Chris O’Rear, M.Div., M.M.F.T.
Service of Healing
Belle Meade United Methodist Church
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
My counseling work is informed by two primary psychological theories. However, there are other theories that I can draw on when I feel it is appropriate for a particular client. One of those theories is GestaltTheory. Gestalt theory has a unique approach to interpreting dreams that involves looking at every element of a dream as if it represents some aspect of the dreamer. For example, a client of mine recently told me of a dream in which he was explaining God’s grace to another man. In a Gestalt-kind of reflection on that dream, we noted that the ideas of grace that he believes in his head and can offer others do not always translate into giving himself grace for things he has done. So, we wondered if in the dream, one part of him needed to teach another part of him about grace.
In preparing for this service, I realized that the same way of thinking might be applied to Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan. There is always a bit of risk in pressing any analogy or story too far, but I decided to try it.
As you recall, In Luke 10, Jesus is having a conversation with a man who asks Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked him what was in the law and what he saw there. The man answered that we should love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus said that this was true and if the man would do this, he would live. Just to be sure he was on the right path, the man asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”
30 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. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii,[a] gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
If we are to examine this passage with a Gestalt-like lens, then it seems we must first look at the man who was robbed and beaten. Perhaps you have known the horrible feeling of literally being robbed of your belongings, but it is more likely that that many of us can identify with being robbed of trust we had in another person or having certain dreams taken from us. We might feel beaten up by difficulties at work, financial struggles, physical issues, or perhaps we have suffered the woundedness of literally being assaulted or taken advantage of. Life can be very difficult and there are times when we can feel “half dead” and wonder if we can go on. Depression, anxiety, grief, betrayal, and losses of a many kinds can all rob us of hope and joy. We may, at times, feel as if we have been left by the side of the road and wonder who will come to help us?
In our examination of this passage, we might suggest then, that the Priest would represent our religious tradition or our faith. Surely, if we just have enough faith or if we pray the right way or pray long enough, things will get better. At least people say these things to hurting people way too often and it is like the person just passes us by. They don’t understand what it is like to hurt the way we do. Religious platitudes and clichés are rarely what hurting people need.
The next character we encounter is the “Levite”. Though the descendants of Levi were set apart as a priestly tribe, not all were priests. Others of the Levites were set apart to assist in worship in various ways. They would have also been scholars of the Jewish law and would have sought to keep themselves ceremonially clean. It is in this vein, that I imagine the part of us that views our emotional hurts and woundedness with contempt. When we think about hurts, we might think of ourselves as weak or we might hate that we can be so vulnerable as to be hurt by another. We can too often judge our hurts. We might try to make sense of them by thinking that we deserved what happened to us or that they were part of God’s punishment for us. In the same way that we might not offer help to a person in need if we think their situation is their own fault, we can also be judgmental of our own situations and feel like we don’t have the merit to warrant attending to our needs. Like the Levite may also have felt, we might be concerned about how much time it will take if we try to address the need. People sometimes think that if they really allow themselves to look at their hurt and feel their feelings of sadness and anger that those feelings will take over. There is a fear of opening a wound that we are afraid will never heal. We are sometimes afraid that if we seek help for our brokenness that it will take too much time or be too expensive (emotionally or financially), but the Samaritan is our true example here.
The Jews and the Samaritans were not friends. There was great tension between them. In the same way that we might feel dislike or hatred for our hurts. We sometimes want to reject the parts of us that can be hurt and the parts that cause us pain, but our hurts are not our enemies. They should not be strangers to us. The Samaritan of the story is moved by compassion, puts aside his prejudice and decides to treat the wounded man as a person instead of a problem. The Samaritan goes over the hurt man and investigates his wounds. He takes the time to tend to each one. The man on the road was not going to get better by being ignored. He was not going to heal by treating him like a problem. He could only heal when someone took the time to compassionately examine and evaluate the wounds and to provide treatment as he was able.
There is one last lesson we take from the Samaritan man. He did as much as he could by himself, but when the hurt man required more than the Samaritan could do, he asked for help. He did use some of his own resources to pay the innkeeper, but he could not stay in the town and just care for the wounded man. So, he enlisted help. Too often we feel that we should know how to take care of all our problems. We think we should be able to heal ourselves or fix everything ourselves. We may even see asking for help as sign of weakness, but this story of Jesus demonstrates that we can only do what we can do and then it is ok to ask someone else to help who can do more than we can by ourselves.
So, our Gestalt reflection kind of works, I think. We are all subject to hurt, disappointment, injury, illness, loss, betrayal, and more. Ignoring the hurts and feelings we have, doesn’t make them go away. True healing comes when take the time to live out of love, even for the parts of ourselves that we don’t like. Healing comes when we take the time to examine our hurts, identify them and allow ourselves to experience whatever feelings they bring. We have to remember that healing is not something that just happens with time and it is not something we can always do all by ourselves. It is not a weakness, but a sign of courage and wisdom to ask for help when you need it. Jesus said if we offer compassion to the one in need, as the Samaritan did, we will live. Of course, we are to offer that compassion to all we come in contact with as well, but we must also learn to love ourselves and have compassion for ourselves. Because Jesus also said, “Love your neighbor in the same way that you love yourself.”
How can you offer yourself some compassion?