Monday, April 5, 2010

Following Jesus - The Good Samaritan

Jesus is so cool. As His disciple, I want to grow up to be absolutely exactly like Him, and one thing I look forward to being is cool like Him. I mean cool, like wise and self-controlled and able to not bellow, "Are you SERIOUS?" at people when they say certain things. He knew what was in the heart of man, knew what people were thinking, and knew when the words coming at Him were rooted in pride, deceit, selfishness, or sheer stupidity. And always, He replied with cool wisdom. Still does, by the way.

In Luke 10:27, the expert in the law has informed Jesus that the law says that the way to inherit eternal life is to love God with all one's heart, soul, strength and mind, and to love one's neighbor as oneself. Jesus' answer is simple, "You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live." This is where the cool comes in. Jesus knows that the question is to test Him. He knows that the Pharisees and teachers of the law disapprove of His time spent with sinners. He knows that the Pharisees have forsaken love for God and have replaced it with self-righteousness and pride. He also knows that as much as the expert in the law will absolutely trust his own ability to "do this and live", he will never be able to actually "do this and live". Still, he calmly and coolly offers it forward. Do this and live.

The expert then, wanting to justify himself, asks who his neighbor is. The passage doesn't explain what he wants to justify himself from. It is easy to say that one loves God. And as easy as it is also to say one loves people, it is usually more obvious to others when one actually doesn't. One thing is sure. The expert knows what loving is, and he knows that he hasn't been loving to everyone, and he is pretty sure that there are boundaries that allow for unloving behavior to some people. Where there are boundaries, where there are rules, there are exceptions to the rule, there are loopholes.

Rule-followers are experts at loopholes. Today's rule following Christians often look into the Old Testament for loopholes that work on Jesus' radical call to love the world unconditionally, passionately, selflessly. One person recently defended an anti-immigrant attitude on the fact that in the OT, God tells the people of Israel not to have anything to do with people of other faiths and nationalities. This, despite Jesus' call for His disciples to go to the ends of the earth as His witnesses in Acts 1:7 - 9. God's efforts to keep Israel out of the outside world effectively proved to them that even if physically separated from those who reject Him, they could still not keep from rejecting Him.

In Mark 7, Jesus addresses the fact that it is not what comes at a man from the outside that makes him unclean, but what is inside of him. Keeping immigrants out of our country will do nothing to keep us from evil, because, as Jesus said, the evil we struggle with is inside us. Is this not evident in the way we clutch our 'stuff", our rights, our jobs, our comfort, our freedom, for fear that our stuff will be taken away? This, despite Paul's call in Philippians 2 to have the same attitude as Jesus did, who being in very nature God (with all the rights, privileges, comforts and stuff), did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant. Put me in an ivory tower and lock me in, and you lock my sin in with me.

Nowhere do rule-following Christians look more fervently for loopholes than in the area of loving others. One woman said to me, "I love God. It's people I can't stand." We cannot love God if we do not love people. Don't believe me? How much could you love and adore me if I hated your beloved child? Are you not so identified with your child through your love for him that my hatred would flow right through him to your heart? I could not love you and not cherish your child, whom you love. We cannot love God while we despise His beloved ones. And His beloved ones include the world. There's no use slipping back into the OT to justify our evil attitudes. Jesus said what He said, and it could not be any clearer. In some Bibles, it's even in red ink. Impossible to miss. Jesus came to fulfill the law, to complete it with power and love. The law revealed what was needed to live forever, but could only provide death at it's breaking. Jesus provides what is needed for eternal life, and for obeying the law. There is now no excuse, no loopholes, no justifying ourselves and our sin. There is only confession, repentance, and forgiveness.

Do this and live. The expert in the law doesn't catch the coolness of the phrase. Jesus is patient. He is waiting. He knows where this is headed, and knows they need to get there. There is life in His words, His parables. He is setting the expert up for a lesson that could transform his life, and the lives of all who listen.

We need to learn to listen to Jesus.

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