I never know what to do with my airline reward points. It seems I never have enough to actually use them to book a flight. And the restrictions placed on their use would have me flying to three different airports over an eight-hour in-air stint just to get me from Dulles in Washington to Bradley in Windsor. No lie…that actually was one option last time I looked.
So, in frustration, and because I feel I’m due, I use my points to purchase magazines I don’t really want and seldom read. One such recent exchange gave me a 1-year subscription to Oprah’s Magazine “O”. Lacking anything better to do with the few minutes I had between my frequent runs to White Oaks where my mother now lives and my own substantial calendar full of exciting activities…grocery shopping, getting gas for the car, dropping into the church office to see if I still work here and yes, more grocery shopping, I did pick up the latest edition of “O”. On the front cover was the provocative statement, “Find Joy in Every Day! 20 Ways to Appreciate Your Life More”. Well, I’m all for that! So, of course, I turned to page 105 to explore the ways I could make my life a happier one.
And, not surprisingly, ran right into this bit of wisdom. “Be Useful” The article relayed the message that doing something pleasurable will produce a nice afterglow but this activity “paled in comparison with the effects of a kind action.” Why? Well, here is the bit I had a problem swallowing. A Wharton professor Adam Grant, author of “Give and Take” explains by offering this thought. “Feeling like you’ve helped someone provides a sense that you matter.” Oops…I’m not sure that’s the point. Kindness to another should be all about the other person, right?
Well, maybe there is more truth in this thought than I first gave credence to. Like the lawyer that stood up to test Jesus with the question, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” I have a similar curiosity. I want to know what I must do to inherit eternal life, don’t you? So, I looked more closely at the parable of the Good Samaritan. Helping someone less fortunate than me, someone in need may not be about me exactly but, there is something to be said about how I feel about me after I’ve done it. Pretty good, actually. I feel like I’ve accomplished something that does give my life more meaning. It may not be the point – a reason for offering the help, but, on the other hand, it can be a nice, satisfying aftereffect.
The road between Jerusalem and Jericho is a dangerous one as the unfortunate traveler discovered. The Priest and the Levite certainly knew the dangers. If the stranger was dead and they touched him, they would be declared unfit to worship in the temple, ritualistically unclean and there was always the possibility the guy was faking it luring unsuspecting good Samaritan-types to approach the supposed “dead guy” who then might jump up and rob the good soul. It wasn’t unheard of in this part of the world. So, they pushed passed averting their eyes while busily hurrying down the road.
So why did the Samaritan stop? Well, he didn’t have to worry about cleanliness for temple worship and maybe he assessed the situation and realized this poor guy, laying in the dirt wasn’t about to jump anywhere or do anything dangerous to him. Or maybe it was just his nature to help. The one certainty in all this was that his compassionate action was a clear answer to the lawyer’s query, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Don’t we all seek eternal life and by that I mean, “a deeper intimacy with God, even now.” Yeah…I think we do though we don’t often understand that eternal life is here and now and not simply in some distant future. As James Wallace, the Professor of Homiletics at Washington Theological Union puts it: “the Samaritan does not pass by. He draws close, ‘moved by compassion,’ moved by the Spirit of God poured into his heart to cross over to where the man lies. Seeing the man alive, he pours oil to cleanse the wound and wine to dull the pain; he picks him up, takes him to an inn, and promises to return to resolve whatever is owed. This Samaritan has already received eternal life. He is living it then and there.”
Not surprisingly, we have trouble swallowing the concept of eternal life as something that is here and now, something we can live now and not just receive as an after-this-world-is-over reward. We do, after all, live in a world in which there are justifiable rewards for duty performed but we are taught early on that we must wait to receive them. When we work, we get paid. When we accomplish a task, we receive recognition for that accomplishment. When we excel in school, we get a good grade. We do something; we receive something but the reward always comes after a task has been completed.
Few of us understand, because our world doesn’t really encourage this, that we can know and feel a sense of goodness in the doing. We don’t have to wait for the work to be done or our lives to be over to receive this sense of accomplishment – this sense of having done something worthy of eternal life; Living life fully in God, through God’s grace is already reward enough. Wallace concludes: “The parable of the Good Samaritan is a story for travelers on the road, a scriptural GPS, routing us in the only direction God desires – the way of love and compassion for others.” He adds, “This is more than a parable about a helpful stranger; it is about the transforming power of God at work in those who travel the dangerous roads in our world, moving us into the fullness of life, eternal life, here and now.”
Now that is something with which I can get on board. It makes life far more interesting, far more doable, and far more exciting. It makes life with God better than living life without God. And, it makes eternal life feel less far away and remote. We don’t have to ask, what will it be like? We will know by simply living into God’s plan and hope for our lives. We can do that, right? Amen.