This is post 1 of 14 in the series “TALES WITH A TWIST”
- Eyes Too Busy To See
- A Forgiving God In An Unforgiving World
- It’s The Little Things That Count
- The Cost Of Not Loving Is Too Great To Pay
- Who Said Life Is Fair?
- Jesus And The Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day
- God Threw A Party But Nobody Came!
- E Unum Pluribus
- Tiny Seeds Produce An Enormous Harvest
- The Story Of Two Sons
- Better To Be ‘Called Up’ Than ‘Called Down’
- Sometimes Our Worst Day Can Be Our Best Day
- The Great Two-Handed Engine
- Forgiven! Forgotten! Forever!
Tales With a Twist: Eyes Too Busy To See
If you are at all a regular partaker of these preaching adventures with me, you know that I work very hard to find ways to hold your attention and to make the points I believe God wants me to make. Today, then, I want to begin in an unusual way. I want you to help me to get this sermon going and I need for you to participate. So let’s have some fun together…
Pick up your bulletin and look down at the bottom of the “Order of Worship.” There you will find a sentence printed which reads as follows: “Federal fuses are the result of years of scientific research and study and the experience of years.” Now don’t worry about what the sentence means. That’s not important. What I want you to do is to count the number of F’s in the sentence. Quickly, now, count the F’s. When you have got the number raise your hand. Okay? Everybody ready? Now when I lower my hand, I want you to say out loud the number of F’s you found in that sentence. (Response)
That’s good. The problem is I heard a variety of answers. I heard some “twos” and some “threes”, I think I heard a “four.” What about five? Anybody see more than five? Let’s count them: one in “Federal”, one in “fuses”, one in “scientific”, and then there are three “ofs”—that’s a total of six. For many of us, our eyes did not pick up that many F’s, though they were all right there, clear as can be!
Some helpful lessons jump up at me out of that exercise. One lesson is that we tend to overlook the obvious. Sometimes our eyes are so busy taking in everything around us that we don’t see what is right in front of us. Another lesson is that people with previous experience can help us. I had done this before so I knew there were six F’s there. People with prior experience can point out things that those going through an experience for the first time may be unable to see. (Parents love this point!) Here’s another insight. People are like those F’s. Some leap out at you—you can’t miss them, while others blend into their surroundings. Yet all are important. If you take one “F” out of the sentence, it ruins it. All the F’s are important. And then this exercise teaches us to be open-minded, because sometimes when we think we are right, we may be wrong. The first time I saw that sentence, I was absolutely convinced that there were only three F’s. Somebody had to pry open my mind and say: “Look again. There are actually six F’s.” The point is that we need to be open to more truth.
Now while those lessons are helpful, the lesson from this exercise which I want us to address today is this: the way we look at things is so important. How we view other people and how we perceive events is so crucial. Spiritual vision is profoundly significant to the way we live. That’s the point I wanted to make right here at the outset. Now that you have helped me get this sermon up and rolling, let’s journey on into the Word of God. Jesus underscored this point in one of his most famous stories. It’s a story which drastically proves that there are three different ways of looking at life. Some people look at life through cruel eyes—they say: “What’s yours is mine, and I’ll take it.” Some people look at life through calculating eyes—they say: “What’s mine is mine, and I’ll keep it.” And then some people look at life through caring eyes—they say: “What’s mine is yours, and I’ll share it.”
Now when the simple outline is overlaid upon Jesus’ simple story of the Good Samaritan, it becomes clear that everyone fits into one of these three approaches to life. Let’s see then if we can find ourselves somewhere between the lines…
First, Jesus’ story reminds us that some people look at life through cruel eyes—they say: “What’s yours is mine, and I’ll take it.”
As Jesus sets the stage for this story, He tells us that it took place on the Jerusalem to Jericho road. It was some twenty miles from Jerusalem to Jericho, yet in that short distance, the elevation plummeted more than 3,000 feet. The result was a winding, steep, rocky, gash of a road—a perfect place for pillage and plunder. People traveling that road did so at their own risk. In fact, in Jesus’ time, the road was called “The Bloody Pass.” It was, at best, a day’s journey—at worst, a journey you could never complete. There was danger on that road.
