Will you live it with everything you’ve got?!”
Why? Because this man beaten senseless needs someone to obey the command to “love your neighbor.” If no one does, he dies. So which one did? Who let love explode through him to help the man? Who threw open the doors of the kingdom of God and let mercy triumph over evil? Who rescued this man who fell prey to robbers and, by so doing, proved himself neighbor by loving his neighbor?
Was it the priest -- did he do it?
How about the Levite – was it him?
Or, maybe the Samaritan? One of these three men was so filled with the first commandment that, as soon as he saw the man’s beaten body, he let the second commandment pour through him with all his heart, soul, strength and mind.
“Tell me, which one was it?” Jesus asked him.
The lawyer knows he doesn’t have to answer. He could stay quiet. Or, he could pick up his stuff and leave. Or, he could answer by not answering, by changing the subject, by arguing and debating in defense of the priest and Levite. He did none of these things. Instead, he answers Jesus the best he could.
“Of the three, it’s the one who showed mercy.”
Even now, he can’t say the word. Even after hearing the story of the Samaritan, he can’t say, “Samaritan.” He won’t even let it pass by his lips. For though the Samaritan may have been the real neighbor – the real hero -- in the story, he’s no neighbor to the lawyer. Never has been. It’s been that way since his youth.
So why doesn’t Jesus force the point? Why not make him say it?
But He doesn’t. He lets it go.
Instead, seeing he got the right answer, He presses in – hard, strong -- and urges him, “Go and do the same.” It’s like He said, “If you’d just let mercy reign in your heart, you’d know what the Samaritan knew. You’d do what the Samaritan did.
“And you’d be changed forever.
“Just don’t be like your colleagues. Be like the Samaritan and love your neighbor. Bring the kingdom of God to everyone you meet. No matter who they are. Can you do that? Will you do that?
“Go be like him…”
* * *
It was the perfect storm.
Some ten days before the program ended, Sam was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection. This served to exacerbate his coughing problem – which was louder that week, the spasms longer and more frequent.
As much as he tried to control it, he couldn’t.
It scared him even more. He’d cry for help but all he’d get in return was an even stronger reaction from his ward mates. They didn’t want him around. He tried to find privacy but there was nowhere to go. Not on this ward. Somebody was always somewhere. And everybody just kept pushing him away.
The next day, the day after, it only seemed to get worse. In between his coughing spells, Sam’s mood was downcast, withdrawn. He just wasn’t himself.
Then, finally, it all erupted.
He’d wandered into the game room. Over half the people were there. No aids, no nurses or doctors. The TV was blasting and Sam wasn’t even coughing. Just the sight of him, that’s all, and they rose up. Like it was all planned. And began yelling at him. Pushing him. Forcing him to the corner of the room where, when he hit the wall, he slumped down, covering his head with his hands.
That’s when I got there. They were kicking him. Slapping him. All of it triggered the coughing again. Louder than before. Frenzied and panicked. Within seconds, the aids and staff came rushing in, breaking it up. Sam got up from the floor and ran out of the room. Fast as he could. Crying and coughing hysterically. I followed him, knowing he’d head for the glassed-in porch.
Which is exactly what he did.
The few people there, the moment they saw Sam, left the room. He threw himself onto the couch, buried his head in his hands, and cried – and coughed – and cried more.
I pulled up a chair. It was my turn now.
I’d spent most of the summer watching Sam love his ward mates with a passion and freedom I’d never seen before. He didn’t care what others thought about him. He didn’t need them to love him back. It was always about them – not him. It was as if God had assigned a guardian angel to this ward with one simple assignment: “Sam, go love them. Each one. With all you’ve got!”
And he did. Sometimes with words. Sometimes not. Never with a plan or an agenda or some secret, ulterior motive. No tool belt to fix what’s broken. No care for how he was treated yesterday. Or last week. Or whenever.
Just today. With one very simple assignment.
But this day, of all days, was different. It was the first time a gang had risen up like that and yelled, beaten, and hurt him – physically, yes. But his heart.
It was my turn to be Sam to Sam.
And what would he do? First – he’d get tissues. And that’s what I did.
A nurse came in to check on Sam. She spent a few minutes examining him, seeing if anything was broken, any cuts or bleeding. She tried to calm him down. I think he tried to – but it was all too much for him. His breathing became rapid. He started hyperventilating.
The nurse then began to speak calmly to him. She did it well. It took a few minutes, but he slowly responded. His fears started subsiding. The spasms, too. The nurse stayed until Sam settled, but the moment she got up to leave, the coughing came back. She promised she’d be back in a little while.
Sam nodded but started crying again.
No words. No tools.
As expected, no one from the ward came to see how he was doing – as he would have done with them. Not one person. I wondered if Sam knew. He did.
“Nobody’s here. Nobody loves me,” he said through his cries. He tells me he wants to see his brother. He wants to leave this God-forsaken place. He wants to go home and never come back.
I wonder if he has a home. I stay there. He taught me this. No need to fix.
For a while, he’s calm again. But the moment the coughing comes back, the fears do too. He looks at the door. He’s afraid all his ward mates are going to come rushing through it and attack him again. He buries his head into the side of the couch – hoping to muffle the sound. I put my hand on his arm.
Like I’d seen him do with others crying.
And I see him like I don’t want to see him. He is, for me, right now, the beaten man in the Gospel story – half dead – lying on the side of the road. But for him, there is no Samaritan. No one who will come, pick up his broken body, and take him to where he will be healed from this wretched disease.
And feel human again.
I think about the poor man, Lazarus, Jesus talked about. Sitting outside the rich man’s house. No food. No scraps. Dogs licking his wounds. Left alone to die with no Samaritan ever coming to his rescue.
Not until he breathes his last. Then – the angels come! 1
Will this be Sam’s story? Will he die here – in this room. On this patio. By himself? Coughing, crying, scared, alone?
“He was rejected too, you know,” he says, surprising me. “Nobody cared. Nobody came. Not for Him. Not for me. I just want to go home.”
And I sit there, wishing I could be here when it happens. When the angels come. When the kingdom doors open. And when Sam finally beholds the face of the Great Samaritan Himself.
1 Luke 16:20-22
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