The Priest, The Levite, and Me

A couple blocks from my house is this corner shop owned by an elderly woman and her grown son, John. I don’t know anything about them really, except that their inventory is VERY quirky and their pricing is a bit questionable.

One day back in May, I was running past the shop when it started to pour rain. Frankly, I was already having an awful day and the rain seemed like a fitting accompaniment. As I was running by, I saw John scrambling to move some tablecloths and other items inside to protect them from the rain. Though I could clearly see he needed help, I didn’t stop. I kept going, ignoring him and literally running the other direction. Later on my run, I had to stop to catch my breath because I couldn’t stop crying, partly because of my crappy day but partly because I was so ashamed of how little I cared about stopping to help John. I saw with my eyes what was happening but ran away.

I didn’t want to stop. I didn’t stop.

This summer I’ve realized how challenging empathy is for me. As a Christian and as a woman, it seems/feels like I should have empathy in the bag. I am not a woman, as the author of Proverbs 31 writes, who seems to espouse “eager hands” and “open arms.” That day back in May and many moments and even years in the past have shown that often my reaction when someone is in need is not to reach out or stop and stay a while, but run away (sometimes literally) and take care of my needs first. It’s a sobering and honestly incredibly disheartening thing to grow older and come to terms with what some would label “my shadow side.” Perhaps I should just call it what it is though: sin.

This summer I’ve been gathering on Monday nights for a Bible Study with a group of women who are all reading one chapter of Romans a week. Last week we talked about Romans 7. Some verses from The Message translation come to mind here.

“But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. 

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.” — Romans 7: 17-25, The Message translation by Eugene Peterson

I didn’t go back and apologize to John, but this summer as I’ve passed that antique shop, that moment plays back to me like a movie. But instead of shoving the memory aside, instead of ignoring it, instead of running away from it, I’ve decided to ask Jesus to meet me there. To teach me, to help me, to soften my heart and to find grace and mercy in moments where I do not have it for myself or others. Because as Romans 7 says, “I need something more!”

Jesus always comes. He shows up outside of the tomb that was sealed off, on the dusty road, in the room where the doors were locked, at daybreak on the shores after a night of fruitless work. He came then and he comes now.

And so he meets me outside of that antique shop: an apathetic, hard hearted, sopping-wet mess. He has seen me run the other direction this time and all the times before it, but chases me down like he always has, like he always does and always will. He reminds me that though the dark is a real part of this life, so is the light. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” –John 1:5

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