Publication: Pastoral Letter, September 2002
Dear Friend in Christ:
I pray that you and yours had a good summer. Everyone here at CSM sends their greetings and their gratitude for your friendship to this ministry. This month, I have a rather unusual story to tell you, and I want to draw a lesson from it that I pray will encourage you.
Actually, I am somewhat reticent to tell this personal story, lest it be misunderstood. Jesus did say that we should not “give our alms to be seen of men.” So I trust this story will not violate the spirit of His instruction. But as this letter progresses, I hope that you will know why I am telling it.
Some time ago, my wife, Carolyn, had to travel out of town, and I was at home alone. When dinnertime arrived, I decided to journey down the road a bit to eat dinner at a good seafood restaurant. As I was turning onto one of the highways, I passed a disabled truck. The hood was up, with steam coming out of the motor, and there were three or four small Hispanic children standing wistfully in the tall grass with their mother, as their father peered into the motor compartment.
Something in my mind said, “Don’t turn around, it could be expensive.” But quickly, another set of thoughts took control. I backed up to the scene while other cars passed by. It was a hot day and I wondered how long it might take to help out, and how long it would be before I could get to dinner.
I joined the man looking into the engine, as though I might know something that would help…mere symbolism, since my mechanical skills are not topnotch! I said, “Turn it over and let me hear the engine.” He dutifully tried to start the engine. The sound was metal on metal_not good!
“Where are you heading?” I asked the beleaguered father.
“To South Florida,” he responded. “We have been visiting my wife’s parents in Mexico and we are returning home. I have to get back to my job or I won’t have one, and I am nearly broke.”
“Stay here, and I will call a mechanic,” I said. I drove to a nearby service station and placed a call. “I’m on my way there now,” the mechanic said, as he answered his cell phone. And sure enough, he was right there in about five minutes.
“Turn it over,” the mechanic instructed the father. We heard the same metal on metal sound, and then the engine froze.
“Needs a new engine,” he muttered, and then he looked at me. Something inside of me said, “I told you so.” But the Lord was at work.
It took several days and several thousand dollars to conclude this wayside event. Fortunately, I had access to the resources that allowed me to be the “Samaritan.”
As I drove my new friend to the mechanic’s garage to receive his newly powered pick-up, he thanked me for the motor, the motel, the food, and the other necessities. We arrived at the garage and found the truck ready to go to south Florida. He took me to the back of the truck and peeled back a tarp covering several jugs of water. “Holy water,” he said proudly. “I had a priest bless it while I was in Corpus Christi.”
I smiled, and thought to myself; “Well, it must have worked; the Lord fixed his truck!”
As the family drove away, the mechanic looked at me, right into my eyes, and said, “You’re the richest guy in the county.” He didn’t mean in terms of money. “Yeah, I guess so,” I said.
WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?
A Jewish teacher of the law asked Jesus this question: “Who’s my neighbor?” Jesus responded by telling the classic story of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:25-37). It not only illustrates who our neighbor is, but the difference between mere religion and God’s divine nature.
The story begins, “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho,” which was a 20-mile descent through barren hills and dangerous areas from 2,000 feet above sea level, to 1,000 feet below sea level. The treacherous road was often called, “The Way of Blood.”
This traveler was attacked, robbed, and left half-dead. He lay by the road, wounded and helpless. A priest came by traveling the same way, and when he saw the wounded man, the priest crossed to the other side of the road and continued on his way. The same thing happened when a Levite_another religious official – passed by.
Finally, a Samaritan came to the place and saw the wounded man. The Samaritan man had godly compassion. Unlike the others, he stopped, got off his donkey, dressed the wounds with oil and wine, and bandaged them. Then, he put the wounded man on his donkey and walked to an inn and paid the innkeeper two days wages and said, “Do whatever is necessary and I will pay the rest when I return.”
After finishing that story, Jesus asked the lawyer, “Who proved to be the neighbor?”
“The one who showed mercy,” the lawyer answered.
“Go and do the same,” Jesus concluded.
WHAT IS COMPASSION?
Luke 10:33 says that the Samaritan had “compassion.” What is that? Some translators say he had “sympathy” and others say that he had “pity.” Both translations are incorrect and weak.
On another occasion, Jesus, quoting from Hosea 6:6, told the Pharisees, “Go and learn what this means_I prefer compassion to sacrifice.” Remember, both Jesus and His hearers are Hebrews discussing Hebrew Scripture. The Hebrew word used for compassion is “chesed.” It is such a deep and rich word that it is virtually untranslatable in our language. The words “mercy” or “compassion” come closest.
The two religious officials did not have it. Some argue that they could not help, due to their temple service and laws of purification. But I disagree, because they were not going to the temple, they were going to Jericho like the others. Most importantly, Jesus indicts them for seeing and not helping.
We should note that Samaritans were hated by the Jews for their racial and religious heritage. Their race was the result of intermarriage with occupying forces and non-Jewish tribes in the area. Their religion was a mixture. Yet, it was the Samaritan that had “chesed” – covenant mercy – toward a man who likely would not speak to him under other circumstances.
MORE THAN A FEELING
In another discussion, Jesus criticized Jewish teachers of the law who put heavy burdens on people, but would not “lift a finger” to help them (see Luke 11:46). Compassion is not a feeling. It is much more than pity or sympathy. It is involvement to the point of supplying the need. It is more than saying, “be warmed and be filled” (see James 2:15-16). It is more than platitudes.
So, can we say, “I love God,” if we cannot say, “I love a person in need?” God’s love is redemptive. It addresses real needs. That is what the life and death of Jesus was about, and what His Resurrection guarantees. His righteous riches cover what our bruised, wounded, and sinful lives lack.
More than once, the New Testament tells us that “Jesus saw them and had compassion.” Not pity, or sympathy, but compassion. His love is faithful and involved with our need. We are “half dead” until He heals us.
The Church, like the temple of Jesus’ day, will be measured by which way its people cross the street. If we cross to get away from the wounded, we will be viewed by Jesus in the same way that he viewed the religious leaders of His day. If, on the other hand, we cross the street to get to the needy, then no doubt it will please Him. Indeed, Jesus walked the road to find the wounded.
Whether we cross or not is a personal decision. Individuals must decide if they will merely feel sorry for the wounded or if they will have compassion. I can say that I know many of you who have true compassion.
IT’S NOT ABOUT RULES
We must convince our friends that religious activity is not enough. We must walk the dangerous Jericho Road, looking for those who have “gotten mugged” in life. Our society produces many wounded people, literally and spiritually. The Church has a great market for its message. But most of the Jericho Road casualties cannot or will not come to the “temple.” We must find them, and that should not require a difficult search. If we are willing to go where sin has struck its victims, they will be there.
They won’t need our rules. They will need the oil and wine of the Spirit and the assurance of our love. And like the one I stopped to help, they may never call later, or write. You may never see them again, but that isn’t the point. Compassion is the point.
This September, let’s remember to lift up the United States in prayer. This is a sensitive time for our nation, and there are many hurting people who need the compassion, comfort, and strength of the Lord. Our God is a God of mercy. May He have mercy and heal our land.
I pray that the compassion of the Lord touch your life, and that His compassion will move through your life to touch others.
Scripture Reference: Luke, James