Monday, April 12, 2010

Following Jesus - The Good Samaritan, Exploding Borders

"Who is my neighbor?

In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins[e] 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.' Luke 10:29 - 35

In Jesus' day, if you were Jewish and needed help, one of the last people you would want it from would be a Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans despised each other. Religious differences led to disagreements, competing doctrines and eventual hatred. A Jewish person would go out of his way to avoid going into Samaritan territory, and was not allowed to talk to or in any way interact with a Samaritan. Jesus had already shown a disturbing tendency to ignore these religious, racial and cultural divides by talking to a Samaritan woman in John 4 about her life and faith.

By making the hero of his parable a Samaritan, Jesus was sending a very distinct message to his listeners, especially the religious leaders and "experts in the law". When asked about the borders of God's neighborhood, Jesus points to the farthest extremity and maintains that it starts there. Everyone from the Samaritan to your back door is your neighbor. In a world that was defined by it's borders, to a people who lived by the boundaries of who was acceptable, Jesus was blowing out the walls. If a Samaritan could be your neighbor, why, anyone could be your neighbor. And Jesus was saying, love your neighbor as yourself. Want for them the same as you want for yourself, with the same passion and intensity that you want it for yourself. Work to advance and please and encourage and lift up your neighbor as you do for yourself, as you want others to do for you.

Labels can be useful. There is something in us that automatically labels people according to what we see, hear and experience from them. To be honest, this helps us to move through our worlds with greater ease. When I walk into a store, it is helpful to me to be able to see who works at the store, and therefore may be able to help me should I need it, and who is a customer like I am. When choosing someone to care for my child, when choosing a mate, when choosing a mechanic, it is always helpful to be able to "read" people, to tell what someone might be thinking, how effective someone might be at the task required, to know how trustworthy someone might be. We all do it. The problem comes when we rely on our labels and own judgment too much. We need to recognize our limits in this area. Things are not always as they seem. People are not always as they seem. We have judgment for a reason, but it is not infallible. If we allow fear to overcome us, we begin to weed out people, dismissing them on the very possibility that they may hurt us. We put people into categories that we never mean to release them from. Muslims become terrorists, Christians become rule-following freaks, pro-choice people become baby-haters, pro-life people become women-haters, bikers become criminals, women become weak, men become bullies...we stop talking to each other, asking questions, letting people reveal themselves to us.

Our worlds become very small, and soon we are only comfortable with people who are like us, people we trust. Then the question that begs to be asked is, can we trust ourselves? To be honest, my worst enemy is myself. My daughter was raised in contact with people who used and sold drugs, swore profusely, and did many other immoral things. So, which sin does she struggle with? Gluttony. Guess where she got that from? Me. Thankfully, she also inherited from me the idea that our neighborhood is boundless. (I inherited it from God.) She inherited the belief that God demonstrates His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) That means, while everyone else was still...a sinner, Christ died for them.

When we as people, as families, as churches, try to lock ourselves in behind walls in order to be safe, what we end up doing is locking ourselves in with our own sin. I have watched beautiful, brave, beloved friends struggle through drug withdrawal and have fallen on my face before God in shame at my own weakness. When I eat less, my body sings a happy song. I feel great, immediately. Drug withdrawal is a nightmare of physical/emotional/psychological pain. Gluttony is one of those sins that most often gets locked inside the church with the people, to the point that we joke about gorging ourselves at our potlucks. This should not be. If we spent more nights up cradling broken people in our arms until they fell asleep exhausted from the pain, we would find our own sin less amusing.

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Our labels are weak protection. They are tools, but not tools to build our salvation on. Remember the original question? Luke 10:25 ~ "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus is putting the use of labels in it's place. And He is saying, you will save no one, you will inherit nothing, you will gain nothing, you will win nothing by using faded, worn out labels in your service to Me. The word neighbor loses it's meaning when it applies to everybody. So, ultimately, Jesus is saying that the way to inherit eternal life is to love. Love. Everybody, all the time, for eternity.

Sounds impossible? You bet it is. The rule-followers are going to kill themselves trying. Christ-followers know that it is only by giving control of themselves over to the Spirit of God will they ever be able to love anyone, anytime, at all. After all, when an ocean of love is pouring into a child of God, some is bound to leak out and splash on the world around us.

Count on it.

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