We are given a frustrating passage in Luke today, or at least I find it frustrating. This is one of those great stories Jesus tells about loving our neighbor and defining just who that neighbor is. It's a wide-open definition which is as it should be. There begins the frustration.
Where I get frustrated is this: I live in an urban setting where there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands and thousands and thousands of homeless people. Many of these homeless people are not there because of their own doing, many of them ill, many of them mentally ill, many of them addicted to drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, many of them aggressive in their panhandling to help feed their addictions, all of them caught in a downward spiral that our society and culture and government help perpetuate. Most times that I see these lost souls I think: There but for the grace of God go I.
How do I, as an ordained person, respond to them? If I don't help each one I pass, or respond to each one that asks for money, am I the priest or the Levite who walked by the man beaten up in today's story? Do I give everything I have, and everything the church has, to help these folk? I'll end up in the street with them if that is the case.
I know I would respond differently to someone who had been beaten up as the individual in our story, and assist in a different manner than I do to the crisis of homelessness we face in this country. Is that rationalization on my part? If I work and get the church to work in assisting homelessness through food and clothing drives, which in reality is a piece of scotch tape on a broken dam, isn't that rationalization that I am living the Gospel message? Where does Jesus want us to draw the line?
I think every person has to draw that line somewhere and then keep challenging themselves about where they have put that line down. Perhaps that is why Jesus told this story in the first place: not setting down a hard and fast rule about how much of our time and talent and energy and income goes to this issue but allowing us to decide where that moveable line should be, always pushing ourselves to do more, but in reality never enough. Never being complacent, always challenging ourselves. Always knowing that it will never be enough. I don't think that is rationalization so much as reality. And that is frustrating.
Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.