“AND…WHO AM I?”
This is the unspoken question the religious lawyer quizzing Jesus never asks.
I really wish he had. Because I need the answer to this question, and so do you.
I’m talking about the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
Every time I preach on that parable —as happened yesterday— I’m struck by a question that never gets explicitly asked or answered: “Who am I?”
“Who do I need to be, to be the person I want—that God wants— me to become?”
Frankly, for decades I’ve been struck by an absence of “self-love” stories in the Gospels.
The Gospels talk a lot about GOD.
The Gospels talk a lot about NEIGHBORS.
But the Gospels contain almost zero stories that are explicitly about SELF.
And I’d bet good money that merely noting of this paradox leads some of you to leap to defensive responses…
“Well, our faith is supposed to be about GOD…”
“Well, our faith is supposed to be about how we treat the world…”
“The idea of self-love is implicit…”
Sure. I get that, and wouldn’t argue with any of it.
But read that Great Commandment slowly, one more time:
“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor AS YOURSELF.”
Self-love and love of neighbor are, de facto, connected to one another. This also stated, in the same de facto manner, within “The Golden Rule.”
(“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”)
So, I want to go on a journey with you now. Imagine the parable contains a spiritually true answer to “Who am I?” that can help you deeply.
You have all the characters in this story —the wounded traveler, the violent robbers, the disconnected faith leaders, the compassionate Samaritan— inside your own soul.
The moment you read this last sentence, I’m confident you know it is deeply and powerfully true.
Traditionally, we interpret this parable, and our relationship to it, externally. We look at the world, and ask, “Am I a Samaritan, or am I a Priest?”
I’m saying that inside your very being, your soul, your mind, your heart, you are all of these characters, at the same time. Some of them are likely more obvious to you at times than others.
Further, I’m suggesting that the same moral answer the parable gives to the question “Who is my neighbor?” can also lead us to understand “Who am I?”
Sometimes, I am my own Inner-Wounded Traveler, and I foolishly travel a dangerous road alone.
Some days, I am my own worst enemy. My Inner-Wounded Traveler knows that the road from Jerusalem to Jericho is a dangerous road. (Everyone in Jesus’ time knew this…)
But I over-estimate my own ability to control myself and my own surroundings. I misjudge how dangerous the road is, and I set out on the dangerous road, alone, instead of asking for help.
I am sure you know how this is a distinct problem for many men. We tend to overestimate our powers and our ability to control ourselves and our surroundings. Sometimes we are admired for this; because, sometimes, all goes well when we risk taking dangerous road.
Other times, we crash and burn spectacularly.
Theologians have long surmised that the road described here was a known-haven for bandits and thieves. They’ve suggested listeners in Jesus’ day would have said, “Well, serves that guy right…traveling a dangerous road by himself…”
And these are exactly the same harsh words my Inner-Wounded Traveler so often speaks to me, in my time of need.
When I am harmed, left for dead by the side of the road by own, cruel, Inner-Bandits, I victim-blame myself.
“You should have known better…you deserve what you got. You fool…you should have never tried to walk this road by yourself. You should have asked for help earlier.”
“You SHOULD have…”
There is nothing good that comes from this, of course.
But I do it to myself…and I know you do it as well. We do these things, not because we are flawed, but because we are human.
Sometimes, I am the Inner-Wounded Traveler, and have foolishly, or naively, walked a dangerous road alone.
Sometimes, I am the robbers. I am my own Inner-Bandit.
It could be that my inner self-harm comes from my own previous trauma….from generational harm that I have internalized…from messages my parents gave me, or some external abuser first visited on me.
But, some days, I engage in self-harm. I self-sabotage the best intentions of my Inner-Traveler.
I make goals. I have good intentions. (The Inner-Traveler often starts out hopeful and confident…)
But soon after, I “rob” myself of my own future. As Paul once said, “I do the very thing I hate…”
My own Inner-Bandit, “beats myself up.”
And then, I “beat myself up” for beating myself up.
It’s a horrible cycle of self-shame, self-recrimination, and self-loathing. But I bet you do it too. Again, not because you are flawed. But because you are human.
Instead of loving myself, some days I am my own Inner-Bandit, and my own worst self robs and beats-up my own best self.
Sometimes, I am the religious leaders. I am my own Inner-Aloof Priest.
This is the part that all of us who call ourselves Christians need to really hear. Because instead of taking time to love ourselves —to stop and aid our bleeding, wounded, selves— our Inner-Priest just “passes by on the other side.”
When I am this character, I tell myself that I have have “important” work to do. I can’t stop for self-love or self-care.
I have family, ministry, and other people to care for. I mean, how can I stop to help some hurt part of myself? Somebody else is counting on me. I don’t have time for this.
“I’ll just power-through,” my Inner-Aloof Priest tells me, “I’ll be fine.”
