So, let me retell tonight's Bible story in a more modern setting, since it's a story most of us are overly familiar with:
A seminary professor approaches Jesus and wants to know what Jesus says about gaining eternal life--to make sure Jesus has the right theology. "So, Jesus, what do I need to do get eternal life?"
Jesus turns it back on him. "You've studied the Scriptures--what do they say?"
The professor replies, "To love God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and to love your neighbor as yourself."
"Bingo," Jesus says. "So do that, and you'll live."
The seminary professor, thinking he's done all that pretty well, wants to hear from Jesus confirmation of how he's loved his neighbors. "So then, Jesus, who is my neighbor?"
Jesus tells a story. "The other day this man--a member of a local congregation--was walking through a shady part of town while on his way to help at a soup kitchen. He was tailed by some hoodlums who pulled him into an alley, beat him up, took all his money and valuables as well as his shoes and the shirt he was wearing, and left him for dead in a pile of garbage bags."
"A priest walks by, wearing a cross around his neck and his white collar, notices the man lying in the alley, but keeps on going. He had a lunch meeting with another minister to get to."
"The head of a non-profit organization that helps victims of abuse walked by, noticed the man, but was worried of anything happening to her, too, so she kept on going to her office."
"A Muslim man walks by and notices the man who was moaning in pain. He hailed a taxi, took the man to a hospital, and sat by his side through the night while nurses tended to his wounds. In the morning he gave the hospital his billing information, not knowing if the man had any insurance. He came back later to check on the man and make sure he was taken care of."
"So, who was a neighbor to the man who needed help?"
The seminary professor replied, "The man who helped him, of course."
Jesus declared, "Go and do the same."
* * * * *
It's a story we all know. We all know how we're supposed to love our neighbors. We may even understand that the neighbor in the story wasn't who it was supposed to be. It was the "enemy" of the Jews.
I get all that. I understand the story. I try to live it out.
When it comes to the homeless person on the street corner with the sign asking for help for her and her children, sure I may occasionally have a box of granola bars in the car to give her, but most of the time I turn my head and try not to look directly at her.
Jesus doesn't tell the story of a man who called someone else for help for the injured person, or who just threw money at the problem. He told the story of a man who is there for the injured man. He stays the night with him. He makes sure he's taken care of. And this is scary to me. I worry about the things that could happen. I fear that something will end up like in the movie Patch Adams, where the girl helps the guy who ends up killing her later.
Of course, right before this story Jesus heals the sick, raised the dead to life, drives demons from a possessed man. He shows that we don't need to fear illness, death, or evil. But I still have fear. If I'm honest with myself, I admit it, and I acknowledge that it sometimes keeps me from loving my neighbor.
I want to love my neighbors. I do. I don't always know what to do or how to help. I'm not always willing to take the time from my family's schedule to help. I've got a lot of excuses. I struggle to love and show mercy. But I've been loved and given much mercy.
Jesus shows mercy.