“Little Miss Sunshine”, “The Wizard of Oz”, “The Way”, “The Lord of the Rings”, “Into the Wild”, “Rain Man”, “The Grapes of Wrath”, “Tracks”, heck, even… “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”…
I love a great road trip story. A character or characters hit the open road, experience new places, encounter challenges, make important discoveries about the life… about themselves… and change in the process – often for the better, sometimes for the worse. The road is a metaphor for life.
Today’s gospel is not about the Good Samaritan but I mention it because it is, in a way, a road trip story. But unlike the ones I mentioned… in which you see the plot develop across a landscape, between a beginning and end point, the story of the Good Samaritan takes place on one small strip of road, on a known treacherous tract between Jerusalem and Jericho. Because it’s a dangerous road, the people who pass on it tend to keep to themselves… to avoid danger.
The characters in Jesus’ parable pass by this one spot. A man is beaten nearly to death and two walk by him who surely would have known the law – a priest and a Levite. But they don’t cross to the other side to help him. They keep their distance. They are separated. Finally, a lowly Samaritan, someone who would not likely know or probably care much about the Jewish law, stopped to help. He reached across. He closed the divide.
Today’s gospel is about forgiveness. It is about mercy. Peter is told to forgive not seven times, but seventy seven times.
Our heavenly father forgives our wrongs, he heals our wounds, he shows us boundless mercy. And though it can be difficult, maybe even incredibly difficult, he calls us to do the same to others.
I’d like to suggest that the spot on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho is also a metaphor for life. Despite the dangers, we all pass though it. Some of us without incident, some of us with great hardship. Many of us keep to ourselves. There are separations between us on this road. Gulfs that divide us.
We are reminded too often of all these gulfs that divide us. Especially lately it seems. And we are reminded that these divisions can often bubble up into hatred. This includes when protestors at rallies seek violence against each other, when bombs are thrown into concert halls, when trucks are driven into crowds along the side of a street, when those in authority abuse their power, when people are mistreated because of the color of their skin. This past week, we marked the 16th anniversary of one of the most dramatic and awful demonstrations of division and hatred in our country’s history.
But history shows us that meeting violence with more violence does not soften hearts. That confronting hatred with more hatred never creates peace.
Only forgiveness does that. Only healing. Only mercy.
Jesus calls us to cross the street, to close the divide, to reach across and to connect, to forgive others, to seek forgiveness from others. And yes, sometimes this can be incredibly difficult.
But sometimes the best way to start a road trip is with baby steps. What do you say we take a baby step?
Is there someone you need to forgive? Is there someone from whom you need to seek forgiveness?
Let’s open that door and head out…
Who’s up for a little road trip?