I always appreciate feedback from my lessons, but I was touched by how many reached out to me this past Sunday to express some thoughts about it. I suspect that it was the simple fact that we so desperately yearn for mercy. Mercy from the Lord, of course, and from those around us, in our workplaces, the stores we patron, the homes we live in, maybe even ourselves at times. Someone suggested that I build on that lesson with the intent of seeking to bring into view practical ways revealed in the scriptures on how we can show mercy. As one of you brought out, the story of the Good Samaritan is a beautiful place to begin.
And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this, and you will live.”
This was the response from Jesus after he and a lawyer had a conversation about inheriting eternal life. It was more than a simple conversation, for the lawyer was testing Jesus. So, what did Jesus mean when he said: “do this”? In the previous verse, He talked of the need to love God and his neighbor fully. (v27) But the lawyer did not end the conversation there. He asked another question, “And who is my neighbor?” (v29). Little did he know that now that the table was about to turn, and Jesus would be testing him. Here, the story of the Good Samaritan begins, and we get a sense of the answer to this often-challenging question.
Realizing the story is familiar, I have chosen to be general in my approach. First, we see this man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho: about a 17-mile trip known for being treacherous, which would be on this day. Attacked by thieves and left for dead, he is in desperate need of help. This man is the neighbor. Someone in obvious need and unable to do anything about it, we have all seen them before. Onto the scene comes first a priest, then a Levite, both fully aware of the text spoken by the lawyer to Jesus found in Leviticus 19:18 & Deuteronomy 6:5, understanding their call to love God and their neighbor. Both “saw him” or “came and looked,” the same Greek word meant to stare and thus discern clearly. Both knew of his plight, but neither came to his care. Instead they, “passed by on the other side” (vv31-32). It reminds me of that quote from last week’s lesson, “Biblical orthodoxy without compassion is surely the ugliest thing in the world.” When it comes to showing mercy, we often need not look for opportunities; but rather ready ourselves for when the opportunity presents itself. Jesus found his life filled with such moments. The sinful woman in Luke 7:36ff who interrupted the meal at a Pharisee’s home and Jesus showed her mercy. Many of the healings Jesus performed were opportunities that presented themselves and where He showed mercy over and over again. These moments are often in front of us; it is just a question of whether we can see them or not.
But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.
The tension between the Jewish community and the Samaritans is essential to note. At best, the Jews viewed the Samaritans as second-class citizens who were beneath them. Like the other two, this Samaritan also saw the man in desperation. The difference was that he had compassion; he pitied him, and it moved him inwardly. I use both aspects of this word’s definition because it reveals the two sides of mercy. First, something causes the inner person to be moved with compassion in a situation and put that pity into action. He cared for the man on the spot, bandaging his wounds. Then, he brought him to an inn and made sure his needs were met. This took his time, money, and sacrifice. Mercy is free, but not free. Does that make sense? It is free to receive but always costs the one offering it.
Well, back to the story where we find Jesus asking the lawyer, “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” (v36). Notice, though, the question is not asked “who is my neighbor”; but rather, “who is the neighbor.” The neighbor is the one who offered mercy and took advantage of the opportunity to care for someone in need. So, Jesus responds, “Go and do likewise” (v37).
So should we go and do likewise. Although we may look for opportunities to show mercy, many of those will come upon us. The question is, will we be willing to see them? Then, of course, will we be ready to act upon those God-given moments. Practically speaking, every day, we have opportunities to show mercy: in our workplaces, the stores we patron, the homes we live in, maybe even ourselves at times. Remember, blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.