Angels, Part 1

I have ‘sat on’ this post for a few weeks, unable to decide whether or not to post it. Obviously, I have decided now...

The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37) says:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘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.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, soheasked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he 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. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was aneighbourto the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

We usually seek to apply it to ourselves when we read it, with us cast in the role of the Good Samaritan - and certainly not in the roles of the Priest or Levite. Until now, what I've never done is to think of myself in the role of the 'beaten up and left half dead' man in the story.

And yet, in so many ways, that is what we are. Jesus is our 'Good Samaritan' - in saving usfrom all that afflicts us, despite us not being from the 'chosen people'. We accept that, even if we may not quite have thought of it in terms of that parable before. And then, if we're serious about our faith, we seek to go and do likewise, as Jesus instructs at the end of the story. And that's fine as far as it goes.

Where it gets harder though, is when 'someone else' wants to do something to help or bless us.How full of pride in myself am I?How willing am I to accept 'help' from others? Where it gets hardest, for me at least, is when the person proffering the 'help' is someone I feel I ought to be helping...

Not very long ago we invited Paria, Simin, and Zahra, our Iranian friends (mentioned previously in this post), for a meal; three people who are, in all sorts of ways, very vulnerable; people who desperately need help... Sanctuary even. Hence us feeding them - a tiny gesture of God's love really, in light of their situation - it felt like a minuscule thing to do, when measured alongside their need.

And then, in turn, they invited us to eat with them.

I was stunned.

To have them turn around and want to do the same for us - that's hard to accept; really tough. How could they, with next to nothing, give to me? Could I even allow it? I felt so guilty to even be considering the idea of 'taking' from someone with ‘nothing’ when I have so much.

And yet, seen from God's point of view, I suppose that I am really very little 'better off' than them (and in some ways, probably poorer); I am still in need of help and love, in all kinds of ways. And who am I, arrogantly to assume that I know who God ought to choose to bless me? Why should I assume that God can only bless me through people 'better off' than me (or at least equally 'well off')?

I had imagined that we were helping them. Instead, they have helped me by teaching me a huge lesson about God's boundless grace and love. And I am humbled; humbled by God's grace and provision for me; humbled by love offered by people I thought fit only to receive, but whom God has used to bless me, by offering love in the form of a meal out of their poverty. I hate to think of the sacrifice they must have made to feed us - I don’t know what their weekly budget is, but that delicious, generous, meal, must have used a lot of it. Their sacrificial, Christ-like, love utterly humbles me. I am reminded of the story of the ‘Widow’s Mite’ (Mark 12:41-43).

I begin to think that, if I’m reading the Parable of the Good Samaritan right, according to Jesus, 'being neighbourly' involves not only giving help but also being willing to receive it, even (or perhaps especially?) from those we don’t normally see as 'like us' - or those we perceive as being in greater need than we are. So perhaps our call isn’t only to imagine those we should be loving, but also those who might love us… if we only gave them a chance. And the result might be as surprising, nay, shocking, as that dinner invitation was for me.

I think this leads me to consider what sort of community we're seeking to build. I think we in the ‘rich’ West can be quite 'dualistic' (if not to say paternalistic) in our thinking.

Us and them.

Have and have not.

I think the parable points to something deeper and far more holistic. We are invited, I think, to be a community that is bound together by our shared need; bound together by an awareness of our common vulnerability; bound together by a sense that God has worked through so many people to care for us; bound together by a sense that God wants to meet our needs through others (and sometimes through those we would least expect to help us). In turn He invites each of us, whatever our circumstances, to look around and care for others in need. Love is a two-way street; we should not just be looking to give, but also to be happy to receive, and to be prepared to be 'surprised by grace'.

The food was delicious; the first time I have ever tasted Iranian cuisine - and I hope it won't be the last.

This is yet another episode, I realise now that I read it through, in the ongoing 'saga' of God showing me how much he loves me. It's odd that, after so long, I am still surprised when God shows me how much He loves me; you'd think I'd get used to it - or, at the very least, that I'd be expecting Him to spring surprises on me. But no, He gets me every time, and I'm left slack-jawed in amazement, and fumbling for words to express my praise and thanksgiving. It happens most often when I have fixed my mind on how I believe something is going to 'pan out' - when, if you like, I've placed predetermined (by me) limits on God, deciding what is or isn't right, and what is or isn't reasonable or likely - or even dismissed a possibility altogether. I can be so arrogant. And yet he brings me back to a better place so gently and gracefully.

God bless you.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2016