First Mennonite Church
August 26, 2018
The Costliness of Kindness
Texts: Galatians 5:22, Luke 10:25-37
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness . . . . Galatians 5:22.
In the New Testament there is a group of words that are close in meaning. These words are: compassion, pity, mercy, kindness, and gentleness. Some might be able to expertly find difference between each of them, but in the end each of these words is an expression of love towards another person. While these words reflect an emotion, they certainly go beyond being a simple feeling. For that reason compassion, mercy, kindness are best reflected through actions. The best way to prove real that a person is compassionate, merciful, and kind is through concrete actions and not by doing some intellectual analysis of those words.
One story that can illustrate that is Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. Let us read Luke 10:25-37.
In the passage prior to the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus was rejoicing at the report of the seventy missionaries he had sent earlier to do mission work. While Jesus was rejoicing over the blessedness of his disciples for having done wonders done in his name, a lawyer—an expert of the Torah, stood up signaling he had a question for Jesus. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” he asked. That’s a very important question. In part, the answer to this weighty question is what has us gathered here today. Not because we have not found the answer, but because being in fellowship with one another is part of that answer. It is in our gathering together that we continue to be affirmed of God’s promise of eternal life and it is through our gathering that we celebrate this promise and anticipate its greatest fulfilment.
Jesus immediately referred scribe to the commandments in the Torah—the writings of Moses. And with expert knowledge of the commandments, the scribe quoted: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Jesus commanded the scribe to do as he knew the commandment of God indicates, to love God, neighbor and self. But whether the scribe was truthfully admitting his confusion about the identity of the neighbor and thus justifying his apparent lack of practice of the commandment, Jesus told him a story, a parable.
The claim or confession of the scribe of not knowing who was his neighbor, should be a serious reminder to us that good knowledge of the Bible does not necessarily translate into good Christian practice. In last week’s Sunday school class the words “orthodoxy” and “orthopraxis” showed up in our lesson on the practice of genuine love. And Bud explained to us that orthodoxy relates to the correct teachings or doctrines, while orthopraxis relates to the proper obedience of God’s word. The scribe knew very well the commandments of God, but he did not know who the neighbor was and therefore, could not obey the commandment of loving the neighbor.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is well-known to us. Although Jesus did not use the word “good” to describe the Samaritan in his parable, Good Samaritan captures very well the portrait of the hero in Jesus’ story. “Good Samaritan” would have been a contradictory combination of words in the ears of Jesus’ Jewish audience. For Jesus’ Jewish audience there is nothing good about any Samaritan. The portrait of a Samaritan hero in this story might have left the audience shocked. For many, the equivalent of Good Samaritan today would be like to say, “A God-fearing liberal,” or to say “a generous beggar.” It would be a title almost impossible for such a type of person.
The story is that of a man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho who had been attacked and beaten. As he laid half-dead on the road side, some travelers went about the same road. First was a priest. And most likely this priest had just finished his sacred duty in the temple in Jerusalem. Priests considered a very high honor to serve in the temple in Jerusalem. There were thousands of priest during those days that lots have to be cast for the selection of those who would serve for a period of two weeks each. Let’s say the priest was still singing alleluias as he marched to his hometown. He felt blessed and joyful that all his strict compliance with purity rituals had finally paid off. He had just been rewarded with the privilege of serving in the temple of Jerusalem. But lo and behold, there was something gone terribly wrong on the road. Was the man dead? Was he still breathing? But to avoid any possibility of touching a corpse, which would defile him, the priest took a safer approach of not bothering with it. Staying religiously clean weighed heavier than helping the injured man. And he went on his way singing alleluias.
After the priest came a Levite. Levites are the priest’s helpers in the temple in Jerusalem. And he did a little more than the priest. Jesus says the Levite came “and saw him.” He analyzed the situation; he saw the injured man. But the situation and need were more than he would like to be involved with. So, he just left him and continued his way.
Then according to Jesus, a Samaritan came along. And let us listen closely how Jesus tells the story.
But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.
In the Gospels, Jesus’ compassion for the people was always preceded by him seeing something. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). See also Matt. 14:14, Mark 8:2. Just like the two previous travelers, the Samaritan saw him, but instead of avoiding the man, as the priest did, or instead of simply analyzing the situation as the Levite did, the Samaritan took pity on him.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to act kindly or compassionately if one is too analytical of what the involvement would require. The questions: what if this or that begins to arise. What if we get in trouble for helping? What if we get sued? What if the person is not really in need? What if we are taken advantage of? What if the person becomes dependent on me/us? How long can we do this? How much will it cost me/us?
The Samaritan did these many acts:
- came where the man was;
- and saw him,
- he took pity on him.
- He went to him and
- bandaged his wounds,
- pouring on oil and wine.
- Then he 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.
and when I return, he said . . .
- I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
It is very costly to be kind or to show compassion. It is risky business to be compassionate. The Good Samaritan could have run the same fate as the victim he was helping. Yet, he did not have any reservations to touch and wash the wounds of badly injured man. He did not withhold to spend his oil and wine to dress the wounds. He did not calculate the time of his involvement. His priority and his very life were set aside in order to assist the one who could not do anything for himself. That is what Paul says Jesus did for us, who were worse off that the victim of our story. He was half-dead. Paul says: But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-6). Jesus paid the ultimate price to show grace and compassion. And even as he died on the cross he did not fail to show compassion to the thief hanging on a cross next to his.
Dr. Jeremiah tells the story of Bill, a young college man. Bill’s appearance was anything but elegant. And while in college, Bill became a Christian. Across the street from the college campus was a church, a very conservative church. This church for some time had wanted to begin a ministry in the college campus. One day Bill decided to visit this church. He was bare foot, in jeans and with a wild hair. When he arrived church, the service had already started. He walked the aisle looking for a place where to sit. But by the time he found there was no place, he was close to the pulpit where the preacher was just starting his sermon. Since Bill entered the church, the people became uncomfortable at his looks, but no one said anything. The preacher even paused to see what would happen as Bill approached the front. When Bill found there was no place for him in the pews, he sat on the carpet by a pew at the very front. By this time the church was all in suspense and confused at the sight of what was happening.
From the very back pew a deacon in his early eighties started walking towards the front. His move only added to the suspense among the people. He was a very godly man, who always had an elegant and dignified look. It took him a while before he reached the front pew as he wobbled his way to the front with his cane. The church fell utterly silent, except for the chain of the old man’s pocket watch clicking. When the deacon reached the young man, he paused. He then dropped his cane on the floor and with great difficulty lowered himself to the floor and sat down next to Bill. It was a scared moment. The church was very silent. And when the preacher gained his composure, he said, “You will never remember what I am about to preach. But, you will always remember what you just saw.”
Compassion, kindness and mercy are best expressed in actions. The Good Samaritan knew who his neighbor was. The neighbor is the one who is in need. This parable exemplifies what compassion is and questions our very definition of who we believe is our neighbor. Maybe, instead of asking who my neighbor is, we should ask ourselves, am I a neighbor to someone? The answer to that question will tell us whether or not we have compassion or if we are showing kindness.
Paul once again reminds us that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience and kindness. Let us go a do like the Good Samaritan did. Amen!