This week's Bible Study - August 28, 2016
Love Gets Involved
Quotes of the Week:
Empathy is born out of the old biblical injunction 'Love the neighbor as thyself.'
As I sit and write this lesson, I have to say that I have seen love personified in so many ways in the past few months. If you read these lessons regularly, you know that I, Don, was diagnosed with ALS in the Spring of 2015. To say that it rocked mine and Berkley's world is an understatement of gargantuan proportions. Over the past few months, specifically, we have been overwhelmed by people who have given of their time and money to help us in very tangible ways. We had our house and patio pressure washed. We have had many people help with landscaping, weeding, tree and shrub trimming and so forth. We have a great neighbor that is mowing our yard all summer. We have other neighbors that have come and helped when we needed help of all kinds. We have had friends that have helped move mattresses around. We have had others who have fixed a table for our needs, and others who helped clean out the garage and help install ceiling support racks in the garage and still others who demolished a wall for us. We have had people that showed up at our house very late on a weeknight to help us move a behemoth lift that others will help install. People have helped with ramps and in so many other ways. The list could go on and on, but we have seen many people get involved and their love has been evident.
There certainly have been many others praying for us and those prayers are felt. Some live far away and are unable to help do tasks personally. Even then, we have been greatly blessed by generous gifts from people we didn't even know, numerous cards and letters of support from former high school classmates and other friends. Prayers are greatly appreciated, but what would it have been like if all those who did tangible things replaced that with words saying that they were praying for us and that was it? As believers, we all know the power of prayer, but only praying without ever getting your hands dirty, or perhaps getting uncomfortable, is a rather shallow excuse for not doing more. I am not saying this to goad anyone else to help us, but I think this is something that we all need to hear and by listening and allowing it to take root in your life can impact the lives of many others.
Another word that I have been made much more aware of lately is empathy. Empathy is being able to feel the hurt of
another, even if you weren't responsible for the hurt. There is a great youtube video that describes empathy very well.
It isn't from a Christian view, but it does highlight some things that we all should be aware of. Click here to watch the Empathy Video! How do you think Christians would be seen by our world if we were truly empathetic with those who have been hurt? Too often, we have failed at this by simply saying that we were praying for others and making high platitude statements, as an easy spiritual out. And, while we may very well be praying for others, when we refuse to be empathetic, those words can become very callous and in fact, more harmful than good. I think some people have distanced themselves from hurtful situations of others because it makes them uncomfortable. We know that there are many situations where people are hurting and it is impossible to be personally involved in all of them. However, we all have people in our own realm of influence (those who we are related to, friends with or somehow associated with) who are hurting right now. Are we empathetic about their plight?
We can talk a lot about how love gets involved. When we talk about situations with those who are close to us, it is one thing. We know that we even have issues truly showing love by our involvement in other's lives. However, it is another thing altogether when we encounter situations with those we don't know so well. As I thought more and more about this lesson, it occurred to me that we often ask the same question that was asked of Jesus in this lesson, who is my neighbor? We seem to think one standard of behavior in situation A, but in situation B, we justify other behavior any way we want. Perhaps you will likewise be convicted, as I have been.
As was often the case, people tried to test Jesus. In this case, it was an expert in the law that wanted to show his own prowess to diminish Jesus' influence. They saw Jesus as a powerful teacher, but they wanted to maintain status quo and Jesus was turning everything in their world upside down. Isn't it much the same today? There are experts in all sorts of fields that want to somehow discredit the whole notion of God and anything Christianity related. Experts in history have sought to disprove the accuracy of Scripture. But, time and time again, archaeological finds have done more to prove Biblical history than to disprove. Experts in science have sought to account for other ways for the world to come into being. But, anything that they have come up with revolves around faith of some sort. People often tried to trip up Jesus, thinking that they could somehow discredit Him. This expert thought the same.
