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Friday, April 19, 2013

Help Getting Home


“But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came to where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him…”
-Luke 10:33-34 (NIV)

Sarah Tucholsky had never hit a home run before. The senior at Western Oregon University, a softball player all through high school and college, had never hit one out of the park. “I’m more of a line-drive hitter, she explained. So when she hit a pitch over the center-field wall in Western Oregon’s game against Central Washington University, no one in the stadium was more surprised than she was. She was so surprised, in fact, than when she started around the bases, she missed first.
    Therein, as they say, lies the story.
    A home run doesn’t count, you see, until the person who hits it touches all the bases and crosses home plate. It’s a rule that almost never comes into play in a game, because it’s not too difficult to trot around the bases, stepping on each one as you go, while the crowd cheers and your teammates celebrate. But Sarah was excited, and new to the whole home run trot, and she just over- or under-stepped and missed first base. Not the end of the world, of course – all she needed to do was stop, turn, and go back to touch first. Then she could continue around the bases and celebrate with her team. All perfectly allowable. Most likely no one would even notice.
    So that’s what she did. She turned back to touch first. But when she pivoted, her right foot didn’t pivot with her. The anterior cruciate ligament in Sarah’s right knee tore, and she collapsed to the ground in pain. She did manage to crawl back to first, but that was as far as she got. And that was a problem.
    If the Western Oregon coach, Pam Knox, had replaced her, you see, the home run wouldn’t stand. The two runs it scored would have, but Sarah’s one career home run would have been wiped out. Ditto if her teammates helped her around the bases. Pam didn’t want to do anything to take away Sarah’s homer, of course, but there didn’t seem to be an alternative.
    Until Central Washington’s softball team came up with one.
    Mallory Holtman and Liz Wallace, players on the opposing team, bent down and picked Sarah up. They put their arms under Sarah’s legs, and Sarah put her arms around their shoulders. Carefully, they started around the bases, pausing at each one to lower Sarah enough that her left foot would touch. Because they did, Sarah’s home run counted – a three-run homer that, incidentally, helped eliminate Central Washington from contention for a conference championship and playoff appearance.
    Holtman and Wallace said that they weren’t thinking about the playoff spot, though. They had something much more important on their minds.
    Would it have really been that surprising if Holtman and Wallace had just shaken their heads and said to each other, “What a shame!”? Would it have been all that surprising if they had sighed in relief and said, if only to themselves, “What a lucky break!”? People, after all, do that kind of thing every day. We see a homeless man or woman begging for food or money and think to ourselves, “Oh, it’s terrible that people have to live in circumstances like that.”? And we really do think it’s terrible, but we go on about our lives without making eye contact, much less offering help.
    Or friends go through marriage problems, and because we don’t know the right thing to say or do we do and say as little as possible. We have a chance to shine the light of Christ into the shadows that they’re living in and instead, out of fear and uncertainty, we curse the darkness and clam up.
    Or a fellow church member is on the rocks spiritually. She hasn’t been at church in a while. Maybe we even know a little something about what’s going on in our life to bring about the crisis. But we don’t call, or compose an email, or write a note, or stop by. “She’ll think I’m interfering,” we rationalize. “She’ll resent my intrusion.” Rather than risk her anger or irritation, we resist the impulse to offer even a tentative “Missed you lately” that could make a world of difference in her regaining her spiritual footing.
    We have good intentions. We “would help if we could.” We say “what a shame” and shake our heads and cluck our tongues. And we pass by on the other side.
    I know, you resent that a little, don’t you? To be honest I do too, but my resenting it doesn’t necessarily make it less true. I’d like to think that I’m not like the priest or Levite in Jesus’s story: a “religious” person who doesn’t quite get what it means to love my neighbor as myself. (See Luke 10:25-37) But to the degree that I’m able to pass by people in need without offering what assistance I can, I’m a lot like them. It may not be a robbery victim on the highway to whom God is calling me to be a neighbor, but there’s someone. And I can’t be a neighbor to that someone without doing what that Samaritan did.
    “He took pity,” the text says. A dangerous consequence of our hectic lives is that we can get so busy, and even cynical, that we’re no longer moved by the plight of other people. May God give us softer hearts, so that we can hurt with others and care as much about relieving their pain and distress as we do about relieving our own. Our world, at least in some settings, rewards those who can be hard, cold, and detached. But children of the God who was so moved by our plight that he sent his Son to us can surely believe that God will soften our hearts toward our fellow human beings.
    But that Samaritan didn’t just take pity. “He went to him,” the text reminds us, and in reminding us calls us to the same. Admittedly, it’s risky to put yourself out on a limb like that. It may mean you’ll have to share your stuff, your time, your life with the person you’re helping. It may mean financial investment. It will surely mean emotional investment. That’s not always easy for us, overextended as we already are. But God will make us equal to the task if we want and allow him to.
    Jesus seemed to suggest that you can’t love God without loving your neighbor, and that you can’t love your neighbor without reaching out a hand to the people laying in your path. You can’t cross the street looking for “more acceptable” victims of the Devil to help. Who’s lying in front of you right now, broken and bleeding? That’s your neighbor. Take compassion on him and go to him. Bind and soothe his wounds and use what you have to take care of him.
    If necessary, bend down and carry him home.

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