What the Church Can Do for the Tired and Overworked
by Brandon Napoli
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “ ‘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.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
– Luke 10:25-37
I love how straightforward and clear this passage is on the law, eternal life, and being a neighbor. “All the laws of the prophets hang on these two commandments,” Jesus makes clear. “Do this [love your neighbor and God], and you will live.” Loving your neighbor means“to show mercy to him [the man in need].” (Luke 10:37)
But lately, I have reconsidered the meaning of Jesus’ direction at the end, “Go and do likewise.” I have moved from reading with the lens of being a good neighbor to the perspective of being an “innkeeper.” Would this story be possible without an inn and a compassionate innkeeper to host the injured man? What would the Samaritan have done had he been turned away? Is this story only relevant to physical wounds from being mugged, or can it be applied to emotional, spiritual, or other wounds obtained in life’s journey? How about the career journey we all are on? We’ve all experienced deep wounds from that part of life’s journey– could this story speak to that too?
The church for me has always been a place of gathering. As a teen it was for youth group on Tuesday nights and as an adult for service on Sunday mornings. That seemed sufficient when life was simpler. As I left small-town life and settled in a big city to grow in my career, I had less time for anything outside of work. Everything it seemed revolved around work. I’m not sure I could have a Sunday brunch without thinking, “How could this relate to my work?” I know I am not alone in this struggle to find time for my faith and to discover how that faith relates to my calling to work. However, while I know I am not alone, I feel alone,more and more. Quite the paradox.
Work trends in the US continue to show a busier, more independent workforce: one that is pained with increasing loneliness, distraction, uncertainty, and cost. My hope is these pains could be treated in churches– those places willing to become an “inn” for weary and wounded travelers. Notice in the story that the neighbor didn’t take the wounded man to a hospital. The inn had to be re-purposed as a place to tend to the wounds he received on the road. This was beyond the typical use of an inn, where one might usually stop for momentary rest. Instead this inn had become a place for recuperation and recovery. This inn became sacred – a gift from God – to the wounded man, in its faithfulness to adapt to his needs and nature of the environment. I imagine that this story gave vision to the early Christians who created the first hospitals, “hostel of God,” in the West.
What inspires me about this passage isn’t just the wisdom Jesus expresses but also the model he creates. Wisdom in practice is truly a remarkable thing. Here in Silicon Valley, it’s common to hear great ideas but it’s even more remarkable to see them executed well. Jesus’ model of hospitality is defined well by Henri Nouwen’s Wounded Healer: “Hospitality is the virtue that allows us to break through the narrowness of our own fears and to open our houses to the stranger, with the intuition that salvation comes to us in the form of a tired traveler. Hospitality makes anxious disciples into powerful witnesses, makes suspicious owners into generous givers, and makes closed-minded sectarians into interested recipients of new ideas and insights.”
Sacred Space is a coworking space that operates in a historic church in Palo Alto with a similar vision of re-purposing space to be sacred. We hope in some way that we could offer a place like the inn from Jesus’ parable– a place where people can recuperate and recover from wounds received along the road. We also hope to be a space of community and communal flourishing, starting in our church and our neighborhood. We communicate the vision for Sacred Space like this: Churches open every day filled with neighbors working with compassion (God), through collective leading (priesthood of all believers) committed to peace building (Shalom).
On April 21st, Passion Dialogs will convene influencers of spaces who have a heart to re-purpose space to be sacred. This includes all types of spaces, including land, home, and business. Passion Dialogs is a forum for honest, humble, and helpful conversations with an aim to catalyze conversation into action. These conversations give space to go beyond “Sunday best” presentations. When was the last time you heard in church to pass the peace of Christ while being asked how you show hospitality to your neighbor? Passion Dialogs creates a safe space to move through these crucial conversations into models of working faith.
More info on the Passion Dialogue event, Sacred Spaces, can be found here.