Lisa and I are in New York for her bi-annual doctor’s visit. This trip is a little more relaxed than usual. Our hosts, Cmack and Tenetia, are always gracious and for nearly 8 years now have made their home our home. We have a room that’s about as comfortable as you can get and wifi. Ahhh, yeah, wifi. So I keep working on getting subscribers to my youtube channel and looking forward to driving into Manhattan and feasting on cold noodles.
Coming to New York is always a reflective time for me. Lisa and I came to Manhattan in 1983 and started a church with a small handful of people… actually small enough to fit into an elevator together at our first service. We were in New York for 21 years; 20 pretty great ones, one straight from hell. But it all continues to turn out alright and had certain undesirable events not transpired I doubt we’d have ever moved out west, and that would have been sad indeed.
We’ve been in the ministry for over 40 years now and my mind has changed on so many things. Had it not that would have been more sad than not moving to Oregon could have been. Yesterday’s jerks might be tomorrow’s saints; and while I hate to think that I was a jerk when I was younger, this much I know: I’ve done some jerky things before and I’ll probably do some more again, but my overwhelming desire is to focus on two things more than any other: Love God with all my heart, and love my neighbor as I love myself.
You find this exchange in the gospels, and I paraphrase:
“So, Jesus,” began the lawyer, an expert of every jot and tittle in the scrolls he’d pored over since he was a child, “what do I have to do to live on after I die?”
Jesus maybe sighed on the inside, but acting not the least bugged he simply said, “You know the law, right? What’s written? And… what do you think it means?”
“ ‘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 inside his own mind he’s thinking “I nailed this one!” ) and, ‘Love your neighbor just like you love yourself.’”
“Cool,” Jesus replied. “Do that and you’ll live forever.” Then Jesus looked at the crowd who’d been watching in silence and anticipation and merely raised his eyebrows and widened eyes as if to say “duh” and the crowd began to laugh. This really bugged the lawyer so he says, “Well, tell me this: who is my neighbor?” Then he raises his chin in the air and closes his eyes, crosses his arms and in every way looks as if he’s had the last word.
Jesus says, “Mmmm… yes… well… hey…
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and out on the road, alone, he was mugged. Robbers stripped him, beat him and left him for dead. A priest came along and saw the man, but he passed by on the other side. Then in a little while, a Levite came to the place and saw him, and he passed by on the other side of the road. But a Samaritan… you know, the Samaritans? The people we call dogs who live just north of us? Well one of those people came to where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out his purse and gave money to the innkeeper. and said, ‘Please take care of this man and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Now, you tell me, you have a priest, a Levite and a dog. Which do you think was a neighbor to the poor Jew beat up and bloody and laying there in the road?”
The expert in the law answered but a little too softly.
“What was that?” Jesus asked.
The lawyer cleared his throat, “Sorry, I said ‘his neighbor was the one who had mercy on him’.”
Jesus took a step closer to the man, not so close as to be in his face, but close enough that the man felt something he’d never felt before, from his priest or rabbi or even… even… his father…? He felt…
… and Jesus looked deep into the lawyer’s eyes and loved him. Jesus loved this man who’d tried to test him. Jesus loved this man as he loved himself. He loved this neighbor and said, “Then go and be like the Samaritan in the story. Right?” And the lawyer nodded and walked away, but only to the edge of the crowd; where he lingered all afternoon and then that night couldn’t sleep. He lay awake because he knew something that he didn’t know when he’d got up earlier that same day. Now he knew something new that would change his life. He knew that Jesus loved him, and somehow that made him feel like God loved him more than he’d ever realized before.
So, that’s what I want to do. Fewer jerky things, more Samaritan kinds of things.
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