Amos 7:7-17 and Psalm 82 • Colossians 1:1-14 • Luke 10:25-37
Ah, lawyers! Can't live with them, can't live without them – at least that seems to have been the case for the last 2000 years or so. Say what you will, though, about their overall character and suitability for inclusion as part of the human species, they do have one admirable strength: the ability to ask good questions.
In today's Luke reading, the question "who is my neighbor?" generated one of the most important stories of all religious literature. The text provides many angles on what it means to be human. The pitfalls of leadership are revealed, as both the Luke and the Amos readings contain religious authorities more interested in preserving the status quo and observing details of the law than in loyalty to the underlying principles of their faith. The assumptions of the comfortable are quickly turned around, as the lawyer finds himself responding to Jesus' final question (v. 36) from the point of view of a powerless person who needs others. In addition, the challenges of tribalism are on full display, as the despised Samaritan (an enmity generated over hundreds of years before the common era and continuing in new forms today) turns out to be the neighbor.
The neighbor – the one who showed mercy – provides a template for what it means to have a solid self. Note what he does. He approaches a badly hurt and possibly dead person on a road where a person needs to hurry, lest he too be attacked. Perhaps cringing (? the story does not say) from the sight of the injuries, he calms himself, cares for the wounds, gets the person to a safe place, and nurses him through the night. The next day, he goes on his way to his responsibilities elsewhere, after assuring that the man will be cared for until his return.
Being responsible to others involves strength of character. While it does not mean giving up oneself and responsibilities for self – the good person continues his own journey the next day – it does mean living according to one's own principles at all times and in all places. Paradoxically, more solid self provides more flexible self: the good person has enough inner clarity and calmness to see and choose a course of action among a broad array of options. Even when fears are stirred, as can happen on a dark mountain road when coming upon someone lying half-dead in a ditch, the good person can use emotional reason to think through a response consistent with his or her own best self.
Even though the situation was frightening, the Good Samaritan had it easy in a way. It was easy to recognize the person in the ditch as one needing mercy to be shown. What is harder is to be the good person in the ordinary wear and tear of life. That person at work – the one with the annoying habits – may need mercy, even though her arrogance makes it hard to see. Understanding that the person is wounded (who isn't?) is a beginning. Trying to see what he or she is up against can be useful. Being kind, rather than judgy, may open up different brain pathways within oneself for approaching her without antagonism. Avoiding a sense of responsibility for the colleague keeps one from interfering with that person's own emerging self; recognizing one's responsibility to the colleague keeps one true to self. Practicing mercy in one's everyday life may make it more accessible when the stakes are higher.
Colossians 1:13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.
Where will I have a chance to show mercy today? Where could I get clearer about my own needs and dependence on others?
How did I see mercy operating today, in my own life and the lives of others?