“I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me,” Martin Luther King Jr. preached in a sermon on Luke 10 during a national sanitation workers strike. “It’s possible they were afraid . . . and so the first question that the priest and the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man what will happen to me?’ . . . But then the good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop by to help the sanitation workers what will happen to them?’”
Many translations say that the Samaritan “came near” the man. Frederick Buechner describes such empathy when he writes, “Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it’s like to live inside somebody else’s skin.” Compassion draws near.
Some call this story “The Parable of the Merciful Samaritan.” Mercy involves close proximity, strong kindness, courageous rescue, and extravagant generosity. This expansive word reflects a spacious heart. Luke’s lawyer, along with the Gospel’s audience, understands that the Samaritan is doing what God does. Showing mercy and being moved with compassion reveals who the real neighbor is.
Mercy is the heart of a church’s prayers. Mercy prompts our intercession when we call upon God’s nearness and steadfast love. Prayer gets into our bones and moves us from speaking words to becoming signs of God’s reign. Time after time, Sunday after Sunday, litany after litany, prayer after prayer, we ask, “Lord have mercy.” Because all of us are on a treacherous road, Christ have mercy. For all of us who need wine and oil poured on our wounds, Lord have mercy upon us. With God’s help may we all become neighbors in Christ.
When did you become a neighbor, and to whom? Who has been a neighbor to you?
Have mercy on us, God. Make us more than good; make us merciful. Beyond bloodlines and country and creed, beyond color and race and religion, beyond gender and status, make us signs of your mercy to all we meet. Amen.