Anne Howard: A Word in Time: Two Ways to See

For this week's post, with Luke's story of the Good Samaritan at hand, I'm offering here a bit on that story from my book, Claiming the Beatitudes: Nine Stories from a New Generation (Alban, 2009):

". . . How we see matters. Henri Nouwen taught me at seminary that there are really only two ways to see the world: through the eyes of fear or through the eyes of love. We see this in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

The parable begins, as so many parables do, with a question: "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" The young lawyer wants to do the right thing. He wants to justify himself, he wants to know the rules of the game. So Jesus answers his question, in true Semitic fashion, with another question: "You want life? What is written in the law? How do you read?"

Of course the young man knows the law. He gives the answer that is the cornerstone of the Jewish faith, the summary of the law: "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."

But there's a question behind the lawyer's question, and though he doesn't really ask, Jesus hears it.  The young lawyer wants a formula: Precisely whom must I include within my circle of neighbors, and who may I exclude? How far do I have to stretch my love? How long? What's my job description? What are the limits of compassion?

Jesus, as ever, does not deal in recipes or formulas or theories or philosophies or rules or limits, but in real life. A so he tells a story:

A man traveling down the dangerous road from Jerusalem to Jericho was robbed and stripped, beaten and abandoned for dead at the side of the road.

Down the road came a priest. He knew the temple code about the limits of good deeds. He also knew that his role was to be pure for his temple duties, and so he could not touch a dead body (and that one in the ditch looked mostly dead.) He could not fulfill his obligations as priest and at the same time get mixed up with that bloodied stranger. He was a good, law-abiding person and he needed to keep his hands clean and to keep his distance, so he passed by on the other side.

Next came the Levite. He was lower in the official hierarchy than the priests, but still needing to keep ritually clean for his lesser temple duties. That man in the ditch was not his neighbor and besides, he could not take the man anywhere, he was on foot himself. He knew the codes of purity and he was a practical man. So he passed by on the other side.

And then along came a Samaritan. Now, no one hearing this story from Jesus would ever imagine that a Samaritan could be good. Good Samaritan was an oxymoron. Samaritans, every Jew knew, worshipped God in the wrong way, at the wrong place. But the Samaritan did not pass by on the other side; he came to the wounded man and Jesus says he had compassion. The Samaritan cared for the man, cleaning and bandaging his wounds, anointing them with the symbols of generosity and blessing, wine and oil, and delivering the man to an inn to recuperate.

There are two kinds of people in that story: those who see life with eyes of fear and the one who sees with eyes of love. Jesus makes it very clear to the lawyer: there is really only one rule to the game: be a neighbor. Be the one who doesn't count the cost, be the one who doesn't measure the boundaries, be the one who doesn't calculate the limits of kindness, be the one who sees.

Blessed are the merciful, the ones who see and allow themselves to be seen."


Echoes from the Edge

Summer Reading Series

By Nicole Lamarche, Beatitudes Fellow 2012-13 - July 8th, 2013

Nicole recommends:

Launch:  Starting a New Church from Scratch,   by Nelson Searcy and Kerrick Thomas

"This book is for individuals or groups of people who are interested in the details and specific strategies for building a church from scratch.  It's not for turnarounds or revitalizations as it begins as if something will be built from the ground up.  

Church planting can be such an overwhelming call and this resource makes it possible to get a realistic sense about what needs to happen.  It is written from a conservative evangelical lens, but it offers strategies for everything from fundraising and preparing to planning services and implementing the framework for building a vital community once it is launched  I have returned to it again and again."

Finally, the Poet

In Spite of Everything, the Stars

By Edward Hirsch, from Wild Gratitude - July 8th, 2013

Like a stunned piano, like a bucket

of fresh milk flung into the air

or a dozen fists of confetti

thrown hard at a bride

stepping down from the altar,

the stars surprise the sky.

Think of dazed stones

floating overhead, or an ocean

of starfish hung up to dry. Yes,

like a conductor's expectant arm

about to lift toward the chorus,

or a juggler's plates defying gravity,

or a hundred fastballs fired at once

and freezing in midair, the stars

startle the sky over the city.

And that's why drunks leaning up

against abandoned buildings, women

hurrying home on deserted side streets,

policemen turning blind corners, and

even thieves stepping from alleys

all stare up at once. Why else do

sleepwalkers move toward the windows,

or old men drag flimsy lawn chairs

onto fire escapes, or hardened criminals

press sad foreheads to steel bars?

Because the night is alive with lamps!

That's why in dark houses all over the city

dreams stir in the pillows, a million

plumes of breath rise into the sky.

Taken with permission from the blog of The Beatitudes Society.