Christianity 201

December 9, 2019

Who You Are in the Good Samaritan Story

NIV.Luke.10.25 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’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

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?”

Twitter is increasingly become a long-form medium. Individual tweets can be strung together in a thread to present more detail insights. As I mentioned on Friday, I’ve occasionally encountered material there that might not get well-deserved exposure to the people who read blogs, and I’ve strung many of these together at Thinking Out Loud, and, as of three days ago, here at Christianity 201.

Jennifer Michelle Greenberg describers herself as “Author, Survivor, Recording Artist, Mommy, Wife, Church Pianist.” Her book is Not Forsaken (Good Book Company). Learn more at her website. The link in the header below takes you to the thread itself which contains some highlighted verses.

Picked Up From the Dust

NIV.Luke.10.30 … Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by 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 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.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The first thing we must ask is, “Who is Jesus telling this parable to, and why?” As we see in verses 25 and 29, Jesus is speaking to a lawyer who wants to justify himself. He asks Jesus for a to-do list of good works he can check off so he can get into Heaven on his own merit.

Jesus goes back to the Old Testament, asking, “What does the Law say?” The man, educated, correctly summarizes the Law. Jesus replies, “Do all that, and you’ll be saved.” The man knows he can’t love everyone, so he asks Jesus to narrow things down; “Who qualifies as my neighbor?”

Jesus replies with a parable. A man gets robbed and beaten. A priest – a holy man well versed in the Law – passes by the beaten man. A Levite – another holy religious leader – also sees the man but passes him by. Likely, they didn’t want to become unclean from touching him.

But then a Samaritan comes by.

Now, Samaritans were not full Jews, and were looked down on by the Jews as idolaters and sinners (the woman at the well in John 4 with seven husbands was a Samaritan). But this Samaritan proves himself more Godly than even the priest or the Levite.

Then Jesus asks the lawyer, “Who was a better neighbor?” In other words, who was more Godly? Who fulfilled the Law? The lawyer rightly answers, “The one who showed mercy.” Jesus says, “Yes, be like that man.”

Jesus is telling this lawyer, in order to earn Heaven he must be holier than a priest and more righteous than a Levite. He must be perfect. He must know the Law backwards and forwards, and not only do everything in the Law, but be merciful and pay the price for other’s suffering.

What I want you to understand is, Jesus is The Good Samaritan. The glorious Son of God became a lowly human. He walked the road of life perfectly to pick us up out of the dust and filth of our sin and rescue us from the oppression of wicked people, Satan, and the powers of evil.

He has put us in the care of his Spirit, who tends our wounds and cleanses our sin. But Jesus has promised to return one day to redeem us once and for all. Jesus is telling this lawyer, who wants to justify himself with his own acts, “To earn Heaven on your own, you must be Me.”

You aren’t The Good Samaritan. You’re the guy lying on the side of the road, beaten up, dirty, bruised, and bleeding, incapable of saving yourself. Evil has been cruel to you. People have failed to love you. But Jesus got down into this dirty fallen world to pick you up.

It’s good to aspire to be merciful, compassionate, and helpful. We’re called to be Christlike, and the Spirit works in us to create good works. However, we must never lose sight of the fact that nothing we do, no matter how well we try to follow the Law, we need Jesus to save us…

[Postscript]

…This tweet attracted some odd responses, including a “church leader” who thinks the Good Samaritan possibly did ask these questions, and a few who think the parable teaches free healthcare. So, I thought I’d do a little thread about what this parable means. Grab your popcorn.

Things the Good Samaritan did NOT say:

  • Have you forgiven the robbers yet?
  • What were you wearing?
  • Why were you out here alone?
  • How’s your prayer life?
  • God’s trying to teach you something.
  • You need to have stronger faith.
  • Think positive.
  • God helps those who help themselves.

Oh yeah, and “Are you sure you’re not faking this to get attention?”

And, “It’s a sin to falsely accuse! You could ruin a robber’s life if you report.”

 

July 27, 2018

When the Religious Outsider Gets it Right

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV Luke 10.25 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’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

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?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead…

I’ve been a longtime reader of Ed Cyzewski but this is only his second time here at C201. Click the title to read at source.

An “Outsider” Can Show Us How to Love Our Neighbors

There is a significant benefit to explaining the Bible to our preschool age children: they ask a mountain of questions that help me see the stories with fresh eyes.

For instance, have you ever considered whether the robbers who attacked the man in the good Samaritan story also stole his lunch? What did he eat while he was stuck on the side of the road? Did he have more food at home? Would someone bring his lunch back to him if the robbers stole it?

