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Guest Speaker 3/30/08
If The Shoe Fits – Matthew 19:19

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If The Shoe Fits
by George Boose

Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19)

A young missionary, fresh out of seminary, moved with his wife and small, two-year old son, to a tiny village in Alaska to minister to the local native Eskimo population. To reach this remote location required the family to take several connecting flights in small three and four passenger planes. These bouncy flights so terrified the little boy that he would cover his head with his favorite blanket until the plane would gently settle down on the dirt landing strips. This security blanket soon became the lad’s almost constant companion during the difficult months of adjustment as the family learned to live far from what we would call civilization. He never went to sleep without the blanket held tightly in his grasp.

A few months after their arrival in Alaska, the young missionary was called back to the lower 48 states for an important meeting. He hurriedly packed for the trip while his son followed him about the apartment, obviously agitated that his father would be flying in one of those scary little airplanes. When the missionary finally arrived in his hotel in Indianapolis and began to unpack, he was horrified to find that his son’s blanket was neatly folded inside the suitcase. He immediately rushed to the telephone and called his wife, apologizing that their child would not be able to go to sleep that night because his blanket was missing. But his wife calmed him down and explained what had happened. She said that as the little airplane was taking off, she said a prayer out loud asking God for safety, knowing how frightened her son was of small plane rides. But when she had finished, their little son in turn comforted his mother by saying, “It’s OK, Mom, I gave Daddy my blanket to keep him safe.

What a wonderful story of sacrificial love. With a childlike perception, the little boy believed his father would be scared of the plane ride, just as he was, and he tried to provide a solution. You can say he was willing to walk in his father’s shoes and empathize with his pain. How often are we willing to walk in someone else’s shoes, to understand their situation, to act accordingly? I think that’s an exercise we too often fail to undertake.

In the story of the Good Samaritan we see a perfect example of someone who was willing to put himself in someone else’s shoes – and then respond as he should. Let’s just read part of that very familiar parable again. “…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. 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… But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him” (Luke 10:30-33). And not only did he take pity, he put his “pity” into action – he bandaged the man’s wounds, he put him on his own donkey and transported him to an inn, he left silver coins for his care, and he promised to return to pay any extra expenses. The Samaritan recognized what he himself would need if he had suffered a similar fate – he put himself in the other man’s shoes. We often hear the expression, “If the shoe fits, wear it.” This is an example of the perfect fit. The Samaritan saw the other man’s plight, he tried on the shoes, they pinched, and he made the situation better.

What a wonderful plan of action is provided in this story of the Good Samaritan. We might not come across someone who was a robbery victim and lies discarded by the side of the road, but almost every day we probably know someone who is hurting in some way. Put yourself in that person’s place – Imagine what you yourself would need – and then, do it. We might not always respond like we should when we see someone in need, but the story of the Good Samaritan is very easy to understand. We might see a person who has lost his way, had some sort of accident, dropped his tray of food – it’s not too hard to imagine that the same thing might happen to you. You can figure out pretty quickly how someone could help you in such a circumstance. Knowing what to do isn’t really difficult – making ourselves do it is a little tougher.

There are some circumstances when it is much more difficult to sympathetically put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Sometimes a person takes a bite out of us, not literally with their teeth, but with something that is said, and that hurts even more. I think we all can understand why an animal bites. I saw a story about a man whose beloved pet dog was hit by a truck. The dog’s back legs were crushed. The poor dog, howling in pain, tried to pull itself to the side of the street. The dog’s owner rushed out and tried to help his faithful friend. The dog bit him. Why did the dog bite – because he was mean or vicious or trained to attack? No – the dog bit because he was hurting.

People often react in much the same manner. Maybe we meet a person who has just suffered a very painful experience – the loss of a loved one, the disintegration of a long-standing relationship, loss of a job, or some other unexpected tragedy. People usually won’t have any physical marks, any crushed legs like the dog, to let you know how much they’re hurting. But like the dog, they have a tendency to “bite” when you make contact. How easy it is to react in kind – to bite back, and harder. But then how do you feel when you finally find out the troubles that person was trying to bear? We need to pray, “Oh God! Help me not to bite back at people, but to be patient, tenderhearted and sympathetic. Help me, Father, to put myself in their shoes, to understand they are biting because of some terrible pain they feel. Amen.” We need to recognize the bite as a symptom of pain and try to be a “pain doctor” – treating the pain in someone else’s life.

When Jesus was being led to His crucifixion – beaten and tormented along the way – perhaps the greatest literal example of what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes occurred. Let us read from the Book of Mark: “Again and again they struck Him on the head with a staff and spit on Him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to Him. And when they had mocked Him, they took off the purple robe and put His own clothes on Him. Then they led Him out to crucify Him. A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross” (Mark 15:10-21). Prisoners sentenced to death were usually forced to carry the beam of the cross, which weighed about 30 to 40 pounds, to the place of execution. But Jesus had been so severely flogged He didn’t have the strength to make it all the way under His own power and carry the cross also. So Simon – a visitor from Cyrene – was drafted into service. We can say He was forced to walk in Jesus’ shoes as He carried the cross to Golgotha.

How quickly Simon’s whole being was engulfed in the stupefying terror of the moment. He must have thought, “What if they somehow mistake me for a prisoner? What if they crucify me.” His legs went weak, his heart pounded, he must have wept and cried aloud, “Why me? Why me?” Perhaps the whip of a Roman soldier landed upon Simon’s back if he stumbled. But as far as we know, after the forced trip to the place of crucifixion was complete, Simon was released to return to his family. Simon probably stood by with the other onlookers as Christ was nailed to the cross and lifted into the air. But surely Simon alone knew just a little better than the others how Jesus was suffering. Simon had walked in his shoes.

Are we willing to walk in someone else’s shoes? The little boy knew how scared he was to fly, so he sacrificed his own blanket to comfort his father. The Good Samaritan could envision himself beaten and abandoned by the roadside. He was able to understand what the robbery victim needed. Most important, the good Samaritan was willing to provide the help, the kind touch, the needed care, as the rest of the world passed by on the other side of the road. Sometimes the hurt isn’t obvious; a person “bites” for apparently no good reason. We don’t easily recognize the shoes he’s wearing. But with patience, love and compassion the bites can be overcome and the cause of the hurt discovered.

Simon of Cyrene didn’t wake up on that Passover Friday and decide to do a good deed. You could say his feet were forcibly shoved into Jesus’ shoes. Simon learned the hard way. Fortunately, God doesn’t impose the problems of everyone we should be helping directly upon us. He allows us to imagine how it might be to walk in their shoes. We have the luxury of observing from afar and saying, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Just imagining how it feels to walk in someone’s shoes doesn’t really help. We need to translate our concern, our understanding, our love into action. The famous composer Oscar Hammerstein once wrote, “A bell’s not a bell ‘till you ring it. A song’s not a song ‘till you sing it. Love in your heart is not put there to stay. Love isn’t love ‘till you give it away.” Jesus said, “…love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19). Walk in your neighbor’s shoes and put your love into action.

This is from "Sermons for Seniors" by George Boose, and it is used with permission of the author.  The audio is by Ron Beckham

Father, forgive us and help us to trust in the Lord. Fill us with Your Spirit and enable us to put love into action in this lost world. In Jesus Name. Amen.

George Boose, Guest Speaker
Friday Study Ministries

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