On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
— Luke 10:25-29
What follows this is the iconic, oft referenced story of the Good Samaritan. We tend to read that story with an eye to charity, after all the Samaritan did “help” the wounded man; or we read it with an eye to the idea of a community that includes the outcast, no doubt a preacher has pointed out that Samaritan and good are not words expected to be together; or we read it with a call to practical compassion, contrasting the religious zeal of the priest and the Levite with the concrete help of the Samaritan. There is another thought to be taken from this story: the way a crisis changes everything. It was the disaster of the moment that brought things back to the crucial elements of life.
At the beginning of Lent, I bought a book entitled How to Do Nothing. (Karen asked if I really needed a book to teach me how to do nothing, but that is a different message.) In the book, Jenny Odell tells of walking along a trail in San Francisco about to pass a woman coming from the opposite direction, when suddenly the woman began to have a seizure. Writes Odell, “It was as surreal as it was terrifying. Before others arrived, on that otherwise empty street, I felt completely responsible to this person I had never seen before a few minutes ago.” Suddenly, these two strangers, previously absorbed in a world of earbuds and tasks to be completed became neighbors. In that act, the unimportant passed away, and the truly important came back into focus.
Pauline Jacobson reflected on the earthquake of 1906 in San Francisco and wrote:
Never even when the four walls of one’s own room in a new city shall close around us again shall we sense the old lonesomeness shutting us off from our neighbors. Never again shall we feel singled out by fate for the hardships and ill luck that going. And that is the sweetness and the gladness of the earthquake and the fire. Not of bravery nor of
strength, nor of a new city but of a new inclusiveness.
When the time comes that we emerge from this Coronavirus crisis, we will be changed. We will be different. It is my prayer that we use this time of isolation to remind ourselves of the great truths of life, and most of all to learn again who is my neighbor.
I offer the first verse of Open My Eyes that I May See in hopes that we may sit silently before God and see again what has always been true:
Open my eyes, that I may see
glimpses of truth you have for me;
place in my hands the wonderful key
that shall unlock and set me free.
Silently now, on bended knee,
ready I wait your will to see;
open my eyes, illumine me,