Sunday, September 11, 2016

First Responder

Jesus replied with a story:  “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits.  They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.  “By chance a priest came along.  But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by.  A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.  “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him.  Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them.  Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him.  The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man.  If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’  “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?”  Jesus asked.  The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”  Luke 10:30-37(NLT)

He was the terror of the community.  Vandalism, broken windows, fights, theft were where he lived. 

When John finally reached adulthood, no-one was more thoroughly surprised than John to find himself on the police force.  He had so easily broken the law and abused people before.  Now he was defending the very folks he'd once terrorized. 

Abby was the product of a broken home.  The brokenness was most often Abby’s own bones.  Her father did the breaking with his fists.  She could hardly remember a time in her childhood when she didn't wear a cast.  Nobody was more confused than Abby when she started beating her own toddler.  For years she'd told herself NOBODY was ever going to beat her again; she would be the kind of parent that she'd never had, good, kind and loving.  But now Abby couldn't stop herself from hitting her own daughter...and it was driving her insane.

People like this do exist.  The hurt you feel inside when you hear their stories is compassion.  It is an identification that you have with their human condition.  It is their lostness that you feel and understand.  It is their frustration, that sense of helplessness we have all experienced which makes us want to reach-out, to help, to heal. 

John, the reformed teenage gangster, was rescued from his criminal direction by an understanding police officer who saw promise in a young life, and took more than a passing interest.  If Abby is lucky someone will see the bruises on her child's arms and legs.  There is hope for Abby if someone will care enough to get involved.

Every day in the routine of our lives we pass-by wounded folks like John and Abby, people who have been hurt and crushed by life. 

Jesus tells the familiar story of the Good Samaritan.  We all know it.  A traveler is mugged and left for dead by the roadside.  The preacher, and the church board member, good folks, arrive on the scene, take notice of the unfortunate traveler, and decide it would be wiser to remain uninvolved. 

Along comes the backsliding Samaritan heathen who hasn't been inside the beautifully decorated sanctuary of Jerusalem's First Methodist Church in twenty years.  But this isn't a church, it's a road, and the poor man in the ditch is bleeding. 

So the Samaritan, moved with compassion, takes out the first aid kit and does what he can at the scene.  Then he loads the victim on his donkey for a quick ride to the emergency care center, as well as a quick dip into his own purse to pay the bill.  Jesus ends the story with the question:  Which one was neighbor to the man?

The point has been made so often that we are to help each other, that the term Good Samaritan can be spoken to people who know nothing of the Bible, and they know instantly it means to act unselfishly, helping another along.  This is the essence of First Responder!

How do you get to be a helper, a healer? 

How can you rise above the petty conflicts and selfishness to become a Good Samaritan?  Is it really possible to live life on that plane?  Is there any place left in this society for unselfish compassion that compels us to give more than we take?  Who will help the little hoodlums named John; the abused children, and the Abbys who can't help themselves?  The short answer is that their help will come from people who follow the compassionate example of Jesus Christ.  These are the difference-makers. 

Let's look closer at the players in this story....

The Wounded

It's really easy to identify with the wounded guy in the ditch.  Our family has been the object of a robber who broke-into our home in the middle of the night and threatened my child. I have no difficulty recalling the outrage and fear. 

But there are other wounded, less dramatic than John or Abby.  There is economic and social wounding that causes some to live only slightly better off than the animals, while most of us enjoy great comfort.   There is a psychologically-aggressive atmosphere about our society.  We are competitive, grabbing, wounding, grasping for everything that gives us advantage over the other person.  There is physical wounding, as our selfishness pollutes the environment, spreads disease like AIDS, and deprives all but the most powerful of the resources to combat the wounding effect.  There are the starving and helpless wounds of third-world nations.  Indeed there are all kinds of wounded in this family we call the human race. 

Come with me to the edge of the ditch....Look over the edge, and tell me whose face you see.  Why, it looks just like you and me, doesn't it? 


We are born into a sinful world, raised and guided by imperfect parents; we take part in the sin and suffering of this life.  Some of the wounding we feel is self-inflicted, as we fail to heed God's warnings against sin.  Some of the wounding comes from this world's sin-sick ways, as life pulls us apart as easily as a bear tears open a rotted stump in his search for honey.  But whether sin comes from within or without, the bottom of the ditch is just as awful. 

We are the wounded.  But what of...

The Wounders?