No doubt the illustrations in our children’s Bible fueled this line of food-related questions, but as I’ve thought of this story over the past few week’s in light of the American government’s increasingly aggressive and cruel immigration policies on the southern border, my children continued to prompt me to look at this story. Outside of their concerns over the man’s lunch, it truly hit home how this story reveals the Samaritan as the hero.

At a time of manufactured crisis and unnecessary cruelty that has been condoned by far too many Christians or simply explained away with “law and order” arguments, many of us have spoken about loving our neighbors.

Are we loving our neighbors if we send asylum seekers back to their violent countries?

Are we loving our neighbors if we separate asylum-seeking parents from their children?

Are we loving our neighbors if our government shrugs its shoulders about reuniting parents and children?

These are all necessary and important discussions about loving our neighbors. There is no doubt that loving our neighbors will have political dimensions because government policies impact real people. Laws and policies aren’t just static givens that must be accepted with resignation.

Immoral or unjust laws and policies that deface the image of God in others should be countered by those who believe that “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” It shouldn’t be a stretch to believe that God cares for the well-being of his creation. However, the Good Samaritan story doesn’t approach love of neighbor from such an angle of advocacy or helping those in need from a majority culture position, let alone privilege.

In this story, the foreign man whose views of the Torah surely offended the listeners in Jesus’ audience was the hero. Jesus brought this outsider front and center, showing that despite his national and religious “barriers”, he had grasped what it meant to love a neighbor well. Love of neighbor extended beyond national and religious boundaries. You could even say that this love eradicates such boundaries.

The man going on the journey in this story is nondescript. His lack of defining features helps us identify with him. He could be all of us.

Any one of us could set out on a journey with certain plans and goals in mind. Any one of us could suffer an unexpected tragedy.

In a moment of need, perhaps I’ll turn to a pastor for help, but he may be on his way to a meeting about electing more conservative political leaders and leave me behind.

Perhaps I’ll turn to the leader of a ministry group, but she has big plans for a revival that she can’t neglect.

Finally, help arrives. It’s not the help I asked for. It’s not the help I expected. The help isn’t from the country or religion that I would have chosen. This is the person who meets me in my moment of crisis and cares for my wounds.

As Jesus sought to pull his listeners out of their national and religious prejudices, he challenged them to consider that the people they tried to avoid at all costs could be the ones who grasped the message of the Gospel best. It could even happen that one day their well-being would depend on the help of one such person.

Politicians seek to inflame hatred and suspicion of immigrants and asylum seekers to ignite the racist, nativist passions of their base for an election.

Jesus asks us to consider that our policies against asylum seekers could keep out the very people who may stop along their journey to help us in our moment of need one day. There’s a good chance that many have already done so on their journey north.

 

August 27, 2017

Sunday Worship

Romans 12: 1

So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. (CEB)

 Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies [dedicating all of yourselves, set apart] as a living sacrifice, holy and well-pleasing to God, which is your rational (logical, intelligent) act of worship. (AMP)

 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.  (NLT)

James 1:27

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.  (NASB)

 Pure and unblemished religion [as it is expressed in outward acts] in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit and look after the fatherless and the widows in their distress, and to keep oneself uncontaminated by the [secular] world.  (AMP)

Religion that pleases God the Father must be pure and spotless. You must help needy orphans and widows and not let this world make you evil.  (CEV)

In the church service we attended this morning, the message was based on the parable we call The Good Samaritan recorded in Luke 10: 25-37.  Like many of you I can probably say, quite literally, that I’ve heard this passage spoken on “a hundred times” but there are always new insights awaiting.

The first of these has to do with the priest who is the first person in the parable to come upon the man who has been robbed. We often hear that his reason for non-involvement had to do with the fact that a priest would be ceremonially unclean if he touched a dead body. But the man was not dead, though he could be considered half-dead. The Zondervan NIV Study Bible notes that half dead might be considered as good as dead in some interpretation of their laws. But again, the man was not dead.

The unique insight this morning though had to do with the direction the priest was traveling, which the text seems to imply was the same direction as the man robbed:

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by 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.  (v.31)

If this is true, that he was moving away from and not towards Jerusalem; then he had completed his priestly duties for the day. It would not have mattered if he were unclean or not at this point in the day.

The speaker then said something I found very profound:

“Going by the letter of the law will never help heal a broken person.”

…The two lead verses I chose for today — each from 3 different translations — may seem a bit unrelated. The first is an overarching verse which I hope forms a theme for this series of articles, especially since we want to avoid a mentality where when we say the word worship, people hear “worship = music.” Worship involves the giving of our whole lives.

