FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
Prayer of the Day: O Lord God, your mercy delights us, and the world longs for your loving care. Hear the cries of everyone in need, and turn our hearts to love our neighbors with the love of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
There is more than one way to read a parable. There are three characters in this story of the Good Samaritan. There is the lawyer standing at the sidelines posing the question, “who is my neighbor?” We might well put ourselves in his shoes and, in so doing, hear Jesus’ admonition to do as was done by the Samaritan to the robbery victim. Or we might look at this parable from the standpoint of the Samaritan who, finding a wounded Jew on the road side, sees not an enemy but simply a man in need of care and feels compassion. From that standpoint, we might evaluate our own capacity to see in our enemies the call of Jesus for the exercise of compassion. But it is also possible to view this parable from the standpoint of the guy who got the crap beaten out of him and was left on the roadside to die-and then received mercy from a source he never imagined mercy would ever come.
Twenty-three years ago, my wife lay in a coma and I was sitting at her bedside in the ICU waiting for some word on her prospects of recovery from any one of the many physicians caring for her. Had I been at home on the east coast, I would have been surrounded by family, caring friends and my church. As it was, we were on vacation in Seattle, Washington when my wife became ill and sank into unconsciousness. I desperately needed someone with whom to pray, to share my fear and pain. I made this need known to the hospital social worker. Though the hospital had no chaplaincy program, the social worker said she would reach out to the local Lutheran churches. A day later I had received neither a visit nor any pastoral communication. The social worker told me apologetically that she could find no Lutheran pastors willing or able to come out to the hospital. So I told her that I was not denominationally particular and that any flavor of Christian would do.
Not twenty minutes later a young man walked into the ICU room where I was sitting with my wife and introduced himself as an elder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly known as Mormons. Having grown up in a town where Mormons were heavily represented, I had had a number of experiences with their aggressive evangelistic methods. I learned very early on that when they showed up at the door, the best policy was to say that you were in the middle of an important phone call that would probably last for at least an hour and so were unable to speak. Then you shut the door before they can suggest scheduling another visit at a more convenient time. Under no circumstances do you open the screen door even a crack, unless you really are interested in having your soul saved. That was about the last thing I needed that day. I was beginning to think that my request for “any flavor of Christian” was maybe just a bit over broad.
Perhaps the young elder sensed my dismay. “Brother Peter,” he said. “You’ve probably heard that my church is very committed to evangelizing and winning people to our faith. But I know this isn’t the time or place for that. So perhaps we can sit together and pray in Jesus’ name for your wife and say the Lord’s Prayer together. Would that be OK?” That was exactly what I needed at that time and in that place. I was looking for ministry from my Lutheran and/or orthodox Christian siblings. But help came from the last place I could have expected. I think I know how that beaten and bloodied Jew lying on the side of the road must have felt when he looked up into the face of that Samaritan tenderly washing and binding up his wounds. Since that day, I have never been able to think of Mormons with the same uncharitable and judgmental attitude I developed growing up. To be sure, I still have my doctrinal and theological differences with Mormons. But I know now that they are my neighbors because, of all the churches from which help was sought on my behalf, the Mormons came and showed me compassion.
When you are in dire need of compassion and another human being offers it, you tend to forget about all the distinctions that seem so very important in this polarized culture of ours. When your house is on fire, you don’t ask the firefighter that got you safely outside and is risking life and limb to save your home whether she is a Muslim or whether he is gay or whether their politics is liberal or conservative or whether they are properly documented or what church, if any, they belong to. You are just grateful that your neighbors care enough about each other to arrange for fire protection; that there are women and men who care enough to take on the risky work of fighting fires and saving lives; that there are people willing to open their doors for you if necessary until you get back on your feet. Compassion does not recognize distinctions. God has created us with a marvelous capacity to look beyond our surface distinctions and recognize in one another the holy image we all share with our Creator. Sometimes, though, we need to get the crap beaten out of us to remind us that it’s there.
Here is a poem by Mark Turbyfill speaking to our common humanity pulling against all that divides us.
I shall tell you:
I am seeing and seeing strangers
Who are not strangers,
For there is something in their eyes,
And about their faces
That whispers to me
(But so low
That I can never quite hear)
Of the lost half of myself
Which I have been seeking since the beginning of earth.
And I could follow them to the end of the world,
Would they but lean nearer, nearer,
And tell me….”
Source: Poetry, (May 1917). Mark Turbyfill (1896-1990) was an American poet, dancer, and painter. He was born in Oklahoma City and came to Chicago with his parents in 1911. He began publishing poems while still a teenager. His professional dance career began in 1919 when he joined the Pavley-Oukrainsky corps de ballet with the Chicago Grand Opera Company. He continued to dance through the 1920s and 1930s, later becoming principal dancer under Adolph Bolm with the Chicago Allied Arts and partnering Chicago dancer and choreographer Ruth Page.