There are those individuals, who in their lust for control, are just like the robbers in the parable. 

They deliberately take without caring about what it does to their victims.  In Jesus' day it was done with knives and clubs.  Today it's done with computers and mark-ups.

But the deliberate wounders are few in comparison to the many who wound in the name of healing.  That may sound strange, but it's done all the time.  The priest and Levite in the story didn't get involved because they couldn't be late for church.  If either of them had touched a dying man they'd be defiled, and would miss the service.  Perhaps they'd realized the legal responsibility of getting involved.  They didn't want to help someone who might be taking advantage of them.  They could get sued!

So they went around the problem.  They ignored the bleeding man in the ditch.  And to ignore is to wound; it’s wounding in the name of healing!   

The question we must ask is:  Of what possible good is a religion that permits us to get around the wounded, helpless, half dead victim, lying on the road?  Yet all of us use religious words and customs to avoid the works that SHOULD go along with our high-sounding faith. 

WE are the wounders.  Some deliberate - some just inconsiderate, lacking compassion.  We wound with a word of gossip that leaves others in a roadside ditch.  We wound with pride that goes around the ditch, not stopping to help.  We are the wounders, who have experienced the joy of salvation, and yet cannot speak a word of kindness. 

But isn't that for....

The Healers?

The Samaritan in the parable represented all that was irreligious.  The Samaritans had come down to Jerusalem in 9 AD and desecrated the temple.  They were considered mongrels (half Jew, half pagan).  Their testimony wasn't acceptable in a Jewish court.  There were prayers continually offered in the temple that no Samaritan would ever be saved. 

The Samaritan was the only one in the story who didn't bring any religious, cultural, or legal baggage to the scene that might have prevented him from ministering.  The ONLY thing he brought was compassion.

Compassion is the answer to the question of how we can rise above the selfishness of the human condition to become helpers and healers. 

A closer look at this healer from Samaria shows the CHARACTERISTICS of compassion:

Unconditional help

The victim was reduced, stripped of every possession; he had lost everything, even his clothes.  The Samaritan was interested in restoring human dignity to this half-dead man.  He cared nothing at all who he had been according to the world's standards.

His ministry was offered unconditionally.

Practical help

The call to Christian caring is hands-on.  Some things we must do personally.  Some of us may be able to go to a mission field, or to the White House.  If you are bent to help the world in those grand ways, go in peace and follow God’s leading! 

But, for each of us, the ditch we live near must be entered personally.

Thorough help

The Samaritan followed through.  It is never enough to pray for someone while he starves.  In the same way it is never enough to care for someone's physical needs, while neglecting to share spiritual food.

Personal help 

It is said that love radiates only when one life touches another.  Whether Jesus spoke to a king or a blind beggar, he was always concerned with the person. 

I have known people who were in places of responsibility to lead God's people who would shake your hand while they looked around for someone else. 

That is not a personal concern, only a religious façade!

Undeniable help        

When love costs you something, there is an undeniable quality to it.  I had the sad experience of hitting a dog with my car once.  It ran out in front of me from behind a parked car.  As I ran to check on the wounded animal, he rose up and bit me.  In spite of the bite, I got help for him. 

Compassion doesn't operate on the measure of merit, or the acts of the wounded; it comes from love within.  When love becomes radical enough to break through the accepted rules of society; focused enough to break down barriers of poverty, skin color and religion, and God-like enough to give when the world calls you a fool.....THEN it is ready to be called compassion.

As we examine the healers, we can see that the faces are the same as the wounded and the wounders.  It is you, and I!  We are the wounded, the wounders, and the healers. 

At times each of us is wounded.  Life gets heavy and weighs-in on us; and we cry out for relief. 

At times we play the wounder with a careless word, or a deliberate attempt to hurt. 

And, as we grow and mature in the grace of God, we learn how to be a healer – the wounded healer who knows just what a neighbor is going through – BECAUSE WE'VE BEEN THERE!

Isn't that just like the man from Galilee?  He was born into this sinful world.  He was the first responder with the Good news of God’s love. 
·       He saw the wounded, and He was wounded for our transgressions. 
·       He has known the wounders, and He knows how to die at their hands. 
·       And He has conquered death, and because of that we too shall be healed. 

THAT is the kind of Savior I worship.  THAT is the kind of Lord who is worthy of my complete devotion and love. 
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen


[i] Title image:  By US Air Force Public Affairs, via Wikimedia Commons

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