Advent 2020

Love Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

The Yale vs. Harvard football game in 1968 was one of the greatest tie games to ever be played. The annual contest between the two fierce Ivy League rivals is known as “The Game”. This edition of the game was the first since 1909 to feature both teams undefeated. With 42 seconds remaining in the game, Yale led 29-13. The outcome all but assured.

The Bulldogs of Harvard scored 16 points in those 42 seconds to tie the game. The comeback was so dramatic that the Harvard student newspaper, The Crimson, ran a headline that said: Harvard Beats Yale 29-29. It was truly an amazing game and if you are a football fan it would be worth your time to watch the documentary with the same name as the headline.

When I was in high school one of the stars of the Yale football team that year came to Fayetteville, NC to speak at the annual Mid-South Conference Football Banquet. A family friend got us tickets and we were able to meet and talk to Calvin Hill former Dallas Cowboy and pro-bowl NFL player. Calvin is also the father of Grant Hill the former Duke basketball star and NBA player who is a minority owner of the Atlanta Hawks.

I’ll bet you don’t know who played for Harvard in that game. One of the players was none other than Tommy Lee Jones, the Oscar winning actor. Most people don’t know that Tommy Lee Jones played football much less that he went to Harvard. What is even more amazing is that his roommate at Harvard was none other than Al Gore, the future member of the House of Representatives and Senator from Tennessee, Vice-President of the United States and 2000 Democratic nominee for President.

While on sabbatical in 1968, Erich Segal met those two roommates while working on a novel. He based the main character on a combination of Al Gore and Tommy Lee Jones. According to Segal “only the emotional family baggage of the romantic hero…was inspired by a young Al Gore. But it was Gore’s Harvard roommate, Tommy Lee Jones, who inspired the half of the character that was a sensitive stud, a macho athlete with the heart of a poet.”

The book, later a movie, was called “Love Story” and the character was Oliver Barrett IV.

Read – Luke 10:25-37

Everyone knows this story. Even people who have never read the Bible have heard about The Good Samaritan. Even if they don’t know any of the actual story, they know what the general idea of a “Good Samaritan” is.

I’ve read and heard this story hundreds of times in my life. It’s an occupational hazard of growing up in a family full of preachers. But I don’t think I really ever paid attention to how the story was framed. This whole time I thought Jesus was only telling the Lawyer the answer to his question, “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan and then poses the question back to the lawyer: “Which one of these men was a neighbor to the man who was robbed?” The lawyer answers that the Samaritan was the neighbor, and Jesus says, “Go and do the same.” What a nice little story, but of course because I have given you a 500 word introduction there is MUCH MUCH more to this than to just go and be a good person.

Just prior to the question about neighbors from the lawyer, the lawyer asked another question of Jesus: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus knowing this was likely an attempt to trap him asks a question of his own, “What is written in the law? How does it read to you?”

I can almost see the lawyer’s eyes light up because he’s heard what Jesus said about this before: “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 your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus eyebrows go up in that way that teachers’ eyebrows do when their students have done the homework and says, “You have answered correctly; do this and live.”

What follows that exchange is the part about the Good Samaritan. The point of the Good Samaritan isn’t about determining who your neighbor is, it is about establishing both who your neighbor is and what loving your neighbor looks like. Knowing your neighbor isn’t enough, you must love them.

In Erich Segal’s novel Oliver has a complicated relationship with his father. He grew up quite wealthy and when he married he was cut off from his father’s fortune because his father did not approve of his marrying Jenny. After awhile Oliver and Jenny decide to start a family. After trying to get pregnant for quite awhile they go to a doctor for help.

It turns out that Jenny has leukemia and doesn’t have long to live. The medical care has strained their meager budget and Oliver makes a call to his Dad for financial assistance. Only, he doesn’t tell his Dad the truth because he is afraid that the relationship with Jenny would prevent any funds from being transferred.

Oliver’s Dad eventually figures out that Jenny is sick and that Oliver needed the money for her. He realizes his error and sets out for New York arriving too late as Jenny has died. He apologizes to his son for everything right there in the hospital.

I can imagine the priest and Levite walking along the road and seeing the man lying there bleeding to death, crossing on the other side of the street and saying, “I’m sorry I just can’t help you, I don’t want to accidentally touch a dead body. I would then be unclean.” Both with totally rational reasons for making an apology and going along their way. The man who was robbed that night on the road to Jericho didn’t need their apologies. He needed their love.

You see the whole point of that exchange with Jesus and the lawyer was that love, real love, the love of Christ that we celebrate this Advent season is more than knowledge, its action. What the Samaritan did that night was live out this love that Jesus was talking about. The same words that Oliver told his Dad as he broke down in tears in the hospital just after Jenny died.

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Sing – O Come All Ye Faithful

Pray

Almighty God, grant us in equal measure; Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Hope in a Savior, Peace in our world, Joy in our hearts, and Love for our fellow man. In the name of Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate this Advent season, Amen.

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