As Jesus tells us, a man—we are not told his name nor are we given any other identifying details—just “a certain man”, traveling the fearsome road, is attacked, beaten, robbed, and left for dead by the side of the road. The thieves who perpetrated this crime are the ones who see life through cruel eyes. They say: “What’s you’ve got we want and we will take it anyway we can.” Someone has said that this parable contains the three basic human behaviors: beat ’em up, pass ’em up, and help ’em up. These brigands, of course, are the ones who “beat ’em up.” Some people go through life like that. They takers, grabbers, robbers. Their attitude is totally selfish. They view everything with one question in mind: “What’s in it for me, and how can I beat you out of it or cheat you out of it?” They see life through cruel eyes.
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, there was a spoiled and selfish king in Israel named Herod. In many ways, Herod was a brilliant man. He was a genius at political scheming and intrigue, but he was also ruthless, vindictive and cruel. He always negotiated from power. He always looked out for “number one.” I know this is hard to believe, but history documents it. Shortly before Herod died, he decreed that on the day of his death, 300 prominent citizens in his kingdom were to be executed. Whatever else he was, Herod was not stupid. He knew that Israel would not mourn his passing. He knew they might even dance for joy in the streets over his death. His idea was that if he killed off 300 beloved people on the day he died, there would be a lot of grief in the streets. Of course, his plan didn’t work. Herod died and the world in which he lived was glad.
People like Herod, who see life through cruel and selfish eyes, live in every age. I am fascinated sometimes to walk through cemeteries and read the epitaphs. Back in colonial days, our ancestors were sometimes brutally frank in their appraisal of the deceased. For example, in Winslow, Maine, there is a monument to a man named Benjamin Wood, who had been buried in a wooden casket. His tombstone reads:\
Here lies Ben Wood enclosed in wood,
One wood within another;
The outer wood is very good;
We cannot praise the other.
So it is with some people. They live lives that cannot be praised. The world is made poorer by their presence. And let me hasten to say that this selfish approach to life is not confined to the criminal element. There are many quite respectable people who think only of themselves, and who take advantage of others.
How is it with you? What impact do you have on the world? Is it constructive or destructive? Do you build up or tear down? Do you give or do you take? Do you hurt or do you heal? How is it with you? Jesus wants to know.
Secondly, Jesus’ story reminds us that some people look at life through calculating eyes—they say: “What’s mine is mine, and I’ll keep it.”
Now comes the first twist in this tale from the lips of the Master Storyteller: the people we would most expect to stop and help this beaten man, do not stop. I refer, of course, to the priest and the Levite. They are religious leaders, trained in the ways of goodness and mercy. Yet they see this injured man, and while they think it’s unfortunate what has happened to him, they do not wish to be involved. They do not want to get their hands dirty. Oh, I am sure they had a good excuse—”It’s too dangerous to stop,” or “I’m already late for important appointments,” or “Someone else will come along and help,” or “I’ve got troubles enough myself.” They say: “What’s mine is mine and I’ve got to protect it.” So they calculated the effect on them personally, and they “pass by on the other side.” They fall victim to what I like to call “the shame of a lowered aim” in life.
Paul Wylie, the figure skater who won a silver medal in the Olympic Games last winter, tells of meeting a ten-year-old girl who was dying of cancer. She was among a group of children from a Boston hospital who had come to receive instruction in skating at a media event. The event was late getting started and by the time Paul Wylie got around to this little girl—her name was Reba—the scheduled time was up. Paul Wylie said to Reba: “Don’t worry. I’ll give you a lesson another time. We’ll set it up.” Reba’s mother said to Paul: “I think you had better do it before Thanksgiving.” But Paul Wylie got caught up in his own activities and he misplaced Reba’s phone number. He passed by on the other side. Then in January, a letter arrived telling him that Reba had died. Paul Wylie says: “I was devastated. It was the most profound lesson I have ever learned. I have a picture of Reba in my room. I keep it there to remind me that there are people out there who are waiting and that you shouldn’t brush them off because of your own concerns.” He then adds: “When I skated in Albertville, I was skating for Reba.”
