Honesty and Kindness
A cab driver in San Francisco drove the streets of his city for more than an hour until he found the woman who had been a passenger. The cause of the search was that the woman had left her purse in the cab. A purse with $1,792 in cash.
It could of course be argued the woman was a bit careless carrying that much cash, but the point of the story is that the cab driver did what he could to make sure the woman got her money back.
That act led to the cab driver being ridiculed by his fellow drivers. They made fun of him for not pocketing the money.
His response? The cab driver said, “I am a card-carrying member of the Christian faith. What good is it to go to church if you do not practice what you preach?”
Honesty and kindness. Those qualities were displayed by the San Francisco cab driver. They are characteristics we, too, who are followers of God are to display, which is taught in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
We will consider an Old Testament example first, that being in chapter 23 of the Book of Exodus. A chapter among many that record laws God gave to His people.
We are going to concentrate on the first 10 verses of Exodus 23. As we consider each of the verses, let’s think about how honesty and kindness are shown by obeying each of the laws.
Exodus 23:1. “You shall not utter a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man, to be a malicious witness.”
You shall not utter a false report. That law is of course a call to honesty. We are not to testify falsely against anyone, that applying not only in a court of law, but also in general conversation. We are not to say things against someone that we do not know to be true.
According to a commentary I read, this can be extended to not listening to false reports, which is what is referred to with the words “join hands with.”
We are to have nothing to do with false reporting. We are not to speak such reports, we are not to listen to such reports, and if we do hear such reports, we are to walk away or, if we can, argue against them.
The gist of the law in verse 1 is that we are not to give or listen to false testimony against a poor person, which might happen as a way to get in the good graces of a rich person who might be suing the poor person, the rich person here described as “wicked” and “malicious.” Not that all rich people are wicked and malicious, but sometimes they are when they deal with the poor.
Concerning not joining hands with wicked people - verse 2 - “You shall not follow a multitude to do evil.”
That, I think, alludes to mob mentality. Even if everyone around you seems to be getting into false reporting - even if there is pressure for you to join in - you and we are not to do so.
I remember in elementary school I had a fellow student named Jimmy. He was not very clean. He was not the smartest kid in class. Of course, neither was I, but Jimmy had a bit of a mean streak as well.
Jimmy was not popular. One day, on the playground, something happened. The one who got hurt - a cute little girl - blamed Jimmy.
Jimmy denied having done anything. Back in the classroom, the teacher asked the class who we believed, Jimmy or the cute little girl who had been hurt. “Who do you believe?” the teacher asked. Immediately, all the hands - including mine, I should be ashamed to admit - were raised when the teacher asked, “Who believes the girl? Who thinks Jimmy is lying?”
I had not witnessed the incident. I knew nothing about what had happened. I am ashamed to admit I was guilty that day of giving a false report. I was guilty of following the multitude.
Of course, Jimmy probably did do the dastardly deed, but all I had to go on was his appearance and his mean streak and the fact that everyone else said he was guilty.
What I did was wrong. Maybe I can blame my age, but what I did was wrong. Wrong according to Exodus 23:1-2. Do not utter a false report. Do not join hands with the wicked. Do not follow a multitude to do evil. “Do not,” as verse 2 continues, “pervert justice.”
As mentioned, the gist is to not mistreat the poor in any of those ways, but listen to verse 3. “Nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his suit.”
It seems like not so many years ago, being comfortable financially was a good thing. Something we were all to strive to accomplish. But have you, too, noticed that over the past few years, those with money are so often vilified? The idea being portrayed so many times seems to be that those who are rich must have cheated and are selfish and deplorable human beings.
The result, at least at times, is an overabundance of support for the poor. I use the word “overabundance” because, as the Bible states, God is not a respecter of persons. To Him, all are important, rich and poor alike. Neither is to be favored over the other.
The point? The teaching? Do not lie to favor the rich. Do not lie to favor the poor. Find the truth. Speak the truth. Again, not only in courts of law, but in general conversation as well. Verse 7. “Keep far from a false charge. Do not slay those who are innocent and righteous,” whether they are rich or poor.
