This is post 4 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: The Cost Of Not Loving Is Too Great To Pay
A few years ago, in West Virginia, an elementary school science teacher was leading her students in a study of the human body. She had the students write an essay on the subject under the title “What Makes Up a Person.” One of those essays, written by a little boy, wound up by being published in the West Virginia Hospital News. Here is what the young fellow wrote:
“Your head is kind of round and hard and your brains are in it and your hair is on it.
Your face is the front of your head where you eat and make faces. Your neck is what keeps your head out of your collar. It’s hard to keep clean.
Your shoulders are sort of shelves where you hook your suspenders on them…
Your stummick is something that if you don’t eat often enough it hurts, and spinach don’t help it none.
Your spine is a long bone in your back that is always behind you no matter how quick you turn round.
Your arms you got to have to pitch with and so you can reach the butter…
Your fingers stick out of your hands so you can throw a curve and add up arithmetic.
Your legs are what you run on, and your toes are what always get stubbed.
And that’s all there is of you, except what’s inside, and I never saw it.”
Isn’t that great? Surely the young man got an “A” for his effort. However, when, in his description of what makes up a person, he left out what’s inside, he was leaving out the most important part. You see, it’s what’s inside of us that really matters. Jesus talked about that a lot. He wanted us to make our lives count for something good, and He believed that the answer to that is found inside of us; our hopes, our dreams, our values, our attitudes, our purposes, our motives, our approach to life. Jesus understood that what’s in our hearts really matters in life and that’s what determines whether or not our lives really matter. In fact, that’s the point of one of the most famous stories Jesus ever told. Do you remember it?
One day, a lawyer walked up to Jesus and asked a question point blank: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus gave him “the twin commandments”—”Love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” But the lawyer was uneasy with the answer, so he asked: “Lord, who is my neighbor?” Rather than give him a dictionary definition, Jesus replied: “Let me tell you a story. A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho…” There follows one of the most famous stories Jesus ever told.
Let me set the scene. The phrase “going down from Jerusalem to Jericho” is quite literal in its meaning. Jerusalem is 2000 feet above sea level, Jericho is 1000 feet below sea level. So the Jericho Road, less than 20 miles in length, descends some 3000 feet between the two cities. It was—and is even now—a winding road carrying the traveler through treacherous mountain passes lined with caves where bandits would frequently hide out. In those days, the Jericho Road was commonly called “The Way of Blood”, so hazardous was the journey there. So the man in Jesus’ story was making the trip from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and in what then occurred, Jesus makes it plain that we can approach life with a cold heart or with a calculating heart, or with a compassionate heart. Where do you see yourself in the story?
You could be a person with a cold heart.
As the man in the story made the trek down to Jericho, he was attacked by bandits, beaten and left for dead. Those brigands were cold-hearted people. They said: “We want what you’ve got and we’re going to take it away from you.” Some people go through life like that. They are cold-hearted takers, grabbers, robbers, parasites. They are totally selfish and self-centered. They go through life saying: “What’s in it for me?” They lurk in the shadows waiting to pounce on innocent persons, to take advantage of other people, to find ways to cheat or beat other people out of what they have. Cold-hearted people.
About the time Jesus was born in Bethlehem, there was a king in Israel named Herod. Herod’s heart was as cold as it gets. He always negotiated from power. He always looked out for number one. In many ways, he was a brilliant man. He was a visionary builder. He was a superb political strategist. But he was incredibly selfish, sadistic and cruel. This may be hard to believe, but history documents it as true. Herod decreed that on the day he died, 300 prominent citizens of his kingdom were to be executed. Why? Well, he knew that because of his cruel, tyrannical ways, people would not mourn his passing—in fact, they just might dance in the streets for joy. So his idea was that if he killed 300 beloved people on the day he died, there would be a lot of grief on the streets, and history would record that on the day Herod died the whole nation was plunged into mourning. His plan didn’t work. Herod died, and the world in which he lived was glad. That’s always the way it is with cold-hearted people. The world is never sorry to see them pass from the scene.
I have long been fascinated to read the epitaphs on tombstones. Back in colonial days, in this country, people sometimes were brutally frank in their appraisal of the deceased. For example, up in Winslow, Maine, there is a monument to a man named Benjamin Wood. Here are the words on his tombstone:
“Here lies Ben Wood, enclosed in wood,
One Wood within another.
The outer wood is very good;
We cannot praise the other.”
Sadly, that’s the way it is with some people. They live lives that can’t be praised. The world is diminished, it’s made poorer because they have passed through it. Mind you, this cold-hearted, selfish approach to life is not confined to outlaws. Some of our so-called “most respectable people” actually get ahead by taking advantage of others. They insist on doing things their own way without concern for what happens to other people. Remember what it says in Jesus’ story? “The robbers stripped him and beat him and left him for dead.” I wonder if that has ever been said symbolically about me or about you. I wonder if we have ever in some way hurt someone and left them half-dead. I hope it is not true of us, but it is one possible approach to life. Yes, we can choose to approach life with a cold heart.
