Wednesday, November 20, 2013

One Road, Two Ways to Travel

A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side . . . (Luke 10:31)

If I leave my house to go to Charlotte, NC I’m probably going to end up driving north on I-85. There may be some alternative routes, but around here it is widely understood that the best way to get from Atlanta to Charlotte is on 85. That’s the road for all points north and east.

In the place where Jesus lived the same kind of thinking was at work when it came to making a journey from Jerusalem to Jericho. The primary route, perhaps the only route, was a seventeen mile stretch of road that snaked through a gorge known today as the Wadi Kelt. From Jerusalem it was a downhill journey, taking you from 2500 feet above sea level in Jerusalem to 800 feet below sea level in Jericho. The craggy landscape provided good cover for criminals. It was a risky trip – especially if you were alone.

But if you wanted to get to Jericho, that’s the way you went. It didn’t matter who you were. Very religious people walked this road. Thieves walked this road. Samaritans, despised by Jews, made use of this same road. Business travelers also navigated the Jericho road.

For all of them it was the same road. But in Jesus’s story the Religious types and the Samaritan walked that road in very different ways.

All of them came upon a man who had been beaten, robbed, and left for dead. The Priest and the Levite “passed by on the other side.” That phrase is used in the story twice. Fearing they would be made unclean they kept their distance.

The Samaritan traveled the road by holding his own plans loosely. When he comes upon the beaten and half-dead man he responds with both emotion and action. He feels compassion and draws near.

Passing by on the other side, and drawing near with compassion are two very different ways of traversing the same piece of earth. Which way will you choose today?

“Passing by” is what we do when we refuse to be interrupted. We’re in a hurry. We’ve got so much to get done. Quite often, we accept passing by as the best we can do when it comes to sharing our world with people we don’t understand. Since it is not overtly hostile, passing by can appear to be polite.

But being polite is not the same thing as being merciful. Mercy must respond to the wreckage it sees. There is an inner response of compassion coupled with the outer response of action.

How will you move through your world today? There’s a good chance you share office space or a neighborhood or a grocery store or a school with people you do not understand or do not like. You may find it easiest to steer clear of them; you’ll stay out of their way and they’ll stay out of yours. But there is a better way to live in this world.

See who is broken. Feel compassion. Draw near. Start a conversation. Invite a story and stick around to hear it. In other words, show mercy. Be a neighbor.

Walk with me through this day, O God, and make me ready for interruptions. Help me to grow dissatisfied with keeping a polite distance from those around me – especially those least like me. Fill me with mercy and help me to love my neighbor, I ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Avoidance Strategy

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 26 "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" 27 He answered: "'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, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" 28 "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"  (Luke 10:25-29)

Sometimes we make things harder than they have to be.

We complicate things that ought to be simple. We delay and procrastinate. We overthink, mentally gnawing on every possibility and every consequence. You could be doing this today with a relationship that hasn’t been right for while or a decision that has serious implications for your career. Maybe at some level, deep within yourself, you know what needs to be done. For now, however, you’re finding ways not to do it.

In most areas of life careful deliberation is wise. Knee-jerk responses are rarely a good way to handle things that matter most to us. But sometimes our careful deliberations are a mask for dragging our feet. Next thing we know, we’re not moving at all. We’re stuck.

An expert Bible scholar sought to engage Jesus in a discussion about ‘eternal life’ and how to get it. He did this by posing a question, the answer to which he already knew. God’s law was fairly straightforward as to the way that leads to life: Love God. Love neighbor.

Love God with all that you are, every aspect of your being: your thoughts, your emotion, your will. Yield yourself entirely to God. and along with that – actually, because of that – you are to love your neighbor with the same kind of love you show to yourself.

End of discussion. Do this and you will live.

But the Bible scholar couldn’t leave it at that. He had a follow-up question. He wanted to split hairs, pressing Jesus for precision on the word ‘neighbor.’ And this set the stage for one of the greatest stories Jesus ever told. A story about mercy.

This week we’ll be thinking about Jesus’s story and what it means to live as people who show mercy to those around us. Let’s not make this harder than it is. Showing mercy doesn’t demand that you make a journey around the globe or get a piece of legislation through congress. The neighbor is close at hand and the needs are there to be seen if we’ll pay attention.

Is there anything in your life today that you’ve complicated to the point of doing nothing at all? Don’t let careful deliberations or thoughtful questions become a strategy for avoidance.

Very often, O God, your word is clear. You guide our steps but we are hesitant to go where you lead. Forgive our tendency to make things hard, to overthink and under act. Grant us grace to live a merciful people in the places you lead us this day, by the power of your Spirit, we ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.