The priest and the Levite in Jesus’ story were not bad people—they were good people. They had good hearts. They had good intentions. They even had good excuses for not getting involved. However, one of the sobering realities of our pilgrimage in life is that we are responsible not only for the things we do, but also the things we do not do! They are called “the sins of omission.” It is the sin not of opportunity lost but of opportunity ignored—the sin not of wrongs committed, but of wrongs not righted—the sin not of deeds done but of chances for service by-passed.
How is it with you? Do you move through life with good intentions but bad execution? Are you so wrapped up in your own interests and concerns that you are insensitive to the opportunities of service around you? How is it with you? Jesus wants to know.
Thirdly, Jesus’ story reminds us that some people, thank God, look at life through caring eyes—they say: “What’s mine is yours, I’ll share it.”
Another twist in the tale: the person we would never expect to stop and help, does. Understand, please, that the people listening to Jesus tell this story regarded Samaritans as pariahs. They were considered sub-human. In fact, no good, upstanding Jew would even say the word “Samaritan” out loud. Yet the Bible records this Samaritan’s goodness in one crisp and glorious phrase: “he had compassion.” Compassion literally means “love in action.” He stopped to help the beaten man. He bound up the man’s wounds. He placed him on his own animal, which meant that the Samaritan had to walk. He took him to an inn and cared for him through the night. He then went the extra mile by providing long-term care for the man. He said to the innkeeper: “Here’s my American Express card. Use it to cover whatever expenses this man might have.”
Here’s the point: in life there comes a time to act. The Good Samaritan didn’t stand there immobilized by all kinds of rationalization. It seems to me that if we have a chance to save a life we must save it. Life is always to be chosen over death. A physician recently was asked by his colleague whether he would recommend an abortion in the case of a woman who was pregnant. The pregnant woman had tuberculosis; her husband had a sexually transmitted disease. They already had twelve children and they were very poor. Two of the children were physically disabled, two others were intellectually delayed. The physician replied quickly: “I would terminate the pregnancy, of course!” To which the questioner responded: “Then you would have killed Beethoven.” My friends, life is always to be chosen over death. No matter the cost, no matter the consequences, the time to love is now.
Some years ago, there was a little twelve-year-old boy who lived with his family in a thatched-roof hut in an African village. His name was Panya. One day as Panya was baby-sitting his little brother—the other members of the family were at work in the sugar cane fields—the little hut caught fire and was quickly enveloped in flames. Panya was outside at the time, but immediately he bolted into the raging inferno, picked up his brother and ran to safety. The other villagers were amazed at Panya’s bravery. They said to him: “Panya, what were you thinking about when you went running into that burning hut?” Panya replied: “I wasn’t thinking about anything. I just heard my brother crying.”
So how is it with you? How long has it been since you heard your sisters and your brothers crying? How long has it been since you stopped and did something about it? How is it with you? Jesus wants to know.
Each week, I go to my desk and I pray, I study, I struggle, I hurt, I work, I weep and I write as I try to come up with some new way in which to tell the story of Christ’s love and how He wants that love to be in us. It is the greatest love story the world has ever known—a story which would lead a statue to weep if only it could hear. And after I have produced what I can, I climb into the pulpit and offer to you what I have given and what has been given to me. And I watch you as I do that. I see the expressions on your faces. I see your moods change. I see some of you nod in assent. I see the light of conscience flashing in some eyes. I see that some of you are moved to the point of deep emotion by the story of our Lord. Yes, I see your faces, but I can’t see what’s happening inside of you. And when it’s all over I always wonder: Did anything change in your heart? Did you let Jesus Christ into your life? Did you commit to live in His love and to live with His love. I always wonder. So how is it with you?
Jesus wants to know.