“Thinking Outside Our Cubical”
My favorite show on television by far is The Office. If you have never watched this show, it takes place in a paper company called Dunder-Mifflin. Michael Scott is the Regional Manager in the Scranton branch. He has a very peculiar management style to say the least. As you watch the show, you will notice that Michael oftentimes has difficulty thinking about anyone but himself. This is clearly shown in an episode in season two called “The Injury.” The episode begins when Michal Scott calls the Pam, the receptionist in the office and asks her to pick him up because he has burned his foot on a George Forman Grill. He explains this by saying that he likes to have breakfast in bed, but he does not have a butler, so he puts the grill at the end of the bed. When he wakes up, he puts bacon in the grill and plugs it in and goes back to sleep. When we wakes back up, he arises to the smell of bacon. On this particular occasion, when he stood up, he stepped on the grill and it clamped down on his foot.
While everyone else in the office gathers around the phone and laughs at Michael, Dwight hurries out to go pick him up. On his way out, he runs into the fence post and hits his head. As the episode goes on, it becomes clear that Dwight has a concussion, but Michael is getting mad because nobody in the office is giving him the sympathy that he thinks he deserves. Meanwhile, Dwight is getting worse and worse.
Finally Jim and a reluctant Michael drive Dwight to the hospital. Here is the conversation in the hospital.
Setting: Waiting Room
Michael What do I write under reason for visit?
Michael Scratches out something that he has written
Jim What did you write?
Michael UM nothing…. I wrote bringing someone to the hospital.
Jim So you wrote your reason for coming to the hospital.
Michael No No, You know what Jim, this isn’t about me anymore. I made a miraculous recovery today, which is more than I can say for him.
Dwight Falls over and Jims sprays him with water to keep him awake.
Setting: Seeing the doctor
Michael Doctor, what is more serious, a head injury or a foot injury?
Doctor A head injury
Michael Well you don’t have all the information, the foot was severely burned and healed quickly, very quickly. Like suspiciously quickly.
Doctor Ignoring Michael, tells Dwight, I am ordering a cat scan
Dwight What is that?
Michael Before the doctor can answer Since you have the machine up and running, can I stick my foot in so we can take a look?
Doctor For a burn we really only have to take a look at the outside of the foot.[i]
Even if this is the first time you have seen any of The Office you can quickly glimpse how self absorbed Michael is. His employee has a concussion, which can be serious if not treated and all Michael can do is think about himself. He is so self-centered that he cannot even fill out the medical form for Dwight without writing down the reason he is in the waiting room.
This clip shows what it looks like to be very self-absorbed. I think we can remember times when we ourselves or the people around of have acted in similar ways. Jesus certainly saw this same type of attitude in his own day. One day he ran into a confrontation that went as follows,
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
26 "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"
27 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' [c]; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' [d]"
28 "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"[ii]
To understand this conversation, the expert in the law probably was not coming up to Jesus because he really wanted to know the answer to this question. He was probably trying to do two things. One, he was trying to make Jesus look bad and, secondly trying to make himself look good. Jesus is not easily fooled, so he lets the man answer his own question. The expert is not happy with this, so he takes it one step further and asks Jesus who he thinks is his neighbor.
For us today, this seems like an easy question, but for Jesus and those around him, this was a big deal. The Jews believed their neighbors were fellow Jews because they were God’s chosen people. The real question being asked is, “Who does God command us to love?” If our neighbors are restricted to a certain group, then we are free to treat others outside this group any way we choose.
Jesus answers this question with a story,
30 In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 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. 35 The next day he took out two denarii [e] 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.'[iii]
Jesus tells the story of a man who is traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, which is a common route. This road had a lot of twists and turns in it, which made for a great hide out for robbers. As Jesus tells the story, some robbers jumped out and beat the man and left him on the ground to die. A priest and a Levite come by and walk to the other side of the road. Both of these people in Jesus story were likely on their way to work in the temple. In Jewish custom, it would have made them unclean to touch a dead person. More than likely they passed on the other side of the road so they would remain pure for their work in the temple.
If you think out this scenario it makes sense that these two holy persons serving in the temple would want to remain pure. After all, if they are defiled, they would not be able to perform their temple duties. Maybe they were thinking that it would be better to be safe so they would eventually be able to serve more people.
Then along comes a Samaritan, who would be bitter enemies with this man, who probably was Jewish. He sees him laying there and he takes pity on him. He then does more than feel sorry for him, he takes the time to pick him up, take him to an inn, looks after him for a day, and then pays to have him looked after.
The Jesus says, "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."[iv]
Most of the time when we think of this text, we really interpret this text to mean that we should be helpful. I do think this is part of what is happening, but I also believe there is much more theologically going on in the text. As I mentioned, the text is meant to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ answer is “everyone who is in need.” Just as Michael Scott needed to recognize that Dwight was the one who was truly in need and he needed to be their for Dwight, we have to understand that we have neighbors all around who are in need. This text is trying to help us look outside our own cubical, our own work space, our own church, our own community.
The reason the Samaritan was the one who truly loved his neighbor was because he was the one who was truly able to put aside his own personal needs in order to reach out to someone else. The two people who minister in the temple were so concerned with becoming impure and serving the needs of those close to them, that they neglected the one person in front of them with true needs. The real issue in this passage is about whether God’s love and grace is for our own security and well being, or is it about us extending this love and grace to the world.
The good news is that Michael Scott, at least a minute in one episode is able to put his own life on hold to be there for Dwight.
Scene: Walking to the X-Ray Machine
Nurse OK, No electronics past this point, cameras, sound equipment
Michael That’s OK, there with me.
Nurse No metal of anykind.
Michael Alright, well I guess this is where we leave you off.
Dwight I don’t want to do this.
Michael AHH I guess you should have thought about that before you crashed your head on your way to pick me up… Well see you when you get out.
Dwight Oh. Silence as Dwight looks hurt.
Michael Fine, fine. Michael puts his crutches down, takes off all his metal and hobbles into the room with Dwight.[v]
In this scene, it is clear that Michael has not totally learned to stop thinking about himself, but he does have to make a decision. He has been using these crutches because he burnt his foot and now he as to decide between keeping the crutches and neglecting to be with Dwight who is scared or giving up the crutches in order to be there for Dwight in his moment of need.
In the same way, Jesus is asking us through the story of the Samaritan who came to the aid of a wounded man, to give up a bit of our own time, energy, and resources, which oftentimes brings us security in order to show compassion to someone who is in need in the moment. That is the place where mission work begins.
[i] The Office “The Injury” Season Three, (Universal Studios: Airs on NBC)
[ii] TNIV Luke 10:25-29
[iii] TNIV Luke 10:30-35
[iv] TNIV Luke 10:36-37
[v] “The Injury”