The second set of verses deal with “religion,” one of the few times we actually encounter this word in all of scripture. (The NIV has 5 such New Testament references.)  While the man in the story of The Good Samaritan is not in the “widows and orphans” category, he is certainly not, at least in that moment, in an equal amount of need. Our “reasonable service” is to help him.

But it also says to keep oneself unstained by the world. There’s the opt-out the priest would be looking for (had he had this text from James, which, if we ignore that this is a parable, he would not have at this point in time.) His desire to be ceremonially clean would have kept him from being stained by the man’s impurities.

At this point I’m tempted to digress into the idea that many of us today want to be ceremonially clean, but we do so to the neglect of what God wants us to do. Like the people Jesus mentioned who were keeping the Corban laws, we can easily be seen as being religious, but it’s to the detriment of those around us with real needs. (In that case, they were neglecting the care of their own parents.)

To this, I can only repeat what the speaker said this morning:

“Going by the letter of the law will never help heal a broken person.”

January 1, 2015

The People Whose Name You Can’t Speak

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

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’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

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?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by 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[c] 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.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

NIV Footnotes:

  1. Luke 10:27 Deut. 6:5
  2. Luke 10:27 Lev. 19:18
  3. Luke 10:35 A denarius was the usual daily wage of a day laborer (see Matt. 20:2).

Each of us, myself included, carries baggage into a new year. Perhaps family or work events surrounding the holiday season left you upset or angry with relatives or coworkers, or inflamed relationships which were already hurting. That’s the topic of today’s thoughts.

Today we are drawing on the writing of an author who I feel has much to say to us, despite his recent associations and proclivity to controversy. (That in itself is a microcosm of the text he’s writing on.) For that reason, I thought I’d put the credit and link at the very end, though you’re free to scroll down.

The Reason Why People Miss the Point of the Good Samaritan Story

Let’s take a look at a familiar story from the Bible, shall we? How about the story about the Good Samaritan? Because everybody knows that one. It’s about the importance of helping people who are in trouble, right?

You could make it about that. And that might be helpful. But you’d be missing the point of the story. Most people completely miss the point of the story. 

Here’s why: Jesus tells this story (It’s in Luke 10) in response to a question. And the more you understand the question, the more you can see just how brilliant and provocative the story is. 

The question is asked by a lawyer, who wants to know What must I do to inherit eternal life?

A couple of truths about this question this lawyer asks:

First, the lawyer doesn’t want to know. He already has an opinion. That’s what lawyers (which means scripture expert) did in the first century: they had opinions about the scriptures which they spent hours discussing. Or more realistically- debating. This man is not new to the game, he’s one of the elite, a long standing member of the religious establishment. It’s important to note that whatever Jesus says, this man will have something to say in response to it. 

Second, when the lawyer asks about eternal life he’s not asking about life after you die. What happens when you die was not something people in Jesus day talked much about and it wasn’t something Jesus taught about much at all. In the first century world that Jesus inhabited the focus was this life, this time, here and now. Not life after death but life before death. So when you had a chance to interact with a great spiritual teacher or rabbi, that was one of the first questions you would ask them–How do I have the most/best/fullest life right now? 

Eternal life was a phrase people used to describe a quality of life, the kind that comes from living in harmony and peace and connection with God. 

Jesus, of course, responds like a good Jewish rabbi, asking the man what the Torah teaches. Jesus responds this way because in the first century Jewish world that Jesus lived and moved in, the answer to how you have the best, most full and vibrant life was believed to be in the Torah (That’s the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures. Genesis, Exodus, etc…) How does it teach you to live? 

The lawyer isn’t surprised at all by Jesus’ question to his question–

let’s pause here and note that Jesus responds to his question with a question. This, once again, was not at all unusual for his day. Jesus is asked lots of questions in the gospels, and he responds to almost all of them with…a question–

he isn’t surprised because life revolved around the Torah and so Jesus’s answer-that-is-really-a-question is how he would have expected him to respond. The lawyer then quotes Deuteronomy and Leviticus about how loving God and loving your neighbor are the most important things you can do–they’re how you enter in to this particular kind of life that they called eternal life

Jesus then says to him That’s cool.

Well, not exactly. But pretty close. Jesus responds You’ve given the right answer; do this, and you will live.

Which is the end of the exchange, right?
What else is there to talk about?

The lawyer asks a question, Jesus asks him a question about his question, he answers the question about his question, Jesus tells him he got it right. Conversation over. 

Except it isn’t.
(By the way, we aren’t even to the Good Samaritan part yet and you can already smell something is up, can’t you…?)

