Monday, August 9, 2010

More Reflections On the Good Samaritan

Throughout the existence of this blog, people have been kind enough to share with me that various posts have been helpful to them in different ways. That is certainly very gratifying to hear. It is great to know that you have made some small positive difference in others’ lives. But in actuality, sometimes the posts really help me, too. I guess it is helpful to remind oneself of basic aspects of one’s beliefs. In that vein, the tail end of the prior post on Anne Rice reminded me of points that I recently had great need to remember.

This past weekend, our family went to a party with a lot of kids. We knew only a small handful of the families there. We are still somewhat new to this particular group. The kids were doing activities in different groups and one parent was incredibly inhospitable to our younger child. This parent actually went to pretty extreme lengths to get our younger child to play elsewhere to leave a budding clique intact. The other kids were oblivious, but this parent seemed to want a certain group of kids together without anyone else intruding. It later became apparent that this parent’s primary motivation was her desire to get some good photos with kids her child knew best. My husband was with our younger child when this parent was trying to exclude her, and he did his best to distract our child and shelter her from what was actually going on so that she wouldn’t get her feelings hurt. It is never easy being the new person in a group, and one is vulnerable when trying to make new friends. Obviously, it can really hurt a child’s feelings and damage their budding self-confidence to be rejected in that way. Heck, it can hurt an adult to go through that.

Perhaps it is our Texas upbringing, but neither my husband nor I said anything to this woman. Though our first instinct might have been to curse her out or kick her in the shins, we were gracious and polite. Nonetheless, we were horrified that an adult would behave so rudely for no good reason. Moreover, we just could not fathom an adult behaving so heartlessly to a little child. We were astonished that a grown woman would behave in such a petty manner that could well have crushed the feelings and self-confidence of a five-year old. In our minds, it is pretty inexcusable and unforgiveable.

But to Christians, of course, nothing should be unforgiveable. One of the foundational concepts in Christianity is that Christ died to forgive us of all our sins. The biggies, the little ones, everything in between. All of that is forgiven. And we are to love our neighbor—not just when they are being civil, but also when they act like jerks.

So, this little experience at the party got my husband and I talking about the Good Samaritan. The common understanding of the parable is that the Samaritan doesn’t know the man robbed and left for dead on the road. After all they are from different social groups, and the gist of the parable seems to be that the concept of “neighbor” is so broad that it also extends to strangers. We’re all brothers and sisters even if we don’t (yet) know one another. But on the way home from the party, my husband and I tried to imagine that the Samaritan did actually know the man left for dead on the road, and the latter man had been a real jerk to the former. In some ways it is easier to be merciful to a stranger with whom you have no past history. It is a much bigger challenge to be merciful to someone who has annoyed or offended you. But that is part of what Christ asks.

My example from the party is an admittedly petty one. (Though to parents, any offense to their child feels like a near capital offense!) But I remember a much starker example when I was reading about Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch Christian woman whose family was sent to concentration camps in the 1940s for the crime of hiding Jews from the authorities. Somehow Ms. Ten Boom survived the ordeal of the concentration camp and after the war was an evangelist sharing God’s love with others. After a lecture she gave one night in Munich, a man came up to her to share how moved he was by her talk of God’s forgiveness and how tortured he had been by his past deeds. The man was a sadistic guard who had made Ms. Ten Boom’s life in the camp particularly hellish; he did not recognize her from the camp. The human instinct was to react to this man by lashing out in hatred. But Ms. Ten Boom however was true to her beliefs. She prayed and chose to forgive this man. She later explained, “I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”

Luke 17:4-5 (Contemporary English Version)

Even if one of them mistreats you seven times in one day and says, "I am sorry," you should still forgive that person. The apostles said to the Lord, "Make our faith stronger!"

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