The Heart of a Chaplain

The Heart of a Chaplain . . .

Chaplaincy is a threefold ministry. It is a ministry of presence , a ministry of compassion, and a ministry of silence . I believe the story of the Good Samaritan describes chaplaincy work beautifully.

Jesus, when asked the question by a lawyer—”Who is my neighbor?”, answered by giving this parable: Then Jesus said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, “take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.” So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37)

None of us are exempt from danger. It can meet us anywhere and anytime; on the road to Jericho; in a pizza parlor in Jerusalem; at the Twin Towers of New York City; to the streets of your own city. Danger can come from across the street, as well as from the other side of the globe. Wherever mankind is, there will always be danger.

In this story, the man was physically beaten. However, many times we can be stripped, beaten and left for dead emotionally, mentally and spiritually, as well. This parable is not so much about “Who is my neighbor?”, but rather, it’s about “Who am I a neighbor to?” In other words, how do I treat my fellow man? As this man lie’s half-dead, on the ground, along comes a priest (vs 31) who sees him. And what does he do? He crosses the road and passes by on the other side. He turned his back on a person in need. Think with me for a moment: Here’s a man as close to God as one can probably be: he knows the Scripture: he teaches others the Scripture: Sadly, he just doesn’t want to live the Scripture. This priest should have been filled with sympathy and tenderness toward this person in need, and yet, he was filled with emptiness. He might have looked good on the outside with his fancy robe and tassels, but on the inside, he was filled with dead men’s bones. He was rotten to the core.

Next, a Levite, one who assisted the priest comes along (vs 32) This guy does a little more than the priest did. He comes upon the scene and at least takes a moment to look down at the person in need. He stops and investigates the situation, more out of curiosity than compassion. In the end, he responds no differently from that of the priest, for he also crosses the road and passes by on the other side. Perhaps he thought to himself, “I’m just too busy and if I stay here too long, I might just get attacked myself and end up lying in the dirt next to this guy. Besides, he’ll probably be dead in an hour or so. No reason to waste my time on a hopeless case.” Sadly, many of Gods people follow the example of this priest and Levite as they come up with excuse-after-excuse as to why they don’t help people. “I don’t have time to talk to Joe.” “I need to finish that project at home.” “I promised my son I’d take him to a ballgame.” Or perhaps, “I’m afraid if I try to help Joe, he won’t appreciate my help. There are other people who can help Joe, and besides, he’s a hopeless case. This priest and Levite knew the condition of this man. They just didn’t care! They weren’t willing to take the time to try to help and comfort this man in need. Neither of these men had any love or compassion for this man in need because they had no love for God. Jesus said, “If you love Me, obey Me.” The Apostle John wrote, “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). Had the priest and Levite loved God, they would have shown love to this man. I believe it’s fair to say that these religious men were about as holy as they could conveniently be. Their lives were just too busy to help others. This priest and Levite knew the condition of this man. They just didn’t care! They weren’t willing to take the time to try to help and comfort this man in need.

Can you imagine yourself in need of medical attention and someone coming upon you, standing over you, looking down at you and saying to you, “You’re a bloody mess! Let me help you. I’ll go call the medics. Oh yea, here’s a gospel tract. Be warmed and filled, and I’ll be praying for you.” All the while, he leaves you lying there wounded and dying. I know that it’s easy for us to condemn the attitude of the priest and Levite, but the truth of the matter is, the same situations exist today. They ignored this man for whatever reason and so do we. Perhaps in times past we’ve allowed the color of a man’s skin, his social upbringing, his lifestyle or his position in life to affect the way we respond to him. Perhaps we’ve passed by people because they didn’t meet our qualifications.

Each of these men saw this man lying on the ground. Each saw that he had been stripped, beaten and left for dead, but only one, a hated half-breed Samaritan was a neighbor to the man and showed it through compassion. Verse 33, “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was (MINISTRY OF PRESENCE) And when he saw him, he had compassion” (MINISTRY OF COMPASSION). Just as the Lord always showed compassion for the people, so this man shows compassion for his fellow man. He was willing to get involved. He was willing to reach out. He was willing to extend a helping hand. This man was a doer, not a talker. This Samaritan was willing to throw caution to the wind and do what his conscience commanded. He sees the victim; he goes to the victim, unafraid of the enemy and what might happen to him; he shows compassion toward the victim; with his own hands, he bandages the victims wounds; he pours oil and wine on the victims injuries; he puts the victim gently on his own donkey; he takes him to the nearest inn; he gets him a room; he spends the night with him, taking care of him; he pays in advance for his expenses, and he promises the inn keeper to return and pay whatever expenses incur while he’s away. Notice that we don’t read of this Samaritan speaking a word to the victim. We only read of him rolling up his sleeves, getting his hands dirty and demonstrating what a true neighbor is (MINISTRY OF SILENCE)

This Samaritan is a great example of how we are to treat our neighbor. The Jews in this day considered their neighbor to be only those of their own race. As far as they were concerned, the Gentiles and particularly the half-breed Samaritans were unclean and were looked upon as dogs. All they were good for was to fan the flames of hell and anything beyond that wasn’t worth their time. This wounded man could very easily have been a Jew and this Samaritan could very easily have said, “Why should I help you, a Jew. You hate me. I’m nothing but a dog to you. It’s payback time!” Instead, he helps this man without asking any questions. He knew that a Jew with a broken leg felt as much pain as a Gentile or Samaritan with a broken leg. It didn’t matter who the man was. He wasn’t going to ignore his needs. All he saw was a wounded man who was in need of help and he did the best he could to help.

Jesus gives us the point of this story in verse 36 when He asked the lawyer, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” In other words, who responded to the aid of another person in need? The lawyer answered, “He who showed mercy to him.” We’re not to be like the priest and we’re not to be like the Levite, passing by the wounded and leaving them to take care for themselves. We need to be willing to get in there with the wounded; to help clean up their wounds and to change their bloody bandages. We need to help them deal with their heartache, their fractured lives, their insecurities, failures and grief, and not turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to it. Just as Jesus told that lawyer to go and do likewise, so He says the same to you and I. We are to go to the aid of our fellow man and do whatever we can to help him through his difficult times.

The goal of a chaplain is to proclaim the love of God to people by being a good neighbor and demonstrating Gods love to them in a tangible way. Jesus said, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

The objectives of a chaplain are three-fold; First, we desire to help comfort those who mourn: Second, we desire to help heal the brokenhearted by meeting their emotional and spiritual needs: Third, we desire to be the extension of Jesus’ hands and feet, and occasionally His mouthpiece, just as the Good Samaritan was.

A chaplain reaches out and touches people in a tangible way. He/she shows people his/her faith and concern by his/her works, not so much by his/her words. A chaplain is a “doer” of The Word and not merely a hearer and talker. I’m not saying that knowledge and biblical truth isn’t important, but this can come after we show mercy and compassion toward the person. A chaplain understands that we gain the ears of our listeners, not by telling them we care, but by showing them we care.

When the bottom drops out of the lives of people, they don’t want to listen to a sermon and they don’t want to read a tract. What they want is for someone to come alongside them and help lessen their pain. They want a shoulder to cry on. They want a person who cares; a person who will listen to their story; a person who will help bind up their physical, emotional and spiritual wounds. As it’s been said, “People don’t care how much we know, until they know how much we care.” That is the heart of a chaplain.

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