In two earlier posts I introduced the concept and context of the parable of the Good Samaritan. I talked about to be like Jesus is to be like the kind of “Ideal Samaritan” he was. Let me take this a little further and identify, like the law expert with whom he shared his parable, we make excuses for our lack of Christlikeness…
Christianity is like playing “Follow the Leader.” Jesus told us to “follow” him, which is a truckload more than just believing in him. It’s been a while since I’ve played the actual game, but I remember that if you want to stay in the game you have to do what the leader does. And you have to do it just the way s/he does it. Saying, “Well, I’m not going to do that, but I really do believe in you!” won’t get you to the next round. Believers-only sit down and watch followers stay in and play.
Following our Leader is about more than believing the right things about him and feeling kindheartedly toward people. We have to get off our donkey (otherwise known as an “ass”) and be willing to get our hands bloodied helping our neighbors!
Poker face or not, we show our hand if our first question is, “Who is my neighbor?” With rhetoric ready for every occasion we attempt to whittle down the parameters of our concern for people. Can you see Jesus asking the Father, “OK, so I’ll go to earth as you ask, but who do I have to love? How far does my compassion, and for that matter, my blood, have to reach? Whom can I leave out?”
If the Bible expert could limit the parameters of the kind of people he was required to love, I suppose he felt it gave him a better chance at success. The wider the swath of humans he was responsible to love the worse it would make him look when he didn’t love them at all.
“Who is my neighbor?” is a silly question, because everybody is your neighbor. There isn’t anyone on the planet that you’re not connected with. I don’t think God thinks in terms of “neighborhoods,” as in boundaries that separate us. Ours are distinguished by color, language, socioeconomics, gender, politics. These distinctions are at the root of a lot of hate, suspicion, and violence. But God respects no such distinctions.
The other way of looking at the question, “Toward whom am I responsible to act in a neighborly way?” is just as ridiculous when you think of it. Being neighborly toward some and not toward others? Turn it around, “Who am I not required to love?” In other words, “Who can I treat with disdain? Who can I overlook and keep outside of my circle of care? Who am I allowed hurt instead of help? Surely, you permit a certain amount of prejudice, a teensy bit of selfishness?”
“It is not the object which is to determine the love, but love has its own measure in itself. It is like the sun, which does not ask on what it shall shine, or what it shall warm, but shines and warms by the very law of its own being, so that there is nothing hidden from its light and heat.” R.C. Trench
Julian, the Second Century Roman Emperor was angry about the successful advance of Christianity in the empire and wrote to a pagan priest: “Nothing has contributed to the progress of the superstition of these Christians as their charity to strangers. These impious Galileans (Christians) provide not only for their own poor but for ours as well!” Jews took care of the Jewish poor. Romans took care of their own. But those crazy Christians – irrespective of race, creed or color – took care of anybody! Bummer for Julian! It wasn’t their doctrine or their worship or their prosperity, but it was their “good works” that glorified the Father in heaven (Matthew 5).
I get the distinct impression that God sent that priest and that Levite to help the robbed the beaten guy. They might not have realized it when they left the house that morning, but they were on assignment. I’m sure they had something else to do that day, an errand of some sort to run. But what brought them to this time and place was a divine appointment. God arranged this fortuitous convergence of this guy’s destitution with their destiny!
But the thing about divine appointments is they’re sort of optional. I mean, we don’t have to keep them. They may be opportunities eternally ordained (Ephesians 2:10) for the glory of God and the good of people, but we have the option to pass them by if we feel we have something we’d rather do at the moment. And that’s how God’s appointments usually last, just a “moment.” They don’t tend to wait around for us to come around. Opportunity just knocks; it doesn’t linger on the doorstep while we weigh our options of whether or not to open the door. If, as we peer through the curtains and we see the needy person leaving our porch, we can pretty much bet that we missed the appointment.
“So, who is my neighbor?”
Reminds me of Peter’s inquiry about how many times we’re required to forgive people – “Seven times?” In other words: How far does this love thing have to go? Let’s be specific here. I don’t want to have to do more than I’m expected to do.