By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. [Luke 10:31-32 (NLT)]
Yesterday’s devotion got me thinking more about the movie The War Room. Elizabeth is a woman whose marriage clearly is a mess and Miss Clara is a fervent prayer warrior. Clara could easily have done her “Christian duty” for Elizabeth by praying for the young woman’s situation in her “war room” of prayer. Instead, she asks Elizabeth to give her one hour a week and offers to teach her how to fight for her marriage with the right weapons. With her offer, Clara lays herself open to rejection, being called a busybody (or worse) and the inconvenience and challenges that come whenever we become enmeshed in another person’s life. In short, Clara does more than pray for this troubled woman—she takes action.
I saw parallels between Miss Clara’s actions and those of the Good Samaritan in Jesus’ parable. A Jewish man is attacked by thieves and left naked and half-dead on the side of the road. A Jewish priest sees him, crosses to the other side of the road and passes him by. Then a Levite comes by, goes over to look at the man, and like the priest, walks to the other side of the road before continuing his journey. Both were supposedly religious men, of good character and professed sanctity. Both men heard the man’s groans and both ignored their Jewish brother’s needs. Neither one wanted to be delayed, get involved or dirty his hands. I wonder, however, did either man assuage his conscience by saying he’d offer a prayer for the man? Saying a prayer certainly would have been faster and easier than getting involved. In this case, however, the dying man needed more than prayers—he needed immediate help and both the priest and Levite were capable of giving him assistance. It was the despised Samaritan who bandaged the man’s wounds, let him ride on his donkey, took him to an inn, nursed him through the night and paid the man’s expenses. It was the Samaritan who, instead of offering prayers, sacrificed his time and money to help a stranger.
Of course, Jesus’ purpose in telling his story was to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Yet, I wonder whether the two supposedly pious men might have offered a quick prayer in lieu of help. People’s lives are messy and I wonder how often it is that we offer only prayers when, along with our prayers, we should be offering our time, hands, hearts, and even our finances as did the Samaritan and Miss Clara.
There are many divinely ordained opportunities when our prayers are needed and there are many divinely ordained opportunities when more than our prayers are required. As a Christian, I often say, “I’ll pray for you.” Perhaps, there are occasions when I should be doing far more than that. None of us want to be considered busy-bodies or buttinskis but sometimes, like Miss Clara, we need to offer more than our prayers to someone in need. Lord, help me discern those opportune moments when you want more than my prayers—when you want me to turn my petition into exertion and my compassion into action.
God does not need your good works, but our neighbor does. [Martin Luther]