Mind the Gap

“Rappahannock Reverie” (Train Bridge in Fredericksburg, VA)  © Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with Permission.

© 2018 Lynn Abbott

Last autumn, I celebrated the miracle of life.

No, I’m not talking about a tribute to the Right-to-Life Movement, or even about the birth of a child.

I celebrated my ongoing existence. . .

You see,  it’s a miracle that after 32 years, my husband and I haven’t murdered one another.

Knock on wood.

Honestly, we epitomize the classic Odd Couple.

I’m Felix; he’s Oscar.

I’m the tortoise; he’s the hare.

Indeed,  my “Energizer bunny”  regularly makes the jump into hyperspace.

I pity anyone left in his wake.

Uh, huh.  Been there.

More. Times. Than. I. Can. Count.

But one will do anything for love, right?

I distinctly remember scrambling after my hurried half one Saturday morning, seven years into our marital adventure. In order to fully enjoy that unseasonably sunny day, we decided to catch the early train.

So off the hare dashed… Minutes later, I gratefully slid into the seat beside him.

However, my relief was short-lived. Upon our arrival at the transfer station, he sprang to check the arrival boards.

“If we run, we can catch the next train downtown,” he cried, bouncing ahead at a mad pace.

Five minutes later, I collapsed on the designated train. Like Disney’s Thumper, my other half impatiently tapped his foot.

When the subway doors opened, the automated voice said, “Mind the Gap.”

But without a moment’s hesitation, the hare disappeared.  Fortunately, I correctly guessed his exit path.

I’m the tortoise; he’s the hare.

Emerging from the subway hole, I found him looking for the nearest cafe.

“I’m tired,” he admitted, “let’s get something to eat.”

I gratefully agreed. And after savoring a scone and sipping English Breakfast tea, I felt rejuvenated. I smiled contentedly and expectantly looked to my other half for the day’s itinerary.

My husband, however, had experienced enough adventure for one day.

“Let’s go home,” he suggested.

It was 1 pm, and I protested, “But we’ve only just arrived!”

I blinked, and he was gone. Left with few options, I shuffled along behind him.

And that’s how it is when a tortoise marries a hare.

Obviously, such differences periodically make life  uncomfortable.  And quite frankly, many of us avoid all manner of discomfort.

Perhaps, your “hare” isn’t your spouse.  Maybe,   a boss, a child, an acquaintance, a fellow church member, or a neighbor tests your endurance.

If you’ve experienced the conflict, you understand the oyster’s self-protective instincts.  Some create pearls; others build walls.

Some even go so far as to say, “You stay on your side of the river and I’ll stay on mine.”

Yeah. It’s certainly easier to associate with like-minded folk.  I totally get that.

In fact,  throughout history, humanity has muddled its way through differences.

And as a result, like poet laureate Robert Frost, many have concluded that “good fences make good neighbors.”

Yet,  Jesus had a way of turning conventional wisdom upside down. 

You know the parable well.  It might even be the most well-known of Jesus’ stories:   the Good Samaritan.

Of course, any early century Israeli would have balked over Christ’s pairing of the words Good  and Samaritan.  The reason? Samaritans were actually only part Jew, and as such, had compromised Mosaic Law.

Because Israel had wandered away from God and His protection, the nation had been conquered by many empires. Thus, many Israelis found themselves living outside of Palestine, (Daniel 1:1-7).

There remained, however, a remnant in Judea .  And despite the Mosaic Law’s prohibition, many married non-Jews.

And so, while the Samaritans maintained their belief in Yahweh, they had compromised their faith.

This, then, is the cultural context for Jesus’ conversation with the conscientious teacher of the law described in Luke 10.

Like poet laureate Robert Frost, many have concluded that “good fences make good neighbors.”

The teacher likely shunned Samaritans as did many of his Jewish peers.

Nevertheless, he asked Jesus a sincere question: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus replied,  ‘”What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”‘ (Luke 10:26).

The law teacher quickly quipped, “‘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 ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,'” (Luke 10: 27).

Jesus followed commendation with this challenge: “Do this and you will live,” (Luke 10:28).

It was a troubling statement; the lawyer looked for wiggle room.  After all,  good fences make good neighbors.

Loving the lovable…no problem.  I’ve got it.

Loving those who agree with me…I’m there.

Working with those who pursue the same goals and dreams, who espouse my values…Easy peasy.

But that oddball down the street or in the adjoining cubicle at work?  You gotta be kidding.

I imagine the lawyer paused awkwardly and then …

“‘And who is my neighbor?'”

From that moment forward, the atmosphere shifted from mildly uncomfortable to downright convicting.

Jesus’ parable presented the following conundrum: A victim of a robbery gone bad suffered horrendous injuries. Deprived of his travel monies, stripped of his clothing and beaten, the traveler had been left for dead on the side of the road.

It wasn’t pretty.

For any compassionate passerby,  personal safety was a consideration. . . criminals could potentially ambush anyone who stopped to help.

Helping would also bring extraordinary inconvenience.    And the victim’s recovery was not guaranteed…Obviously, there were numerous reasons for leaving well enough alone.  Avoiding the victim–as did the priest and Levite– appeared a judicious choice.

But lest we excuse the priest and Levite as simply preoccupied, Jesus noted that  each potential “savior” deliberately crossed to the other side of the road.

Definitely a case of…You stay on your side and I’ll stay on mine.

The story would end as a tragedy if not for…  The Samaritan.  That’s right.  A man rejected by his Jewish cousins gave grace to an injured and ignored Jewish traveler.

The lawyer caught Jesus’ drift.

Jesus had a way of turning conventional wisdom upside down.

And 2000 years later, I also recognize that Samaritan for willingly  stepping out of his comfort zone.

It hits home.

You see, grace reached out even when things got messy.

It crossed the divide.

It bridged the gap.

Obviously, the injured man had nothing to offer the Samaritan.  If anything, a history of mutual prejudice stood between them.

Yet, in Jesus’ parable, God’s mercy moves from the academic to the practical: godly love sacrifices; grace gives even when it is uncomfortable or inconvenient.

That’s the kind of love God demonstrates toward us, (Titus 3:3-7).

Yes, God sees us as individuals not labels. And Christ became our substitute on the cross in order to make us right before God.

Grace bridged the gap.

I don’t have to agree with all those I meet.  But Paul reminds me that following Jesus means I will adopt Christ’s attitude toward others (Philippians 2:5).

It’s true.  In this world, I will meet many with whom I disagree.   And without a doubt, agreeing with everyone I encounter is impossible.

However,  I am to be like-minded with Jesus. I am to offer others His love and grace.

It isn’t easy.  It isn’t comfortable.  Sometimes, it hurts.

Jesus understands that better than anyone else.

But as you and I  begin to truly see ourselves in light of God’s mercy, it becomes easier to extend grace to others.

And that’s how this tortoise and hare seek to love…

Never mind the gap. Grace bridges that.

“We love because He first loved us,” ~1 John 4:19