And the million dollar question is…”How?”
(perhaps the half-million dollar question is, “How exactly?”)
If someone tells that we should be doing something, whether it be exercising more, eating better, reading more, spending more time with our families, etc…isn’t the question “How?” or “How exactly?” close behind?
I’ve been studying the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 this week. An expert in God’s law comes to Jesus, asking him how we might inherit eternal life. Jesus responds by asking him a question. (side note: Jesus does this a lot…answering a question with a question. I heard author and speaker Ravi Zacharias say that by doing this, Jesus unearths the assumptions of the ones asking the questions. Why is it they are really asking?)
Jesus asks him how he reads the law. The man answers, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus says he has answered well.
But then really wants to know how to do this, when he asks for some clarification. “Who is my neighbor?”
To this, Jesus tells a story. You can read it here.
Along with studying this passage, I’ve been reading a book by Steve Moore, entitled, appropriately, Who is My Neighbor? I don’t mean for this to be a book review, because, in all honesty, I haven’t even finished the whole book. But I found the chapter entitled “From Information to Action” especially good. Moore says that there are four “exit ramps” that prevent us from actually feeling compassion for someone, and then acting on that feeling. First is intention: that we might actually have lots of great thoughts about serving, encouraging, having compassion…but the hurriedness of our lives prevents us from actually doing anything. The second is deflection. We think that showing mercy or helping someone in need is really someone else’s job. Third is rationalization. We think that what we do isn’t really going to make a difference, that what we can offer isn’t nearly enough to solve the problem. Fourth is justification, which Moore describes as deflection and rationalization on “steroids.” (p. 55) These are beliefs we form that attempt to explain why someone might be poor or in need, and that they “might have brought it on themselves.”
But the teaching of Jesus in the parable of the Good Samaritan doesn’t seem to allow for any of these exit ramps. When the man asked Jesus how he might inherit eternal life, and how exactly he might act on this, Jesus told him a story. A story of a man who actually DID something for someone in need. While others walked by, this man (and Jesus chooses the hero very carefully, and to his hearers, this Samaritan was an unlikely hero) took the initiative and showed mercy.
I found myself asking, “Which exit ramp do I use most often?”
How about you?
These are very provoking thoughts. I am both guilty of using all 4 exit ramps and simultaneously vehemently against anyone using them. I would venture to presume many find themselves in the same juxtaposition of desire and uncertainty. Most people, myself included at times, most likely struggle with the very real fact that they just don’t even know where to begin. Everywhere I turn, I see a need. I can’t do it all. Jesus reminds us that though we can’t do it all, we can do something. I recently finished reading the book Experiencing God. In the book, the author suggests that when God makes us aware of something, something He is already doing, it is quite probably His invitation to join Him in the work He has already begun. I think that would be a safe place to start. Instead of taking the exit ramp, ask ourselves, what is God already doing here and how can I join in…in a tangible way…right now even.
This question reminds me of the hope I receive from a collection of sermons by James Van Tholen in his book, Where All Hope Lies. The sermon is based on Matthew 13:33 about the woman making bread with yeast. Jim reminds us that God doesn’t expect us to all go out and do mighty deeds, like superheroes. The best work is when each person does one little thing, it is like the small amount of yeast in the bread, that causes the bread to rise. I find that hopeful because yes, it is hard to figure out when and where to give help, especially if you are trying to balance, family, church, work, and all the needy folks out there in the world. Sometimes the the need is right in your own home and God recognizes that.