All that is a teaching from God. All that has to do with honesty.
As mentioned, we are also to show kindness, which takes us to verse 4. “If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him.”
Did we catch the word “enemy?” If you meet an enemy’s ox or donkey going astray.
What would be the natural reaction to such an event? Maybe joy that the enemy was suffering. Maybe a sneering comment like, “If he was more careful, he would not have that problem.” Maybe helping the ox or donkey to escape. At the least, the natural, human nature response would be to turn away and do nothing to help.
But that is not God’s way. God teaches in verse 4 that if your enemy’s animal goes astray… Of course, except for maybe a dog or a cat, that is not going to happen in a city. This applies to any problem an enemy has. If your enemy’s animal goes astray, you are to grab the animal and take it back to its owner.
And verse 5. “If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving the animal with it. You shall help the animal [you shall help another person if he or she is burdened] to lift it up,” which calls for even more of a physical effort to help.
Again, this refers to an enemy. One who hates you. Is it a natural thing to help? Definitely not, but it is what God teaches us - challenges us - to do, which is most certainly an example of kindness.
Mixing honesty and kindness, as it is described in Exodus 23, will continue in a bit. But now, let’s take this concept into the New Testament and think about what Jesus said about it in a parable He told. A parable recorded in chapter 10 of Luke, beginning with verse 25.
The parable was in answer to a question posed by a lawyer, who stood up to put Jesus “to the test.” That wording indicates the lawyer’s intent was not to learn something of spiritual importance, which did happen in another case with the same question. Here the intent was apparently to try to trick Jesus into saying something by which the Lord would get into trouble. The lawyer asked, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus answered that question with two of His own. “What is written in the law? How do you read?”
The lawyer answered, “The law [which, by the way, as a lawyer, he knew] says you shall 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 you shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
Jesus said, You have answered right. Do this, and you will live.”
Remember the lawyer’s point was to test Jesus, so he was not about to let Jesus off so easily. He continued the conversation by saying, I think in a nasty tone of voice, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus’ answer was a parable. Jesus began, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.”
That, by the way, was a dangerous route. With lots of crooks and turns and big rocks many places along the way, there were convenient places for robbers to hide before attacking anyone passing by. It was especially dangerous for a person to travel the road alone. A person alone had no possible defense except himself, which was rarely enough.
So it was that the man in the parable fell among robbers. They stripped the man, including any valuables he had with him. The robbers beat him, then departed, leaving the man half dead.
“Now by chance a priest was going down that road.” Why the priest was traveling alone, I do not know. Maybe religious leaders were off limits to robbers, but again, this is a parable. A story told to make a point. Sometime after the robbing and the beating, a priest came to the scene. “When the priest saw the man half dead, he passed by on the other side.”
That, it should be mentioned, makes perfect sense for at least a couple reasons.
If religious leaders were not off limits, the road was also dangerous to the priest. Maybe the man was only pretending to be hurt. If the priest went to his aid, maybe the man would jump up as others would jump out of hiding. Maybe the priest would be stripped and beaten.
Or the man might not have been half dead, but completely dead. If a priest touched a dead body, he could not perform priestly duties for a time. The priest in the parable probably did not want to take the chance of not being able to do his work.
So it was that the priest, crossing to the opposite side of the road, passed by the injured man.
“Likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw the injured man, passed by on the other side,” no doubt for the same reasons.
However, “a Samaritan…” A Samaritan. A man from Samaria. A man from the middle part of the Jewish homeland.
Judea was to the south. It was the most important section of the homeland. The most respected people lived there.
Galilee was to the north. People there were considered not very important or influential.
Samaria was in the middle. The people there were looked down upon by everyone else. In fact, some important religious people would not even set foot on Samaritan soil. When going between Judea and Galilee, they would actually walk to the east of the border of the nation. That is how despised Samaritans were.
All that was caused by the Samaritans’ decision, centuries earlier, to not stay true to their faith during a time of extreme persecution.
