There is a popular movie that is always on television during this time of year that I am sure many of you have seen…and if you have not seen it, I invite you to come out of the cave you have been living in and set your DVRs over the next few weeks!
The movie is called “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.
The main character in the film, George Bailey, was a man whose family engrained in him the importance of helping others in need. He took over the family business of a “building and loan”, and when Mr. Potter and the big banks would not help families who were about to become homeless, George would come in, have compassion, and bail them out.
On the day of his wedding, which happened to coincide with the stock market crash in the 1920s, George gave up his wedding money and his honeymoon to give to the people whose savings accounts had been reduced to nothing! Even at the expense of himself and his own happiness…when he saw the panic at the banks, he stopped the car…and he went and helped others.
George eventually got into some financial trouble because of a mix up at the end of the film, and was visited by an angel who gave him the chance to see just how different the world would have been if he had not been born. He saw friends who he had helped turn into greedy and awful people. He saw his neighbors ruled by sin and greed, and the town that he had once loved, fall into despair and ruin.
The ending of the movie (and I hope I am not spoiling a movie that came out in 1946 for anyone) shows George realizing that all of the wonderful and selfless things he did for his neighbors, especially in their time of need, all added up to a truly wonderful life.
We read today the parable of the Good Samaritan in the Gospels, which begins by setting a rather dark picture…similar to the one that George experienced from the angel. A man, walking down the dangerous streets of life, is mugged and left for dead on the roadside. After the mugging, a priest walked past the man who was left for dead…followed by a Levite.
We are never told the reasons they walked by, but we can certainly guess that they are not unlike the reasons we walk by some of the beggars on the streets of Flint or Detroit…or why the Rich Man would constantly walk by Lazarus who sat on his own doorstep. The Levite, a religious leader, was probably on his way to work and couldn’t be bothered, and the priest was probably too concerned about the law of not being able to touch someone who was bloody.
So as not to defile himself and still be able to perform the services, he kept his distance.
And then we hear about the third man, the Good Samaritan, who stops and shows compassion on the beaten man. This is the first thing that our Lord is trying to tell us to do in our busy lives when there are those in need…STOP. This is the first act of compassion…and the one thing that the bad examples in the parable did not do.
In life, we tend to get caught up in the “waves of business” don’t we? We are always on the move…always needing to get to the next job, always needing to do the next errand, or complete the next task. And it is the Church, in Her wisdom, that is always telling us to try and slow down!
When we say our prayers at night…we don’t rush in the door, put our keys down, take our coats off, pick up our prayer book, and start reading. When we come to services at the Church we shouldn’t be rushing out the door because we are 15 minutes late…running into the Church when we get here, and then pick up a book and expect to “dive right in”.
We are told to “stop”. Our worship services tell us to “Lay aside all earthly cares”…and only then can we begin to pray.
Charity, like the spiritual life before we begin to pray, also requires is to stop for a few minutes like the Samaritan. It requires us to take a second out of the business of our lives…and stop to begin an action of mercy. It is when we don’t stop that we are saying, like the priest and Levite, that we can’t be bothered by the plight of others in our lives.
After he showed this first act of care, the Good Samaritan began his charity by pouring oil and wine into the man’s wounds, putting him on his own mule, transporting him to a nearby inn, and giving money to the innkeeper to ensure ongoing care. And if that wasn’t enough, the Samaritan then paid for any future expenses that his mugged man might have incurred!
So not only did he stop and show compassion, not only did he share his time, oil, wine, money, and mule with the mugged man…he then went and enlisted the help and support of another person to assist!
This is why we try as hard as we can as a parish family, to promote charity. It is why we came up with projects like the Lazarus Bags which we will bless next week. It is why we collected school supplies in August. It is why we gathered last month to make meals for those who cannot eat. It is why we will all be asked to take an hour out of our lives to stop and make blankets next month for the sick. All of these things are done so that our entire parish family has the chance to stop and show an act of compassion to our neighbors who are in need.
After the parable…our Lord says four words that tell us what we must do next…especially as we approach the Holy Season of Advent: “Go and do likewise.” He says this to us, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, because he knows that if one act of love from one person can have an affect on so many…imagine what one LIFE full of compassion…coming from an entire parish family…can do for the dangerous streets of the world with which we live in.