Live From Your True Self (Sunday)
Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.
But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. Luke 10:33-34
What does Jesus see when he sees you? What do you see in you? Take it a step further – what do you see in your neighbor?
If I understood the love of Jesus in and through my judgments of myself and others, it would not be a very generous picture. The generosity of Jesus in the Gospels stands in stark contrast to the judgments of the religious leaders. In fact, his kindness is an offense to these nit-picking moralists who go around checking theological positions and measuring behavioral conformity.
In the early centuries after Jesus, Christians took seriously the call to “follow Christ,” becoming good Samaritans in ways that challenge my addiction to comfort and security. They rescued abandoned babies off of trash piles, entered plague infested towns to care for the sick as others were running away, practiced faithfulness in marriages, and pooled their resources to share abundantly. I want to believe that these early followers were not motivated by guilt (“I’m going to hell if I don’t do this”) but desire – desire to see the beauty and dignity of Christ fill embattled souls, renew broken cities, and enliven the spiritually dead.
In other words, they saw life amidst death, dignity amidst depravity, hope amidst despair. The pursuit of dignity motivated acts of justice, peace, and reconciliation. Now, I’m sure they were prone to judgmentalism just like you and me, but they refused to reduce people to their offenses.
A pastor and theologian named John Calvin articulated this social ethic 500 years ago when he wrote, “It is not the will of God… that we should forget the primeval dignity which (God) bestowed on our first parents – a dignity which may well stimulate us to the pursuit of goodness and justice.” Calvin, who had a lot to say about human wickedness and sin, refused to define people by their sin, but urged a Jesus-like generosity to all. He admits it’s difficult, but says this:
In this way only we can attain to what is not to say difficult, but all together against nature, to love those that hate us, render good for evil, and blessing for cursing, remembering that we are not to reflect on the wickedness of men, but look to the image of God in them, an image which, covering and obliterating their faults, should by its beauty and dignity allure us to love and embrace them.[i]
What does Jesus see when he sees you? What do you see in you? What do you see in your neighbor? I can focus on the negatives, at times. In fact, it’s hard for me to imagine the dignity beneath the depravity of an abusive husband, a mercilessly rude boss, a manipulative political leader, or a power-abusing pastor.
Of course, Jesus isn’t encouraging an ethic that turns a blind eye toward wickedness. But it seems as if his first posture, his default gear, his initial instinct is always generosity. In the same chapter as the “Good Samaritan” story, Jesus encourages his followers to go city-to-city and show hospitality – to love and heal, to bless and bring peace. And yet, the sad reality of life in a broken world is that some will reject our generosity and sabotage the opportunity for healing. Jesus says:
But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.
Over the years, I’ve tried to allow this tension to define my own ministry of pastoring, counseling, and teaching. In generosity, I pursue even those who don’t seem to deserve it. I honor the image-bearing dignity in them. But some will sabotage it. In their brokenness, they will reject your hospitality and refuse your invitation for them to experience the depths of God’s love.
Years ago, I walked a woman through a difficult season of marriage in which she started to take seriously the damage of her husband’s alcoholism and emotional abuse. She had a remarkable capacity to see what her husband could become if he pursued health and sobriety, but despite her efforts he refused, sabotaging her generosity over and again. However, her repeated attempts to save her marriage and help her husband began to erode her own sense of dignity and worth. Eventually, with the wise counsel of friends, a pastor, and others, she decided to “wipe the dust off of her feet” and leave her toxic marriage. Some Christian friends condemned her for being unforgiving. However, we did not want to see her abusive husband continue to use and abuse her generosity, and we felt a strong need to pursue and value her dignity. She was like the man in the Good Samaritan story…robbed, beaten, half dead, and in need of care.
Living out the generosity of Jesus is a messy business. We may find ourselves going into places we never expected to visit. We may wind up forgiving people we thought unforgivable. We may also find our generosity refused and rejected. You see, we are in the Good Samaritan story, not just as givers of grace, but as broken and weary recipients of the grace of Jesus – the ultimate Good Samaritan. And so, experience his generosity. Drink deeply of it. And as you do, you’ll grow in your capacity to show generosity to others and, with discernment, to walk away when your generosity is sabotaged.
Christ the Good Samaritan, I want to receive your generosity and I want to become one who lives with generosity. It’s confusing, at times, because it is hard to believe that you see dignity and beauty behind my sin and pain. In this Lenten season of refinement, grow me up into one who wholeheartedly embraces your grace and wholeheartedly offers it to others. Amen
[i] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III, vii, 6.