Or, you can be a person with a calculating heart.
As Jesus’ story unfolds, first a priest and then a Levite, both of whom were religious people, happened to pass by the scene of the crime and they saw the battered traveler lying in the ditch. They opted not to get involved. They approached life with calculating hearts. I’m sure they had a good excuse: “It’s too dangerous to stop”, or “I’ve got important business in Jericho” or “Someone else will come along and help”. In essence, while the robbers were saying, “We want what’s yours and we’ll take it”, the priest and the Levites were saying, “We want what’s ours and we’ll keep it.” They had calculating hearts. Of course, a lot of people come at life just like that: calculating, careful, indifferent, insensitive, protecting their own interests. They’re not cruel. They don’t hurt other people. They just don’t want to get involved when other people hurt.
I’ve never forgotten Tom Shipp because I’ve never forgotten what happened to Tom Shipp and I’ve never forgotten what Tom Shipp did with what happened to Tom Shipp. Tom Shipp was a great Methodist preacher in Dallas. Late one afternoon, he was leaving his office at the church on the way to an important meeting. In the hall, he was approached by a man with an obvious alcohol problem. The man was asking for help. Shipp hurriedly told him that he could come to the office the next day and he would try to help him. Then, he quickly moved on to make that next appointment. That night the police called. A man had shot himself. There was a suicide note. It was addressed to Dr. Tom Shipp. It read: “I won’t need help tomorrow. I needed it today.”
As a minister, I understand Tom Shipp’s problem. You just can’t stop—can you—every time someone want to intrude on the order of events you have so carefully planned. But then as a minister, I have to think of Jesus and how often He was interrupted—how little children came climbing onto His lap, how pushy mothers came seeking good positions for their sons, how the disciples badgered Him frequently with inane questions, how the Pharisees came to argue and to snipe, how the sick came to be healed. He was forever being interrupted. Yet, for all my trying, I can find no place where he ever put anyone off. Tom Shipp never put anyone off again either. He went on to build the Lover’s Lane United Methodist Church—don’t you just love the name?—into a great church. And by the way, ultimately, the church had more than a thousand recovering alcoholics sitting on the pews each Sunday.
You see, I don’t think God expects any one of us to change the whole world single-handedly, but I do believe that He expects us to do what we can to improve the little corner where we live. Yet, so many times nowadays, people just don’t want to get involved in other people’s difficulties or in the problems of our world. With calculating hearts they just pass by on the other side.
But then of course, you can be a person with a compassionate heart.
Like the Samaritan in Jesus’ story. We call him the “Good Samaritan”, but he is “good” simply because he is compassionate. He is a giver. His approach to life is to be kind and loving and helpful and loving and creative. He is always ready to bring help and healing where there is hurt. While the robbers say: “We want what’s yours and we’ll take it”, and the priests and the Levites say: “We want what’s ours and we’ll keep it”, people like the Good Samaritan say, “What’s mine is yours and we’ll share it.” That’s the mark of a compassionate heart.
Just listen to the way Jesus describes the Samaritan and what he did. “He was moved with pity”…”He went to him and bandaged his wounds”…”He brought him to an inn and took care of him”…”He paid for his keep.” Sometimes we get confused about what life really means. But right here Jesus makes it so clear that we cannot miss it. We are to be caring, loving, serving, compassionate people.
That’s costly, I know, but not as costly, I would submit, as not being caring, loving, compassionate people. If you don’t believe that, then tackle the book entitled The Mountain People by the sociologist Colin Turnbull. It’s a profound account of what happened amongst the people of the Ik tribe in Uganda, Africa. After several years of drought, they were facing a devastating famine. As a result, people of that tribe became focused on one thing and one thing only—survival. All expression of love, sharing, or concern for others disappeared as they simply tried to stay alive. Finally, they took drastic, draconian steps. Children were forced from their homes to live on their own by the age of four. Older parents were driven out of the village to die. Only the young and the strong got food. Cruelty became typical. In his summary, Colin Turnbull describes them as a people without life, without compassion, without joy, without hope, caught in a downward, dehumanizing spiral where they destroy each other. Turnbull concluded his study with as powerful a line as I have ever read. Reflecting on what he has seen in the experience of that tribe, he writes: “The cost for not loving is too great to pay.”
So. . .
If you want life, if you want real life, if you want eternal life, don’t be cold. Don’t be calculating. Be compassionate! Accept Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace and the Lord of love into your heart. He will warm your heart with the fire of His love, and He will plant the seeds of compassion deep in your soul. Jesus is the Good Samaritan for us, and He wants us, in His Spirit and by His power, to be Good Samaritans for others.
The cost of not loving is just too great to pay!