Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.
The other side
The familiar story of the Good Samaritan came up in the daily lectionary last week. I tried to read it as if I’d not read it before. In doing so, I thought about who I would identify with most in the parable. The inconvenient truth was that I’m probably most like the Priest and the Levite who saw the man who’d been beaten and left to die. They saw the man and kept on going, for whatever reason. In my attempt at fresh reading, the phrase that came to me were the words: They passed by on the other side. That was their choice.
Who knows why they kept going? Maybe they were scared. Maybe they were concerned about religious defilement. Maybe they were really busy, an important church meeting to get to. Jesus didn’t seem interested in explaining why they did what they did. He just puts it out there. They passed by on the other side. That was their choice.
I recognize how I do that, not only in passing by people seated on the sidewalk or standing at an intersection, asking for money, though I do that often. There are other people I pass by, for all kinds of reasons. That passing by on the other side, a mark of privilege, can be an expression of indifference to the suffering of the world. It can be an unwillingness to engage. It can be an expression of fatigue. Problems are too grand or intractable or numerous. It can be an expression of fear. It can be an exercise in protecting boundaries. “I’ve done enough. I’m a priest, for God’s sake.”
I was bothered by the choice implied in those words “on the other side.” Where else had I heard those words? Here’s a slightly random connection. Related words surface in the end of John’s gospel when the resurrected Jesus shows up on the beach, scrambles some eggs for the disciples and gives those hapless fishermen some advice about how to do their jobs. (Note: The gospels never record the disciples catching anything without Jesus’ help.) The disciples had been fishing all night and caught nothing. Jesus tells them: Cast your nets on the right side, in other words, on the other side of the boat. They choose Jesus’ way and catch more fish than they know what to do with.
So I began to wonder, as I compared these two stories: Is Jesus calling us right now to cast our nets on the other side? We’re coming out of Covid-tide, probably fatigued, maybe fearful. In some respects, like the disciples, what we’ve been doing is not working so well. We may have been tempted like the disciples to go back to old ways, even if we weren’t very good fishermen.
These two stories present us with a choice. Going back to the Good Samaritan parable, choosing the other side may mean that we can stay in our safety lane, stay in our bubble, get to our next item on the to-do list without interruption. In that story, the other side means a pathway that dismisses or denies the needs that surround us. That may come out of a place of privilege, fatigue or fear. Where are you tempted to choose that path, for whatever reason?
Or we can hear a call to choose the other side to which the resurrected Jesus calls us. We can cast our nets for something different, something brave, something that bears fruit. As we come out of Covid, we don’t need to do what we always have done. We can hear Jesus’ invitation to something new, something beautiful for God. Where do you hear an invitation to that path this week?
The mission of RenewalWorks is to help churches (and individuals in them) refocus on spiritual growth and identify ways that God is calling them to grow. Now is a great time to engage this process and chart the course forward. We would love to help you on that journey. Contact us if you would like to learn more about RenewalWorks, or if you have other thoughts and ideas about fostering spiritual growth as we emerge from the pandemic.