The expert called Jesus Teacher. He was giving Him some respect, but nothing close to the respect due to the Messiah. He asked Jesus "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Embedded in that question was the implication that there was something that one could do to inherit eternal life. This is still a thought among many today who seem to think that there are a list of do's and don'ts, around which our eternity is based. Jesus turns the question around to the expert in the law, by asking what was written in the law. He asked the expert how he read what was there. The expert, who surely understood the law, quickly answered, saying, "'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.'" He knew the right words to say, like many church people today.
Jesus told the expert that he had answered correctly. If he were able to do this, he would be able to live (but Jesus knew that no person could do that perfectly). Since the expert was, after all, the expert, he had to continue this line of questioning. He wasn't trying to honestly get an answer, but instead, he was trying to show up Jesus. In verse 29, we read that the expert wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "and who is my neighbor?" First, he wanted to justify himself. That is so much like the prideful person that refuses to cede, but always has to have the last word. When you have found yourself having to justify yourself over and over, have you ever stepped back and asked yourself if you might indeed be the problem?
How do pride and empathy work together? Or, maybe more appropriately, how do they differ? It may be easy to show empathy to someone you see on the news that has lost their house due to a storm, or to people who live in war torn areas. Long distance empathy, however, is not true empathy. It can be much harder to show empathy for those with whom we may have had relationship issues. There are some people that may (or may not) apologize for what they have done directly to someone else, but when others around them have hurt someone, they feel as if they have nothing to do. If they didn't do the deed, why should they even care? It may be friends of a bully at school that didn't actually punch someone else, but their silence while it was happening was in many ways just as hurtful as the punch. It may be a parent who didn't actually do what their kid did to hurt another child, but wouldn't let anyone know that they were sorry that someone else got hurt. It may be a child whose parent verbally assaulted or lied about someone else, but the child sat idly by. Why do you think that people have problems showing empathy to others? It may be a callousness and it could be pride. Some people never seem to want to say that they were wrong, or think that they should care how anybody else is hurt. You may remember Fonzie, from Happy Days. He could never say he was wrong. It may be that the prideful Christian, the one who wants to justify himself, chooses to say that they are praying for others, rather than showing empathy.
The expert didn't simply want to justify himself, but he wanted to quiz Jesus on just who one's neighbor was. Who would you say is your neighbor? Is it just those who live next door or on your street? Is it just those who are from your church or school? Is it just those who work at the place where you work? How you define your neighbor (and maybe who is NOT your neighbor), especially if you have to love them as you love yourself is huge.
Jesus responded with a story. Isn't it amazing how stories often help to make points that would otherwise be missed? I have found that people often remember stories much better than the points from a four point sermon or Bible Study. When you can give an analogy that is true to life, those points come back again and again, especially as those circumstances happen again in life. This story, the Good Samaritan is familiar to nearly everyone, and we even have laws based on it. Today, Good Samaritan laws offer legal protection to people who give reasonable assistance to those who are, or who are believed to be injured, ill, in peril or capacitated. It is intended to keep people from being reluctant to help strangers, for fear of legal repercussions.
I will only give a highlight of the story, since it is widely known. A man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho and was attacked by robbers. I had read somewhere that this was called the Bloody Way, so coming upon wounded would have been common. One may say that this traveler had it coming, as he was rather reckless, traveling alone (but others in the story who passed by were also alone). He was stripped, beaten and left for dead. It is interesting that Jesus didn't say anything about who this man was that was beaten. He didn't attach ethnicity, status or position, because it didn't matter. This could be any man. On an aside, how often do we choose how we respond to a situation based on who it is? If you were the one beaten and left for dead, would you want only a certain kind of person to help you? You would take what you could get. You may hope for a doctor or a policeman, but you would welcome anyone who cared enough to stop and help.
