Once, a group from the South was on their way to D.C. to protest the recently passed voter laws. In the southern part of Virginia, they ran into car troubles and ended up stranded on the highway at dusk. They were clad in t-shirts that said to “protect voting rights” and with the names of representatives who opposed the laws. Unable to get AAA to come out and help, they became dependent on the charity of those who passed by.
Behind them was another van of supporters. This van saw the first group on the side of the road and moved to the center lane to get by them more quickly.
A little while later came a representative from the South who was also on his way to D.C. to be at the rally. His driver, seeing the representative’s name on the t-shirts of the group, asked if they should stop. But the representative told him to drive on.
The group was by now discouraged and unsure what to do. They pondered sleeping in the van and trying to call AAA again in the morning. Just then, a van pulled up behind them, covered in Trump stickers, two flags on the back. A man got out and approached the group slowly. With the headlights behind him the man was imposing, a silhouette that seemed larger than life.
“You need some help?” he asked. Without waiting for a response, he went to the engine to try and diagnose the issue The man identified the problem but unfortunately, it was not easy to fix.
“Get in, I can take you to a hotel. I’ll give you my friend’s name, he can meet you here in the morning and get you on your way.”
The man wouldn’t take no for an answer, so the group slowly climbed into his van. He drove them down a couple exits. Before he’d take them to a hotel, he took them to his favorite restaurant in town and bought them dinner. On the way to the hotel, the man called his friend and arranged for him to swing by and get the group and be at their van first thing in the morning. The group was grateful to be at the hotel. When they came down the next morning they were told the man paid for their rooms and left gift cards for them to get breakfast at the restaurant across the street.
We are called to extend kindness, to do good, to be ready to assist, and to love not just those we like, or who agree with us politically, or who we deem worthy, but those who we, in our heads and in our hearts, feel deserve nothing.
The story of the Good Samaritan is well known and yet we fail to grasp the significance of what is said. Simply put, the two groups in the story hate each other! It is long-standing, bitter, generational, and deep. When Jesus tells the story, the fact the Samaritans do what religious leaders fail to would have stunned those hearing it.
The story is told in the context of a man asking, “What do I have to do to have eternal life?” This is asked to test Jesus, who asks the man what the Law says. The man answers proudly, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Then the man, perhaps wanting to test Jesus again, or to justify that he did what the Law said, or simply because he was curious asks, “And who is my neighbor.” Jesus answers with a rendition of the story above (Luke 10:25-37 is the original text) where a man left to die on the side of the road finds himself receiving aid from the most unlikely of people.
Palpable tension hangs in the air as the group is left to sit and chew on the fact it was the last person they’d imagine who did what those expected to give aid did not. Jesus then asks the man, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (ESV)
The man cannot even bring the word Samaritan to his lips. He simply says, “The one who showed him mercy.”
To which Jesus tells him, “Go and do the same.”
We can all show mercy. We can all choose at any time to be kind to those who are hard to love, or we are told to hate. Michael Card has a lovely book on this concept, Inexpressible (a top 5 book on my list) in which he explains how the ability to show mercy to those who “do not deserve it” (do any of us deserve it?) ties into this concept of hesed.
Hesed is a Hebrew term for which there is no Greek or English equivalent. We see the word used in the Old Testament as mercy or kindness or lovingkindness, but it is more than that.
Card defines it as when the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything (1). In the story above, the Trump supporter showed hesed.
With his question, the man hoped to draw boundaries on who he is called to love. He wanted fences around who was “acceptable” and who was not. He wanted to puff himself up by thinking that he was a good man, who loved those around him, and did what was required. But, as Jesus so often did, he blew apart the man’s ideas and told him to love everyone.
Jesus’ call to love the “enemy” was as uncomfortable then as it is now. We are called (told, commanded) to love those we “hate.” We are called to extend kindness, to do good, to be ready to assist, and to love not just those we like, or who agree with us politically, or who we deem worthy, but those who we, in our heads and in our hearts, feel deserve nothing.
“Hesed is always something you do, and so Jesus closes the interaction with the simple command, “Go and do the same.” Perhaps without realizing it, the scribe’s first question was just answered as well. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ answer? Do hesed.” (Michael Card, Luke the Gospel of Amazement).
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