Luke 10: 25 – 37
Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”
He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”
He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”
“Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”
Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”
Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
“A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’
“What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”
“The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.
Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”
On the surface it seems so simple… THIS story seems so simple. The next time you see somebody hurt, stop and do something about it. Or at least help the people that are trying to do something about it.
As a nation, we are better than most at it. If you want to raise financial support or manpower for a justice cause locally or internationally, Canada is one of the best countries from which you can gather people. So even in the church, it is not a hard sell to rise up in this manner. We get it, we really do.
But is there more?
A scholar who is well versed with the mosaic law asks Jesus if there is anything that he should do to get eternal life. And Jesus turns the question on the man. What do you think the law and the prophets are really pointing to? How would you summarize it?
And he says: Love God and love your neighbour.
Jesus was like. Good! Go do that. But the scholar, like most scholars is not impressed with the simplicity of the answer. So Jesus launches into a story.
Looking at the story, you have to wonder if the priest and the levite who pass the beaten up man on the road are representative of the scholar. You have to wonder if Jesus was trying to help the guy questioning him see himself in the two religious leaders that SHOULD HAVE KNOWN to help the robbed, injured man.
If you did not know it, the whole idea of social action and social justice is actually woven into the ancient mosaic law. But as much as they were a deeply religious society concerned with following the law to the letter, Jesus is exposing the fact that there is a difference between knowing what the right thing to do is, and actually DOING it. The scholar knows what the right thing to do is. In the story, the pharisee and the levite know what the right thing to do is. But there is a disconnect.
This is the simpler lesson in the text isn’t it? You know what to do and you can even speak eloquently about it and debate it ad nauseum. But when it gets down to it, can you translate your actions to words? When it really counts, can you slow down enough to help somebody? Yes, it is an inconvenience and will throw you off your schedule, but when it counts, can you take the time to be the difference maker in the life of somebody that has been beaten down by the things that life throws at us?
The thing that must have been astonishing to Jesus’ listeners is that the person who does the right thing comes from a race of people that the Jews despised – the Samaritans. Those ethnically tainted people! Those second-class people!
The hero of the story cannot come from THOSE people. In fact, you can see at the end of the story, the scholar cannot even bring himself to say “the samaritan”.
Look at it
Jesus asks him: Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?” and the scholar responds, “The one who treated him kindly.”
The story is multi-layered. Jesus is not simply asking his listeners to make sure that their words line up with their actions or that they put their hands and money where their mouths are. Jesus is pressing the matter. Could you help somebody that you dont like? Could you help somebody that has treated you like scum your whole life?
Jesus is asking: Will you help “the other one”? In our world of fear mongering where we are pitted against each other, will you help somebody on the other side of your racial, economic or ideological divide? Some of us might stop long enough to help somebody like us, but because of the constant stream of fear messaging in our world today, chances are that we will not stop to help somebody that is not like us
You know, it is so easy to speak about this stuff, but when the opportunity comes to help out, it is a lot more difficult than you might think. It is difficult because it takes time. It is difficult because you’ll get dirty trying to help somebody that is in the dirt. You’ll get blood on your clothes trying to get the beat up, robbed person cleaned and set up in a place that they can heal for a while. There is no way to actually get into the hands and feet business of helping people without getting yourself dirty. And perhaps this is the real reason why we may pull back from helping when we can. Maybe it is the reason why it is easier to spare dollars than to spare the time.
I believe that God would like something more valuable than our dollars. I think he is asking us to spare time. I think the charge is to move beyond being socially conscious… to move beyond verbal advocacy. I think that Jesus’ charge to those that would listen is to allow his compassion to fill our hearts so much that we are available to him to help those that are like us and those that are anything BUT like us.
It is only when we take it this far that we become most like Christ, after all, that is what Christianity is all about – becoming like Christ. Christ sees the injustice of sin and instead of waving a wand as an aloof wizard, he takes on human flesh, lives as one of us and then takes on the sins of the world, paying in full the debt of sin – death. Jesus is the ultimate social justice prototype and his call on our lives is to follow his example, and not simply intellectually acknowledge his teachings.