“Sure,” I look down to note, “I’m bloodied and in shock… but somebody else will come and help me….or maybe if I just ignore it…that gaping wound will go away…”
This next part is important to say:
My Inner-Aloof Priest often appears “together” to the external world.
My robes are clean.
My face is calm.
I can quote scripture.I can lead worship and say prayers.
This happens, as with the other characters, not because I am flawed, or because religious belief is flawed. But because I am human.
In point of fact, in those moments when my Inner-Aloof Priest is working very hard to keep up the outward appearance of having things together, I am not at all together. I’m actually a wreck, and only pretending to know what I’m doing.
This is the paradox at the heart of all religious belief…the difference between religious knowledge and religious practice.
We all can know a commandment with our head, or even feel it our heart, (In this case, the command to “love of oneself”) but we can still fail to do the commandment with our “hands and feet.”
So, those are the first three characters:
My Inner-Wounded Traveler.
My Inner-Aloof Priest.
Contemporary Christian mystic, Jim Finley once suggested that we sometimes act out “violence on parts of ourselves.”
Jim Finley says…those competing “voices” inside your head?
Oh, they’re real.
And they are “at war” within you, and with your best self. Jim Finley says it this way:
“In meditation we catch ourselves waging violence on parts of ourselves. This is the seedbed of War. All violence is the act of acting out our own violence toward our own heart.”
Read that over several times, until the powerful truth of it seeps deeply into your being.
All external violence begins with internal violence inside ourselves. As Aleksander Solzhenitsyn once said the dividing line between good and evil “runs through every human heart.”
This is why so many of us find prayer and meditation to be hard work.
Because, there’s always a lot going on in there…
To push the metaphor of the parable, then, Finley might suggest that “violence” begins with that struggle between the Inner-Wounded Traveler, the Inner-Bandits, and the Inner-Aloof Priest, who live inside us all.
But, when I am in my “right mind,” ( to use Jesus’ phase…) I am also that one, final, and blessed character:
I am my own Inner-Good Samaritan.
The Samaritan’s part of the story is powerful, and teaches us important parts of self-love as well as love of neighbor.
Jesus teaches that when the Samaritan looks upon the injured person, “he was moved with compassion.”
Longtime readers of mine will recall that THIS IS MY FAVORITE BIBLICAL WORD. (more here.)
It is such an under-appreciated word. It only appears in the Gospel a few times, but it’s alway important when it does.
“Compassion” in this passage is the Biblical word, “Splagchnizomai.”
Compassion/Splagchnizomai here denotes a kind of deep-level love and compassion that far outstrips romantic love.
Compassion/Splagchnizomai means something like: To be moved, as in the bowels, hence to be moved with compassion, to moved with compassion, to feel compassion. It denotes a deep seated “feeling” and “emotion,” a visceral reaction of love, compassion and empathy.
It’s an immediate desire to love, care for, help, “the other.”
When I am in my right mind, and when I see my own Inner-Wounded Traveler by the side of the road, my journey to healing begins with self-compassion. It is only when I speak, and act, compassionately toward myself, that I will be truly healed.
If I choose the self-critical voice of the Inner-Wounded Traveler, the self-harming voice of the Inner-Bandit, or the self-denying voice of the Inner-Aloof Priest, I will stay stuck in the ditch. It is only when my Inner-Samaritan’s voice of compassion speaks that I can truly find my way home.
My compassionate Inner Samaritan understands that inner healing takes time, resources, and energy.
The Good Samaritan in the story “bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper.”
Then, the Good Samaritan promises to show up the next day and check on the wounded man.
When I am in my “right mind,” then, and being loving and self-compassionate, my Inner-Good Samaritan does all these things for my Inner-Wounded Traveler too.
I take time..
I tend wounds…
I spend my resources…money, treasure..
And I do it again the next day too…
When my Inner Samaritan acts in self-compassion —and when I do it again and and again over time and with intention— my Inner-Wounded Traveler can heal.
Time and again, people tell me, “Eric, sometimes I say things to myself that I would never say to another human being…”
We all do this. I do it. As i’ve said several times already: This is not because you are flawed. This is because you are human.
But, you know, and I know, those voices are relentless.
We are the Wounded Traveler.
We are the Cruel Bandits.
We are the Aloof Priest.
They all live inside you. And inside of me.
And they always will.
What I’m suggesting today is that this iconic parable not only gives us Jesus’ roadmap for: “who is my neighbor?”
It also suggests Jesus’ roadmap for: “Who are we?”
When you own harsh inner voices rear their heads and rule your life —as they will always try to do— listen for the compassionate voice of your own Inner-Good Samaritan.
Their compassionate voice, and their loving actions, are the true voice of God in your life; and a crucial part of how your Inner-Wounded Traveler will heal.