Good deeds for strangers impacts the community

Published 9:50 am Friday, August 2, 2013

By the Rev. Andrea Myers
Grace Lutheran Church

The parable we call “The Good Samaritan” is one of the most familiar and beloved of Jesus’ teaching stories.

Jesus described a traveler on the road to Jericho who is left for dead by a band of robbers. Later, when a Levite and priest come along, all they see is that this man is most likely dead. They literally steer clear of him and cross to the other side of the road. They are unwilling to take the risk of touching a dead body and violating their purity laws. Instead of seeing this man’s humanity or need, they view him as a contamination to be avoided.

Jesus says that the Samaritan is different. In contrast to the others, he comes near to the man and is moved with compassion. He looks past the blood, past the strict rules about purity and past even the fact that this man would be considered by many to be his enemy. He recognizes this man’s pain and vulnerability. More than that, he sees that he is able to help. The Samaritan offers the man mercy, in the form of bandages, a ride and a safe place to heal and recover.

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Perhaps the most remarkable thing the Samaritan did was to really see the man in the ditch. That’s not always an easy or automatic thing for us to do. We’re often too busy to look around. We can be distracted by our own agendas, like the priest and Levite. It’s easy for us to make a lot of assumptions and judgments based on a quick glance, with sometimes disastrous consequences.

It’s been a few weeks since we learned the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman, who was found not guilty of murder and manslaughter charges in the death of Trayvon Martin. Though the criminal justice system has now run its course, discussions continue about the trial and issues like violence, justice and racism.

I can’t help but wonder how it could have all been different if only those two men had truly seen one another, that night in February 2012. What if, instead of seeing yet another suspicious black man in a hoodie, George Zimmerman had simply seen a teenager walking back from a snack run? What if, instead of seeing a threat that must be engaged, Trayvon Martin had simply seen a neighbor? What if they had really seen one another, and then simply moved on? How different things would be for that community, those families!

For that matter, how could things be different in our own community, here in Albert Lea, if we really saw one another?

It takes deliberate effort to notice those we might otherwise miss. Once we see them, it takes time and attention to understand what’s going on with that person and their life. Along the way, we begin to recognize the ways that they are like us, and we are like them.

This effort and focus are worthwhile, because this kind of encounter makes compassion possible. Seeing one another invites us to truly love our neighbor as we love our selves, and to recognize the opportunities we have to support one another and show mercy.

There is a deep connection between seeing and compassion and mercy. This is what we see, over and over again, in Jesus and his ministry. He sees the crowds, and has compassion on them and then feeds them, heals them and restores them to life. This is what he still does. He sees us in our vulnerability and need; he has compassion for us; and he shows us mercy through his forgiving love and the gift of life that comes through his own death on the cross.

Doing good deeds for a stranger is a good thing. Yet, we will have a real impact on our community as we learn to see one another, in all our humanity, and to show mercy.