Wednesday, July 17, 2019

What Would You Do?

Dear Friends,

The psychology department at a seminary conducted an unusual behavioral experiment. A class of seminary students was told that their professor was unable to make it that day and another instructor would give them their mid-term exam. The students, studying for the priesthood, were given a passage of scripture and told to write a two page paper explaining their interpretation. The instructor told them that he was unable to stay and the students would need to monitor themselves. He told them that at exactly five minutes before the end of class, all the students would need to leave together in one group and turn their papers in to the administration office. The students were warned that they only had five minutes to get to the office and any paper not turned in by the deadline would result in zero credit on an exam that was worth 40% of the final grade. The instructor left and the class began the assignment. They finished and all left together for the administration building. As they were walking down a narrow eight foot wide hallway, a man walking ahead of them suddenly collapsed on the floor and appeared to be seriously ill. He was clutching his chest and gasping for breath.

All but three students stepped over him to hurry to the administration building as the man lay groaning on the floor. The three who stopped to help the man did so assuming that as a result of their action they were going to get zero credit for their mid-term and possibly fail the class. But remember the students didn’t know that this was only an experiment devised by the seminary’s psychology department. So no actual grades were to be given for the paper. In fact, if a grade had been given, the three who stopped to help the man would have received A’s. The seminary students who stepped over the man in their rush to turn in their papers would have been given F’s. The sick man was an actor friend of the instructor. And the passage of scripture the students had just been asked to write about  was the parable of the Good Samaritan. Before you continue reading, stop for a moment and ask yourself what you would have done if you had been one of those students...

The man..asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Jerusalem 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 10:29-37 NLT

When I am comfortably sitting in my reading chair with Christian music in the background and a cat on my lap, it’s easy for me to read my Bible and imagine myself doing the right thing if I had been the seminary student or the “Good Samaritan” in the parable told by Jesus. It’s when I get up from my chair and step out into the messy world, that doing “what Jesus would do” can challenge my faith.

Last week, I’m at the post office to mail the printed copies of the AMEN Corners and there is a homeless person sitting on the concrete and leaning up against the building next to the glass doors. As I’m crossing the parking lot, I see several people walking up, glancing at the person but then looking quickly away. As I got closer, I could see why. He was a large, Black man in his twenties. Clean looking. But on his left arm the skin was split open as if an abscess had burst leaving a large hole. There was no blood but the visible white layer of fat on his arm surrounded by his dark black skin was startling to see. As I watched the people walking ahead of me hurry on by not wanting to look at this young man, the parable of the Good Samaritan came to mind and I could hear Jesus say, “This is your neighbor.”

Jesus says to “love your neighbor” and my neighbors make it easy for me to do so. I love Nick and Liz, my Christian neighbors who live right next door. I love Albert and Heather, the young couple who recently moved in across the street and are expecting their first child. I love Jeff and Trish – we used to go to church together. It’s easy for me to love my neighbors and pray for them. But then Jesus takes a nice, safe, hypothetical Bible story about a good Samaritan and drops it into the reality of my day. 

Put yourself in my place as you watch the good citizens of Sylmar hurry past the suffering young man lying there at the post office. As you approach, he looks up and your eyes meet. You hear Jesus say: “This is your neighbor.” What would you do?

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