A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?”
Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?”
He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way.
A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’
What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”
Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Spiritual Gifts Series
“You Are Gifted…You Are Called”
September 10-11, 2-16
Spiritual Gift of Mercy
“Mercy Moves Us”
This weekend, we are beginning a sermon series on Spiritual Gifts. Over the next four weeks we will look at various spiritual gifts and reflect on how we have seen those gifts lived out in our own lives or the lives of others.
We are beginning today with the gift of Mercy. If you look at the front cover of your bulletin jacket, on the side panel, you will see what spiritual gifts we will be learning about in the weeks ahead.
It is my belief that as God’s created people, we all have these spiritual gifts and it comes down to how prominent they are in our lives or how we put them into action.
Last week, when I was speaking about ‘grace’ in the sermon, I said grace is one of those words that is difficult to define and is really never defined in the Bible, not even by Jesus. Rather, grace is communicated through stories and actions and relationships between people and God. Grace is something we know when we see it in action or experience it.
The same could be said of ‘mercy.’ Mercy is one of those things that is difficult to define and easier to see and feel when we experience it or see it in action. And mercy is a gift communicated in the Bible through stories and actions and relationships.
We will use the familiar story of the Good Samaritan from the Gospel of Luke to think about the spiritual gift of mercy. This story appears only in the Gospel of Luke.
A while back, I read a short newspaper story that came out of Detroit, MI. The article read: “A man said nobody helped him in the minutes after he was attacked and carjacked during daylight at a busy Detroit gas station and he had to crawl across a concrete parking lot to get help. A roughly four-minute surveillance video shows 86-year-old Aaron Brantley struggling to get from the fuel pump to the gas station’s door as people walked and drove by him Wednesday morning.”
Now, listen again to these words written centuries ago: “Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion.”
While the two stories are not identical, they are similar. Both have an element of mercy…both tell of the gift of mercy ignored and one tells of mercy in action.
The story Jesus tells is about a man traveling the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, which is a 20-mile stretch of road that is a winding, meandering, desolate, and dangerous. In the days of Jesus, the road came to be known as the “Bloody Pass” because of all the dangers.
The man is attacked…beaten, robbed and left injured and near death on the side of the road. So, like the man at the gas station, both have suffered severe injuries. They are in need of help.
What makes the situation at that Detroit gas station perhaps more troubling is that the attack occurred within plain sight and sound of many people. The troubling and shocking details of our Gospel story are that two different people, first a priest and then a Levite arrive on the scene and each one decides to do nothing. The next shocking detail is that the last person in the world that would be expected to help, a Samaritan, is the one who does…and does so with compassion and mercy.
The hatred and distain between Jews and Samaritans stretched back hundreds of years. Jews despised Samaritans for ethnic and religious reasons. Both would go miles out of their way to avoid one another.
Samaritans were descendants of a mixed population that happened after the conquering of Assyria more than 700 years before Christ. Samaritans and Jews both worshipped the God of the ancient Hebrews, but each group had its own Scriptures, temple, and religious practices.
When writing about this passage in the Gospel of Luke, many scholars suggest that the priest and the Levite passed by out of fear that the robbers were still around and would attack them or that the man on the ground was only faking it and would turn on them.
Or in those days, if the man were dead, coming in contact with him would have made a person be considered ritually ‘unclean’ and the priest and Levite would not have been able to perform their temple responsibilities. It could have been that the priest and the Levite were caught between what they understood as their responsibility to God and their obligation to a fellow human being.
In a sermon titled, “Who Is My Neighbor?” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said the first question the priest and the Levite might have asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Samaritan came by and he reverses the question to be, “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
One can almost hear Jesus in the Gospel story saying to the articulate and intelligent legal expert, “Get your mind off yourself and go and show mercy to your neighbor.” But instead, Jesus lays out an example of mercy and then simply says, “Go and do likewise.”
So, who is our neighbor? Our neighbor is the person we see in need of mercy.
The Samaritan sees a person in need of mercy and then is moved with compassion and mercy. The Samaritan recognizes that when it comes to the question of who is my neighbor, there are no rules.
It has been said that mercy is compassion without judgement.
Mercy does not first look at skin color or ask about ethnicity or sexual identity or economic status or political party. Mercy is not concerned with who deserves help or not.
Mercy is the spiritual gift that comes from God and is lived out through us to each other, to the community and to God’s world.
Even in the midst of so much negative, violent and often horrific news that we see and hear about each day, we also see and hear about people engaging in acts of mercy, making their communities better and helping their neighbors.
John Wesley, our founder of Methodism, had much to say about the spiritual gift of mercy. For him, acts of mercy are a means of grace, which leads to stronger spiritual holiness of heart and soul.
These acts of mercy for Wesley include doing good works, visiting the sick and those in prison, feeding the hungry and giving generously to the needs of others. Seeking justice, working to end oppression and discrimination, and addressing the causes of poverty were also acts of mercy for John Wesley.
The basic motivational drive for a person with the spiritual gift of mercy is to sense and respond to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of others. Those with the gift of mercy sense the hurt of others and respond to it with love and understanding.
Those with the gift of mercy are literally the hands and feet of God to those in need. They are able to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15) and “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2).
They are sensitive to the feelings and circumstances of others and can quickly discern when someone is not doing well. They are typically good listeners and feel the need to simply “be there” for others.
Perhaps remembering when we have needed mercy will help us understand how to better share the spiritual gift of mercy.
Tomorrow/today is the 15th anniversary of September 11, 2001; a day we have come to know simply as 9-11. It is likely that anyone over the age of 25 can remember where they were and what they were doing when we began to hear and see the news of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center in New York; the Pentagon; and a field in Pennsylvania.
I remember the quickly pulled-together worship service I helped lead with other community pastors on the evening of 9-11 and then the Easter-sized congregation we had that packed the sanctuary on the Sunday after September 11th
Then, do you remember the care and compassion and mercy toward family, friends and complete strangers that sprung up after 9-11…the way that people treated each other…where did that come from?
It wasn’t planned or orchestrated…it was just there…the spiritual gift of mercy just seemed to be within each of us. Mercy seemed to pour out of us as we went to church, stood in line to give blood, raised money for the families of the victims, spoke using kind words to others, and lived in so many other mercy-filled ways.
Of the thousands and thousands of stories told after 9-11, one example of the spiritual gift of mercy in action came from a Franciscan chaplain for the NY fire department name Father Mychal Judge. He lived and expressed the gospel message every day to NY firefighters. Father Mychal died on 9-11 in an avalanche of falling debris near the World Trade Center. He became the first officially recorded fatality following the attacks.
The firefighters who found Father Mychal’s body also lived out the gift of mercy as they removed his fire helmet and carried his body from the debris. They later delivered Father Mychal’s helmet to Pope John Paull II at the Vatican.
Folded neatly inside the brim of his helmet was a prayer now known as Mychal’s Prayer. It said: “Lord, take me where You want me to go; let me meet whom You want me to meet; tell me what You want me to say, and keep me out of your way.”
The anniversary of 9-11 should prompt in us a time to pray for the spiritual gift of mercy to be revealed within us and be shown among us and in our actions. Those prayers, reflections and acts of mercy will be a step toward rebuilding and restoring relationships and reaching out to one another as we live and work together in this world.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is a story that we can hear differently every time we hear it depending on our life circumstances. This parable is a story that reminds us that we need each other on the journey of life.
This story points and guides us in the only direction God desires—the way of mercy, love and compassion, which is the way Jesus commands us to ‘go and do likewise,’ following the Samaritan’s example of mercy.
May it be so for each of us.
Thanks be to God.