Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself. He answered, " And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live." But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise." --Luke 10:25-37
About This Weeks' Prompts for Personal Meditation But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' Luke 10:33-35
Imagine waking up from a trauma and finding yourself alone except for your bosom enemy caring for you at your bedside, having scraped you up off the road and paid your hospital bills. Jesus crafted a story to shock the boundaries of relationship. The relentless reversals of the Good News shatter boundary, status quo, any comfort upon which a wearied soul might like to settle down.
Who is my neighbor (meditation one) and who is my family? Who is my friend and to whom and what am I called to be friend (meditation two)? As boundaries shatter, neighbor, family, enemy, the Divine, draw close (meditation three.)
Happy boundary shattering. -Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) Who is my neighbor?
I had the most extraordinary experience of love of neighbor with a Hindu family. A gentleman came to our house and said: "Mother Teresa, there is a family who have not eaten for so long. Do something." So I took some rice and went there immediately. And I saw the children - their eyes shining with hunger. I don't know if you have ever seen hunger. But I have seen it very often. And the mother of the family took the rice I gave her and went out. When she came back, I asked her: "Where did you go? What did you do?" And she gave me a very simple answer: "They are hungry also." What struck me was that she knew - and who are they? A Muslim family - and she knew. ... -Mother Teresa of Calcutta 1910-1997
One day when I had gone to a little chapel near my office at lunchtime and was once more praying while wondering how and why and to whom I prayed, a man came in and eased into the pew directly across the aisle from me. As we were the only two people there, his choice of where to sit seemed odd, and irritating. Within a couple of minutes, all thought of God was gone into the man's constant movements and his elaborate sighs, and when I finally rose in exasperation, he stood immediately to face me. He had the sandblasted look of long poverty, the skeletal clarity of long addiction, and that vaguely aggressive abasement that truly tests the nature of one's charity. Very cunning, I noted, failing the test even as I opened my wallet: to stake out this little chapel, to prey upon the praying! For days then it nagged at me - not him, but it, the situation - which, I finally realized, was precisely the problem: how easily a fatal complacency seeps into even those acts we undertake as disciplines, and how comfortable we become with our own intellectual and spiritual discomfort. Wondering how and why and to whom I prayed? I felt almost as if God had been telling me, as if Christ were telling me (in church no less): get off your mystified ass and do something.
-Christian Wiman My Bright Abyss
Who is my family?
While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples ,he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
O God, scatterer of ignorance and darkness, grant me your strength. May all beings regard me with the eye of a friend, and I all beings! With the eye of a friend may each single being regard all others!
-Yojht Veda, XXXVI,18 quoted from Life Prayers, ed. Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. -Abraham Joshua Heschel 1907-1972
Meditation Three (integration) ...is very near to you
Suppose we were to...draw the outline of a circle.... Let us suppose that this circle is the world, and that God is the center; the straight lines drawn from the circumference are the lives of people....The closer those lines are to God, the closer they become to one another; and the closer they are to one another, the closer they become to God. -Dorotheos of Gaza 505-565
On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey of life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
-Martin Luther King Jr., “A Time to Break Silence,” Riverside Church, New York
The Last Word
Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smaller right and doing it all for love. -St. Thérèse of Lisieux 1873-1897
Rembrandt's Landscape with Good Samaritan
A stricken man hunched over a mule - it is easy to miss the figures in the shadows in the lower right corner blending together as one: the victim and his rescuer. And even up close I see only the rescuer's hands. Other people remain near the bracken, perhaps warily coming out of hiding after seeing the roadside violence. Maybe they are the holy men turning away from the impurity upon the bloodied path.
But the subject of the painting is the landscape itself. Complex and dark, beautiful but lonely, a broken branch from the heavy, twisted, ancient tree dominates the foreground. Threatening clouds rise high into the sky allowing one patch of sunshine to illumine a field, a waterfall, and a coach drawn by four white horses racing out of the woods into the open country in the distance.
Perhaps the old dying tree in the dark forest suggests self-preservation, say, or clinging to fear or the status quo. The dead branch rotting on the ground might say, “let the dead bury their own dead.” The path of life leads inevitably into the savage forest - a vast and complex landscape. No easy route bypasses the danger. Entering dark nights of the soul always means risk and change and a shattering of expectations.
You see a man, an enemy to you, someone you know who hates you and you have been taught to hate, lying unconscious on the roadside. But without a second thought, you gather your stricken enemy to your bosom, give him your coat, money, time, transport.
Or, perhaps, more poignantly, you are on the receiving side of the violence in the forest, and as the victim, you wake to find yourself helpless in the hands of the enemy ministering to you with tender love and selfless generosity. Either as victim or rescuer, you now know the truth that the arbitrary boundaries of race and clan and tribe cannot penetrate the deepest part of our humanity.
Sometimes it takes stress and hardship and darkness to awaken that humanity lying dormant within. It takes sudden enounters, broken boundaries, and the shattering of idols to expand the sense of self and neighbor into the plane of deep connection that we share. The only way to the lighted field is through this brokenness, shedding what is rotten and ready to fall off this old tree of life.