What does mercy mean to you? Is it something that you need? Is it something that you've given? We pray it all the time. Do we know what we're praying for?
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is probably one of the most well-known stories from the gospels. So well known that the phrase, good Samaritan, is a part of our vernacular. It is a story that Jesus shared in response to a question, a good question. A question that almost all of us ask when we are unsure of what being "good" looks like - we want to know what it is we are supposed to do.
If you'd like to listen to the sermon I preached on this story then please click the video.
If you would like to do your own reflection on the story and the questions and insights it has for you and your life, I would encourage you to read below.
First, read through the story.
Then, let's take a look at the lawyer's question. He asks, "What should I do to inherit eternal life." This tells us so much about where his mindset is. The lawyer believes that "eternal life" is something that he doesn't have. Yet, throughout the gospels Jesus reiterates that eternal life, the kingdom of God, our connection to God, is with us all the time and never ends. He also believes 'eternal life' is a graduate-level type awareness, something he is to attain, or inherit. Not through God, but by earning it, "what must I do" he asks.
In other words, God is like Santa Clause - "He's making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who inherits eternal life!" Do you believe eternal life is something you get to, inherit, earn? Or do you think of it as a way of living, seeing, being in the world? Of knowing, that the fullness of life is always available to you because God does not withhold anything? What keeps you from seeing eternal life as here and now?
Jesus answers the lawyer's question with a story. Wise teachers know stories are invitations for reflection. Answers are often debated or argued over. Answers make us defensive. Stories makes us search for the answers within.
Jesus' story invites the lawyer to expand his understanding of the commandments. Yes, they are "rules" intended to help us build a good life, but they are intended to change our life. Change our being, the way we see. Intentionally, Jesus labels the three people who pass by - Priest, Levite, Samaritan. Each of these labels connects with an assumption (that's why we use labels). The lawyer would assume the priest and the Levite would follow the Torah, would stop to help as the rules say to do. But rules don't move hearts - a way of seeing and being in the world just might.
The lawyer would have assumed the Samaritan would not have stopped because followers of the Jewish tradition and the Samaritan tradition did not get along, to put it mildly. That label would have drawn intense negative connotations. But, the Samaritan did stop. And he did not ask the hurting man in the ditch what his label was.
What labels are swirling in your head these days? What if you dropped every label when you encounter a person (white, black, gay, rich, immigrant, teacher, etc.) the moment you noticed that your mind produced it? What if instead, you thought to yourself - human being? What labels are you worried other people apply to you?
Jesus turns around the lawyer's follow-up question. Jesus asks the lawyer, "who acted as neighbor to the helpless one?" Our job isn't to assess and determine what it is we are to do in keeping the guideposts of our faith - our job is to understand who we are: A child of God: beloved, broken and worthy of God's love, forgiveness and mercy. If that is who you are - and that is who everyone else is - how does that determine what you are to do?
To be merciful is to see another person and say, I see you and you are me and I will treat you as I would want to be treated if I found myself in your situation. I will give to you what I pray God would give to me.
Where do you need mercy? Where do you feel God is calling you to be merciful?
*Thanks to Rob Bell, Richard Rohr, Brené Brown and The Center for Excellence in Preaching for writings that inspired this sermon.