Midweek Faith Lift
August 24, 2022
The Good Samaritan-
The Law of Compassionate Action
May 10, 2022
A Ukrainian man hiding in a Mariupol bomb shelter spotted a car with the keys in the ignition. He gathered his family in the car and drove to the relatively safer town of Vinnytsia. While driving, he found a phone number in the glove compartment and called the car’s owner. “I’m sorry, I stole your car. I was saving my family.” The man on the other end of the call replied, “Thank God, don’t worry. I have four cars. I took my family out in my SUV. I refueled my other cars and left them in different places with the keys in and the phone number in the glove compartment. From all four cars I received a call back. Once there’s peace, I hope we’ll see each other. Stay safe!”
"I will go before you and make the rough places smooth. I will break the doors of brass in pieces and cut apart the bars of iron.” – Isaiah 45:2
Affirmative prayer: Infinite Presence, I give thanks for the courage, resourcefulness, and sincere sense of unity among all sisters and brothers. I pray that the love that inspires such benevolence touches hearts everywhere and makes compassion the order of the day. Thank you, God, forever. Amen.
Today we are talking about the parable of the Good Samaritan, and this story is a powerful example of how that looks in modern times in a war torn country. Our constant challenge is to ask how we might show up with acts of compassion for our fellow beings in our own daily lives. What are healthy boundaries for acts of compassion and how do we show up with compassion in a healthy way? That is the question that this parable poses for us! The parable of the Good Samaritan is found in Luke 10: 25-37 and it reads like this:
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 26 He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ 27 He answered, ‘You shall 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 your neighbour as yourself.’ 28 And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ 30 Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ 37 He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
This story has so many nuances, which are keys to helping us really understand what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves. The first thing to note is that the question about who is our neighbor is posed by a lawyer, who wants to narrow the field and establish and enforce the “rules” about what is the bare minimum required to meet attain eternal life. Jesus refers him to the law, which is the “golden rule” and his response is to try to limit his responsibilities! Who do I have to claim neighbor? No altruism there, right?! That is for sure a transactional, “victim” consciousness!
Jesus as usual, responds with a story to illustrate his message with a powerful example. The unknown man on the road to Jericho is beaten and robbed. Two powerful figures in the Jewish community pass by this man, and cross the road to avoid the man, one a priest and the other a Levite, both considered “holy” and sanctified men. Then along comes a Samaritan, who both the priest and Levite would consider “impure” because most Samaritans had intermarried with gentiles, Romans and other impure people. To drive home the point that artificial standards of purity that humans construct to separate and divide us are meaningless, the kind and loving man who helps the injured man is a Samaritan. Not only that, the Samaritan paid for the man’s care and promised to pay whatever else was needed for the man’s healing and recovery! That is how you love your neighbor.
There are several additional issues that Dr. Michael explores in this parable, in particular with respect to the language used as translated from the original Greek. The specific line he explores is “filled with pity” which from the Greek would be more accurately translated as “moved with compassion.” In fact, later translations have used that phrase. In further discussion of the Greek word, splagchnizomai, the understanding from how Jesus uses it in this story is that it goes beyond just “feeling” compassion. We are required to do something, to take action to care for our neighbor. The message is that when we feel compassion, that also sets in motion a reflexive response to do something as a response.
So, often we sit with the question, just like the lawyer, asking, “What is mine to do?” If we move beyond a transactional consciousness of “what’s in it for me?” we have to focus clearly on our motives behind taking action to help someone in need. This can be tricky because we can easily fall into co-dependency or a sense of moral superiority, which is NOT what Jesus is teaching. Do I respond to a need in a way that I can feel better rather than listening to what is really needed? Am I responding because of my own neediness or guilt, the ultimate co-dependent motive? Or do I respectfully listen to what someone needs and respond knowing that it will empower and free them rather than keep them dependent on me!
Pausing to reflect on whether I would want this kind of “help” and if I am giving it from a place of loving, a consciousness of caring rather than manipulating or calculating possible outcomes is crucial to discerning motives of true compassion. What Jesus is teaching us is to cultivate a mindset of compassion of adding to the caring, loving energy of the Universe, without attachment to outcome and with no energy of manipulation or transaction. Be clear about what is a transaction as the Samaritan paid for the stranger’s lodging and future care. This adds to the loving consciousness of the Universe and puts energy that frequently comes back to us as loving action from a stranger in our time of need.
It is tricky because most of us want to “do good” in the world, but that can be a lot different that being a “do-gooder.” It requires mindfulness of us and a vigilance and honesty about our true motivations, some of which are often conflicted. Let’s look at some real life examples, which I share from my own journey. So often “compassion in action” is just taking time to just be with someone in a time of great distress. When I was in Seminary at Unity Village, a classmate I had just met and who was also newly arrived on campus had a sick dog who needed care and possibly to be put down. As she told me about her dog, the worry, fear and heavy feelings were so present that I listened intently offering prayer and my attention. She was dreading taking her dog to the vet in fear of what she might hear.
She was a single woman, new to Lee’s Summit and did not yet have a support network and she lived off campus. I heard her heavy feelings and offered to go with her. She at first resisted, not wanting to “inconvenience” me, but quickly relented with much gratitude. Together we took Charlie to the vet in her car and I waited with her to learn what the recommendations would be. The vet wanted to keep him overnight and would call her the next day. She let out a big sigh of relief and then we left and altogether, it was about 3 hours of my time. She was so grateful and so was I. I offered to go with her the next day if needed and with heartfelt thanks, she said she could handle that alone. I did call her to learn that Charlie was going to be ok and home in a few days. Our shared relief and joy was palpable.
There have been other times when I have missed the mark in showing up with compassion and often wondered what was really mine to do. There have been times when I wish I had acted but I did not. That was a real learning experience for sure, and then the practice of self-forgiveness becomes a part of my journey.
I get a lot of appeals for donations to a whole lot of causes, some of which I can support and others I cannot. What I have learned is that I need to pause to discern the honest reasons why I can or cannot support a particular need. I always give to the Food Bank and Habitat for Humanity because meeting the most basic needs of people is a pure need to which I can give clearly and cleanly.
At the very least, I always pray and I am willing to sit with and discern what is mine to do. I love the opening story about the Ukrainian man who made his cars available for anyone who needed them. He had no way of knowing if fellow Ukrainians or even Russian soldiers would take them, he just made them available for whoever needed them. That is how we make a better world!
Blessings on the Path,