I left the house that morning charged up, feeling clean, optimistic, and pretty spiritual. When I arrived at the clinic, others were there, quietly chatting. As an elderly woman sat down beside me, I did the noble thing: put down my magazine and smiled.
Then a man walked in wearing an expensive business suit. Sitting down, he whipped out his cellphone. I sighed and shook my head. His loud voice shattered the peace in the room. “So, yes, how much should we move over? Sure, I’d say a million for now. Oh, and Kyle will be looking after all my accounts while I’m gone. Yes, we’re off to Portugal and then Rome. Maybe go east.”
By now, my eyes were cat-like slits sending out strong messages to this guy. You think you’re so cool, telling us total strangers about your accounts and your big trip!
I was ready if he would only glance my way. Here is my best superior Christian look, Mr. Business Suit with designer glasses. It will wither you and tell you what an inferior being you are!
But he didn’t look over. Then they called me in. I missed my chance.
It came to me only later how far I had fallen. If the Holy Spirit has a grading system, I went from A-plus to D-minus in two minutes.
Jesus didn’t come to earth merely to improve humans. Else we would count those who excelled in self-improvement as prize Christians, despite their absorption with themselves. No, our only hope for love and humility is to keep staring at Jesus. Then, gradually, our inner eyes morph. We begin to see others – and ourselves – through a completely different lens. That is called transformation.
On the road one day, Jesus was stopped by a lawyer. The lawyer, who the writer Luke tells us was sneaky and out to trick Jesus, posed a question. Jesus answered, but the lawyer challenged Jesus’ response because his aim was to “justify himself” (10:29).
At this point, Jesus didn’t make his eyes into slits and say to this guy, You in your well-cut suit and cool haircut, you think you’re so smart, but you’re such a loser.
Instead, Jesus answered him respectfully and, I imagine, with a wry smile. I suspect his disciples – who had seen these kinds of interactions before – were thinking, This couldbe fun.
Wildly extravagant love
Jesus responded to the question, Who is my neighbour? with a story that pulled the lawyer out of his self-focused world into an experience he could hardly picture as real. It was the story of a business man, the Good Samaritan.
If this story happened today, for instance, my husband might call me from a road trip to say, “I saw a guy that had been roughed up. I picked him up in my car…” (What? I would shriek, you could get sued!) “…took him to a Super 8, then drove on to my conference. But I left our credit card info with the manager for the guy’s nights and meals until he recovers.”
“Are you crazy?” I would say. “That’s just ridiculous.”
Which was probably Jesus’ point.
The kind of love and compassion that comes from God is so wildly extravagant it goes way beyond what most of us may ever be capable of expressing. Jesus knew that. But the story was meant to jar open at least one of the lawyer’s eyes to see the chasm between his own self-interest and Jesus’ heart of love and compassion.
Meeting Mr. Business Suit in the waiting room had shown me just how quickly my own store of compassion could turn to contempt. And, I was soon to meet the man again, in less savoury circumstances.
Continued in next month’s Text Message.
“A Samaritan…put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”