But the Samaritan, as he journeyed on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, came to where the injured man was, when the Samaritan saw the man, the Samaritan had compassion.
That is amazing because, remember, Samaritans were hated. Assuming the injured man was not himself a Samaritan, he and the third man passing by were enemies. But instead of passing by on the other side of the road, “the Samaritan went to the man. He bound the man’s wounds after pouring oil and wine on them. Then he set the injured man on his own beast and took him to an inn.”
What wonderful care. But there was more. In the inn, the Samaritan continued to take care of the man. He did that through the night. The next day the Samaritan took out two denarii, which was he common wage for two days of work by a common working man. “The Samaritan took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, keep a record. I will repay you when I come back.’”
Remember the point when we were in Exodus 23. Sometimes we need to do something to help. Something physical. Again, we are not to lie to favor the rich or the poor. That is certainly important. But sometimes we need to make a physical effort to help.
That is what the parable told by Jesus affirms. And it was not just physical help the Samaritan offered. Physical help seen in him risking his safety and then putting the injured man on his animal, meaning the Samaritan had to walk, and physically tending to the injured man, doing so on the road and then all night. The Samaritan also provided financial help, paying for the room and promising. Maybe the Samaritan had traveled that road before and had stayed at that inn before. There is no indication his honesty to pay later was questioned. He promised to refund any medical expenses incurred by the innkeeper.
Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three [the priest, the Levite, the Samaritan] do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers.”
The lawyer answered, “The one who showed mercy on him.”
Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Jesus said in the New Testament what God spoke in the Old Testament. Be honest and kind, even to your enemies. The Old Testament teaching is to help an enemy with his animals. The New Testament teaching is to help enemies with their physical problems. But the teaching is to be kind and honest.
And back to honesty, consider this teaching, back in Exodus 23. “You shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.”
Remember the earlier teaching to not give false reports for or against the poor or the rich? The teaching that such reports pervert justice? God adds to that the teaching to not accept bribes to be for or against the poor or the rich. Bribes “subvert justice.”
Then this. “You shall not oppress a stranger. God explained why. “You know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” That refers to the years the people of God lived in Egypt, first as immigrants in search of food scarce everywhere else because of a world-wide famine, then as slaves in Egypt.
Back then the people of God knew the rigors of being strangers. The people back then would have appreciated some kindness shown to them. That is what God told them - and us - to do. Do not oppress a stranger.
God also taught us to be kind to the poor. The Exodus passage ends with this. “For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat.”
What? If the land is left to rest, how is there to be anything in the field for the poor to eat? What I read is that even if a field is not planted, there will still be something that grows from seeds left over from the year before. It is what grows from those seeds that the poor were free to take for their food.
Wild beasts were also allowed to eat from such fields, but it was not to be just fields. God added, “You shall do likewise with your vineyard and with your olive orchard.”
Honesty and kindness. Both are important individually. How good it is to put the two together. That is what the cab driver in San Francisco did. That is what the good Samaritan did. That is what Jesus taught us to do. That is what God taught us to do. Let’s do that, which will help us to honor God and bless others.
Again the question. “What good is it to go to church if you do not practice what you preach?”
For today’s closing song, the hymn Help Us, O Lord, to Learn.
Help us, O Lord, to learn
The truths Thy word imparts;
To study that Thy laws may be
Inscribed upon our hearts.
Help us, O Lord, to live
The faith which we proclaim,
That all our thoughts and words and deeds
May glorify Thy name.
Help us, O Lord, to teach
The beauty of Thy ways,
That yearning souls may find the Christ
And sing aloud His name.
With both the Exodus passage and the Parable of the Good Samaritan in mind, may you and I, individually and as a congregation, be willing to reach out and touch others with both honesty and kindness. Including, as is taught in both passages, those who are enemies. Including, as is taught in the parable, those who are neighbors.
As anyone has a need, let’s reach out to help them, doing so in obedience to God. Let’s reach out, pouring God’s light on all we can. Amen.