Another parenthesis, just for good times:

(When people say the Bible is boring, I always know they’re saying that because they haven’t actually read it. Because if you actually read it, and enter into the stories, and the depth and background and context and innuendo and hyperbole, the one thing you will not be is bored…)

But the conversation isn’t over, because the text reads

But wanting to justify himself, the lawyer asked Jesus And who is my neighbor?

Ohhhhhhhhhh. Interesting…the dude had an agenda all along! It’s a set up. All that question and response and love your neighbor blah blah blah was all a set up! The lawyer has an issue with Jesus, he disagrees with Jesus, and his questioning was to get to the point of conflict. Which has something to do with who your neighbor is. It’s as if he says

Yeah yeah yeah, we can do Torah all day and agree that loving your neighbor is how you get eternal life but we both know that you and I, Jesus, don’t agree on who our neighbor even is…

At which point Jesus then launches into a story about a certain man who was going to Jericho from Jerusalem and was beaten and left by the side of the road. A priest comes along and passes by on the other side-

let’s stop there.
That’s funny.
The road between those two cities was a trail a few feet wide. With a cliff. Jesus is being funny here because there was no other side.

Then a Levite comes along and does the same thing. 

The priest and the Levite are the bad guys, right?

Nope. The man on the side of the road has been beaten, hasn’t he? Which means he’s bloody, correct? And according to the Torah, if you have contact with someone else’s blood you would be considered ceremonially unclean, correct? And if you’re a priest or Levite, to serve your people, to be true to your God, to contribute your part to the community, you can only do that if you remain ceremonially clean, correct? So when they come across the man, they each have a to make a decision

Do I help just this one man and in the process make myself unclean which means I can’t serve for a period of time?

You with me? Any telling of this story that makes them the bad guys misses the point. Which we’re about to arrive at…

Then, a third dude comes along. Let’s pause for a minute and point out that it’s only logical for the third person to be a lawyer who then helps the wounded man. Then Jesus would have made his point to the lawyer about how your neighbor is anyone who is in need that you are passing by. Which is how a lot of people tell this story. 

Which completely misses the point.

It isn’t a lawyer who comes along, it’s a…wait for it…Samaritan. And teachers of law and lawyers hated Samaritans. This is the last character the lawyer would have expected to enter the story. Samaritans were the TalibanPedophilesWhoKickPuppies of the day. This hatred went way back, generations back, and it ran really, really deep. But in this story that Jesus tells, the Samaritan helps the man. 

This story would have been next to impossible for the lawyer to hear. A good Samaritan? In our day when people use the phrase Good Samaritan it is said without disgust or irony or most of all disbelief. It’s not an oxymoron now. It was then. A good Samaritan was impossible. It didn’t exist in their minds. Jesus then finishes this story in which a Samaritan is the hero and asks the lawyer 

Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? 

Boom! Do you see how insanely brilliant and clever and subversive Jesus is here? Please tell me you see it-because the whole thing started with the lawyer asking Jesus a loaded question, didn’t it? And so what does Jesus do? He tells a story that appears to ramble way off into the deep weeds, then a shocking character enters the story and ends up the hero, and then Jesus turns the table on the lawyer and asks 

Who was the neighbor?

The answer is The Samaritan, right? Yes, that’s correct.

But how does the lawyer answer?

The one who showed him mercy.

Oh man. The lawyer can’t even say the word Samaritan. That’s how deep his hatred goes. He can’t even say the word. 

Have you ever noticed how people often refer to the person they used to be married to as their ex? How rarely you hear them actually say the person’s name? Names connect us. Names bond us. Names create intimacy. If feels terrible to forget someone’s name, doesn’t it?

But this lawyer, he can’t even answer Jesus’s question by saying the name. He simply replies the one

That’s your neighbor.
That’s who you’re called to love.
That’s where the eternal life is found.
In loving your neighbor, the one you hate, the one you despise, the one you wish didn’t exist, the one who’s name you can’t even say.

Now obviously some people we avoid. Some people we have boundaries with. Some people are so toxic and dangerous and hurtful, some people have done so much damage to us we have to keep our distance. We love them from a distance. That’s all part of being healthy. But even then, we forgive so that the hate and bitterness won’t eat us alive.

Do you see why I began by talking about the point of the story? You can make it about roadside assistance, which is fine, and maybe even helpful, but Jesus is calling us to something way bigger and higher and deeper and transcendent. Jesus is calling the man to love like God loves. Which means everybody. Even those you hate the most. Jesus is challenging the man to extend divine love to those who are the most difficult to love. That’s where it’s at. That’s the answer to the question. That’s where the eternal life is.

~Rob Bell, part 74 in a continuing series, What is the Bible.