Devotional 10 of 10
by Randy Petersen
Lord, give me a vision of how you want me to treat those around me. Fill me with your sacrificial love.
But the teacher of the Law wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered, “There was once a man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when robbers attacked him, stripped him, and beat him up, leaving him half dead. It so happened that a priest was going down that road; but when he saw the man, he walked on by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also came there, went over and looked at the man, and then walked on by on the other side. But a Samaritan who was traveling that way came upon the man, and when he saw him, his heart was filled with pity. He went over to him, poured oil and wine on his wounds and bandaged them; then he put the man on his own animal and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Take care of him,’ he told the innkeeper, ‘and when I come back this way, I will pay you whatever else you spend on him.’” And Jesus concluded, “In your opinion, which one of these three acted like a neighbor toward the man attacked by the robbers?” The teacher of the Law answered, “The one who was kind to him.” Jesus replied, “You go, then, and do the same.”
You can still hear it in the recordings of that famous last speech. “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” said Dr. King in that musical way of his. You can almost pick up echoes of the next world. In that moment, he imagined himself as Moses, leading his people from slavery to freedom. Just as that great leader stood on Mount Nebo, overlooking Canaan, before his death, Martin Luther King stood in front of the striking sanitation workers of Memphis and spoke of his own mountaintop experience.
As you watch him speak, you suddenly think, He knows! He knows he’s not coming down from this mountain. “And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land,” he intoned, adding with a note of resignation, “I may not get there with you.” What sort of spiritual premonition did God give him? What was he seeing from that pulpit?
Hours later, the world began to mourn his passing.
The rest of his final speech has been largely forgotten, but it included a clever retelling of a biblical parable. Well aware of the perils of the time, King invited his hearers to “develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.” He explained this with the story of the Good Samaritan.
Jesus originally told this tale in response to a query from a lawyer who was trying to “justify himself.” The law said to love your neighbor, but the legal expert asked, “Who is my neighbor?”
“Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate,” commented Dr. King. “But Jesus immediately pulled that question from midair and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho.” He and Coretta had once visited that area, renting a car and driving between those cities. “It’s a winding, meandering road,” he told the crowd. “It’s very conducive for ambushing.”
In the parable, of course, a traveler is ambushed. Shockingly, two religious leaders pass by without helping him. It is, as King put it, “a man of another race” who helps the victim. In his speech, King considered the possible motivations of the two religious leaders, but they boiled down to the question “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?”
But the Samaritan asked a different question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” And Dr. King told the crowd, “That’s the question before you tonight.” It’s still the question before us, fifty years later. Will we demonstrate a “dangerous unselfishness,” following the words and example of Jesus? Could we ever avoid bickering over pointless questions in order to “justify ourselves”? Instead, would we give ourselves sacrificially to the neighbors God has placed all around us?
Picture, for a moment, what that would be like. Hmmm, maybe that was the vision Martin saw from his mountaintop.
Questions for personal thought or group discussion:
1. How could you begin to practice a “dangerous unselfishness” in your interactions with others?
2. What sort of vision of the future do you have? How do you see your family, your church, your community, or the nation faring in the years ahead? Or fifty years from now?
3. In what ways could you and your family, or maybe your whole church, “stop to help” someone in need, as the Good Samaritan did. How could you begin to ask the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
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