Previously I suggested that we are called to love God and love our neighbor, not just with our wallets but with our hearts, lives, backs, and brains. When we try to help but withhold what is needed at the time, we can harm, like giving water to a drowning man. As an idealistic youth I thought I could love my neighbor with all my being. Just do it. I had some success.
Yet as I journeyed again and again between Jerusalem and Jericho, again and again I found a victim beaten by robbers and ignored by passers-by. Sometimes he is the same victim! I call him "Vic". My ears got bigger, listening for robbers. I started packing bandages. The innkeeper and I became buddies.
“This is not sustainable,” I complained to Donkey. “But what can I do? Do I go all Batman on the robbers? Can I get Vic into a twelve-step program, ha, such that his steps are not on this scary road? Might I convince the priests and the Pharisees to agree on affordable care? Haha! Should I just turn it all over to the tenderness of the Romans?”
Thanks be to the Redeemer, I returned to Jerusalem in time for Pentecost. To my delighted surprise, I found people—thousands of people—suddenly compassionate, sharing all they had. Previously I, a Samaritan, would have been tolerated like a crow in the kitchen; ignore the unclean creature and maybe he will fly away. Now they embraced me and many foreigners as family. Why? They accepted us because of Jesus, the Messiah, who showed the kindness of the Lord to all people for all time. "This promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away."
Most important: I came to trust Jesus.
At first we were all socialists, very simple, no calculations of one-tenth or what is blemished. Just give all, share all things in common. Sharing came naturally for me. But some, I don’t know, maybe they wanted to hold onto money in case the Creator of the Universe forgot them. Worse, they pretended to give all. They thought that giving buys favor, like buying a melon in the market. No, no, no. We were murderers, robbing and killing the Righteous One. We deserved to die for our crime, but the King of Heaven pardoned us. This helps us trust him. He freely gave life to us, so we freely love, pardon, and give to our neighbor.
Time brought us many lessons about generosity. The men who had walked with Jesus, they were inspired guys, not bad for stinky fishermen, ha, says the stinky Samaritan. Like Moses, they learned to delegate. They knew what Jesus said. So mostly they told people what Jesus said. Duh! People like me and my new best friend Stephen, we were proven in doing kindness. So mostly we did kindness.
I loved working with Barnabas. Some people are robbed of money, some are robbed of health, some are robbed of justice. Some are robbed of hope. Barney was an encourager. Barney gave people hope! Thus our body of believers together achieved what Lone Rangers like I was could not do.
And yes, Barney is a Jew, I am a Samaritan, and Stephanos, er, Stephen, is Greek. This body also has Ethiopians, Arabs, Libyans, Romans, even Cretans. How we do not have a war every day is a miracle of the Spirit.
The Lord our Provider gives rain to all, good and bad. The question is not, who is deserving help. The question is discerning what help is needed now. What if there are many people needing help? Who do I help first? What if I give coins when a man needs bandages? Not helpful. Probably attracts robbers. Stephen, Barney, I, and the others, we learned discernment sometimes by mistakes, sometimes by the Spirit, but always by doing. We helped not just for people we see, but also those far away. Sometimes, believers far away helped us. We learned wisdom. For example:
- “When we have the opportunity to help anyone, we should do it. But we should give special attention to those who are in the family of believers.”
Sometimes our leaders were blunt:
If I see you cannot work because you are beaten by robbers, ha, then, no question, I should help you. Love compels me to help you. But are you able but unwilling to work? Then no soup for you!
Funny thing--well, not funny, but you know.... I never heard Jesus talk or saw him, not even when that crazy lady told everyone he was in our town. I kick myself for missing that chance to see Jesus. Yet, robbers, filthy scum, they met Jesus in person! True, I would not want to meet in those circumstances. But a violent thug trusted Jesus, and Jesus gave him paradise! Is not life surprising? Among the followers of Jesus I have met robbers, former robbers that is. Who knows how our paths crossed before? Now we walk together. Is not the Holy One merciful?
It is also funny--well, not funny, but you know... I saw with my own eyes one man grin when Stephen died. A man I wanted to strangle. One of those arrogant, selfish teachers of the law who would walk by a suffering human made in the Creator's image. What is funny? Jesus met that cruel man on the road! Jesus talked to that miserable man! Jesus gave that man forgiveness. That man, now my brother, wrote these words, words that speak for me:
- “I have learned the secret of being happy at any time in everything that happens, when I have enough to eat and when I go hungry, when I have more than I need and when I do not have enough. I can do all things through Christ, because he gives me strength.”
No matter how much I give, I cannot say I change people. Jesus changes people.
I give bandages, clothing, time, a donkey ride, food, a few coins. Jesus gives life!
Jesus changes victims into victors.
I pray that you and your family and the inn are doing well. Continue to be kind to strangers, for thus without knowing it some have entertained angels.
Your brother in Jesus,
(1) Early publications of this letter retained most names and terms in original transliteration, such as Yeshua for Jesus, Mashiach for Messiah, and Stephanos for Stephen. This was a failed attempt to hint that the early church was a big crazy mix of different cultures and nations who despised each other but became one in Christ. Retained is Sam's reluctance to use the word "God", in accord with the commandment, "Do not use the name of the LORD your God thoughtlessly". Jewish and Samaritan believers have a rich supply of beautiful and awesome names of God.
(2) The apostles and others following Christ over time learned better ways to help without hurting. They and other believers through the ages, as a team, eventually came up with wise practices that we should read and heed. That need for discernment noted, I aim to not withhold help because of fear, paralysis by analysis, misguided priorities, or failure to trust God to provide my needs.
(3) Kindness continues. Rarely does a recipient such as "Vic" need just one deed of kindness. It's almost never one and done. Sustaining the Christian life requires getting deep roots, being connected to the True Vine. If Vic by God's mercy and grace can grow, can change to become less dependent, even a giver himself, this takes time.
(4) Sam and Stephen were better at doing kindness than Peter, James, and John were. The Body of Christ together can do much together that members cannot accomplish in isolation.
(5) The Church brought joyfully together people who previously despised each other. Acts 2 lists various nations. Also in the body of Christ were robbers and victims. The body of Christ included arrogant white-collar intellectuals who became humble, such as the Apostle Paul, and stinky blue collars and no collars who were lifted up, such as the Apostle Peter. The church included jailors and the jailed, military leaders and terrorists, hippies and fashionistas, women and men, young and old, rich and poor. What's your church like?