A priest passed by, on the other side, followed by a Levite, who did the same. There could have been many reasons they didn't stop, but really, the reasons didn't matter. Perhaps they were late for a meeting. They may have feared for their own safety, as they were both alone as well and it could have been a decoy. There are a variety of reasons that you can find, but long and short, they didn't stop. What reasons would you give? These often become excuses. We all have them, but in the end, they are only excuses and reasons for not doing what we should. It could be that the Levite saw the priest walk on by, and since he already had an example, he simply followed. Have you ever considered what would happen if others patterned what they did or didn't do after what you have done?
Then, a Samaritan came along. Typically, the Jew would have seen the Samaritan as the villain in the story. They were hated and seen as half breed. But, the Samaritan saw the man and had pity on him. He bandaged the wounds, pouring oil and wine on them, and then he transported the man on his own donkey to an inn and took care of him. Even when he had to leave, he paid the innkeeper to watch over him, promising to reimburse him if he encountered extra expenses.
Jesus then asked the expert, who was obviously moved by the story, which of these three men were a neighbor to the man who had been beaten. The expert said that it was the one who had mercy on him. Note that the expert couldn't bring himself to say it was the Samaritan. His resentment against the Samaritans was so deep that he could only say it was the one who had mercy. Jesus told him that he should go and do likewise.
This is a story that many of us have heard often, over the years. It is usually not that we don't care and when a need arises, many will step up and meet the need. The closer the need, the more likely we are to help others. But, sadly, I believe that we all have passed by legitimate needs, and often in the most callous of ways, saying that we would pray for someone. Prayer is powerful and we should be praying, but there are times where we need to get involved.
When we see other hurting, saying that we are praying for them is good, but often, we need to do more. It is easy to say I feel your pain, or I would help if , but Jesus didn't give the expert a suggestion. He told the expert to go and do likewise. He says the same to you and I.
If you could love your neighbors as you love yourself, would that be enough? To begin with, many of us don't know the names of our neighbors or pray for their needs. What about those in your workplace or other areas of your life? Are you seeing needs, praying for them and tangibly helping when you can? I can guarantee you that there are people you know with broken marriages, sickness, who have lost loved ones recently, job issues and financial problems. Do you know that these problems exist and is God asking you to step in somehow?
In the story are you most like the priest, the Levite, the Samaritan or the innkeeper? Or, maybe you feel most like the man left on the side of the road. I believe part of this is based on our gifts that God has given us. Some people see the needs and work to meet needs all around them. I have a friend in my hometown who has been given the gift of helping those down on their luck. I applaud what he does, but I know that is not for everyone. On the other end of the spectrum are those who are more repulsed by problems, thinking that someone else will 'get their hands dirty'. Each of us should do more than sit idly by, when we can. Certainly, there are needs that you cannot meet tangibly, for one reason or another. It could be distant or some specific need that you are unable to help with.
However, when we speak of empathy, do you hurt when others are hurting? Some have become callous, or as the story goes, they may view those who are hurt as Samaritans and think that they are not worthy of being shown true love. This is often when we revert to saying "I am praying for you" and when it sounds more of a flippant response, rather than truly caring.
Compassion, when genuine costs. We must be willing to pass social barriers. At times, we must take risks. We need to set aside our schedules and make sacrifices when we see others hurting. Have you ever wondered what the church would look like if its members showed compassion on the lost and hurt? Sadly, too often Christianity becomes an intellectual pursuit and it as if it is practiced in a test tube (where life is all about me). We need to realize that we must be willing to live out grace and show compassion to those who are hurt.
As you've read this lesson, who comes to mind? Is there a situation that you are aware of, yet you have chosen to ignore? Or, perhaps you are praying, What if the priest and the Levite said a prayer for the beaten man as they passed on the other side of the road? Yes, pray for those who are hurting, but when there are tangible ways to meet needs, help to meet them. And, certainly when you know that others are hurting, learning to show empathy shows you truly do care. We pray that God will make clear to you what He has intended you to do, and we will pray the same for us.