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Mercy Moves Toward

Mar 22, 2022Blog, Theology

Have you ever re-read or re-watched something that maybe you’ve read or watched several times before, but for whatever reason this recent time, you have an “aha moment” that you’ve never had before? Almost as if you’re reading it for the first time again?

I remember when the Taylor Swift song came out and everyone thought it said, “Starbucks lovers” and then we all had the epiphany it actually said, “ex-lovers.”

Recently, a similar thing happened to me while reading the parable of the Good Samaritan – a passage of scripture in Luke 10 that I’ve read many times before. 

This time though, I noticed something in that story that I hadn’t seen before. Rather than looking to assign blame, mercy moves toward. Verses 33 and 34 say, “A Samaritan…came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him.”

You don’t have to look far to notice we (all of humanity and myself included) are spending A LOT of time – on the news, on social media – asking who’s to blame for various problems in the world and then pointing fingers and blaming various individuals or entities.

Don’t get me wrong, I think there are plenty of times where we need to acknowledge wrongdoing in order to make things right. But sometimes I wonder if asking “Who’s to blame?” is really the best first move. Perhaps we could learn something new from an old parable that could teach us a better first move. 

Jesus tells this parable in response to a lawyer asking, “Who is my neighbor?” and really the lawyer’s unspoken question is, “How do I love my neighbor?”

Here’s a quick paraphrase if you’re unfamiliar with this parable. A man is walking from Jerusalem to Jericho and some robbers attack him, beat him, take his clothes, and leave him for dead.

The thing to note about the road from Jerusalem to Jericho is that people had to walk everywhere at that time – it was well known that it was dark and windy and there were many places that robbers could lie in wait. Therefore, a common best practice was to travel in groups or during certain times of day to avoid danger.

For whatever the reason, this man found himself alone and attacked.

A priest and a Levite (another religious figure) see him and essentially avoid him. A Samaritan sees him and “had compassion,” stops, bandages his wounds, puts him on his donkey, brings him to an inn and pays for his stay until he recovers.

Recently, what I’ve noticed as I was reading is what the Good Samaritan doesn’t do – he doesn’t ask who’s to blame. He doesn’t say, “Well this guy shouldn’t have been walking alone – he should have known better.” Or “It’s his fault – he should have made a better choice than to walk here – everyone knows you shouldn’t do that.” The Good Samaritan just moves toward his neighbor with care and compassion. He meets his immediate physical needs with a place to stay and some medical attention, but I have to imagine he also meets some immediate emotional and spiritual needs with his level of care.

And at the end of the parable, Jesus asks back to the lawyer, “Who was the neighbor?” and the lawyer has to respond, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus responds “Go and do likewise.

The answer to the question of how to love our neighbor is to show them mercy.

What then is mercy?

If we look at the example of the Good Samaritan – Mercy sees people and moves toward them.

We can look at a person and decide not to act because we feel like they are in some part to blame for their current situation (or the government is to blame for their current situation) OR we can move toward them like the Good Samaritan.

We can look at Afghan refugees, Haitian migrants, people experiencing homelessness, people in addiction, in prison, or in low income situations and point our fingers at them or at the government or we can move toward them like the Good Samaritan.

So what are some practical steps we can take to show mercy?

As we can see in this story – Mercy is time, mercy is relationship, mercy is money, mercy is humility.

1. Mercy is time. The Good Samaritan took time out of his own journey and detoured to be with the man who had been hurt.

2. Mercy is relationship. The Good Samaritan didn’t just spend one day with the man, he partnered with the innkeeper to continue his recovery, and he said he would be back to check on him again.

3. Mercy is money. The Good Samaritan gave from his own resources for the recovery of the man who was hurting.

4. Mercy is humility. Both the priest and the Levite avoided the injured man because they considered themselves “clean” and the man “unclean.” The Good Samaritan realizes he is no better than the injured man.

What if we tried this out – what if instead of asking who’s to blame for the situations we see people in, we asked the question, “How can I show them mercy – with my time, with a relationship, with my money and in humility?” “How can I show them the same mercy that God and Jesus have given me?”

God, in your mercy, would you show us how to be merciful like you.