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Faith in Action: Be the Church
Love Takes a Detour, part 2
A few years back now, a then 29-year-old Johnny Lechner graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater after being a full-time student there for 12 years. Lechner said he would stay longer if he could. He said, “I’m just broke. I’ve got no more money. Trust me, if I had the money, I’d stay longer... The schedule is laid back, you’re around all kinds of educated people. And we’re all just broke college kids, too. It’s not like the real world.”
What would you do if Johnny were your son? Personally, I’d advise ole Johnny to grow up, join the real world, and contribute to it. But when it comes to Christianity, a lot of people do exactly what Johnny Lechner did. They stay in the safe environment. Do their Bible studies. But they never go out into the real world and put into practice what they know.
Now let’s read Luke 10:29. This is an important verse, and I’d like you, again, to notice the motive behind the question. This is key to unlocking the meaning of the rest of this passage. “29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In a characteristic lawyer fashion, he wants to defend himself by narrowly defining a word. What is your definition of “neighbor,” he asks Jesus. Now, let me give you this: the classic interpretation for “neighbor” by the Jews at that time was: “one who is near,” near in terms of race and religion. To the lawyer “love your neighbor” meant: love those of your own race and religion, and you have fulfilled the law. If the person doesn’t fit these qualifications, then they aren’t a neighbor, and the law doesn’t apply.
The Bible tells us that the lawyer’s first motive is to “test” Jesus. What is the word the Bible uses to reveal his second motive?Yep, his motive was to justify himself. Now, in the Bible the word “justify” normally means to be made right with God. But that is not what it means in this instance. This “expert” isn’t trying to make himself right with Jesus. The Greek word, translated, “justify,” in this passage means that this man was trying to excuse himself. He was excusing himself from following the command to love his neighbor.
He meant the same thing W.C. Fields meant when he was found reading the Bible on his deathbed, and said, “I’m looking for loopholes.” Fields wanted to know how little he could do and still be saved. He was trying to justify his inaction.
Honestly, this is the key to understanding Jesus’ response. The problem with the lawyer's question was that he was trying to justify himself from not loving his neighbor, even though he knew it to be the second greatest commandment.
Contrary to what most people think, the parable of the “Good Samaritan” isn’t just about, “We should help people in need.” The parable is also about excuses. It’s about self-justification. And, if we're entirely honest, this isn’t just the lawyer’s problem: It’s our problem too. We often justify ourselves from not helping others. We tell ourselves that we can’t help someone because it’s too dangerous, too involved, too time-consuming or we don’t have enough money.
Now, let’s read VS 30–37 “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.31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him…”
Before we keep reading the rest of the story, I want you to notice the cast of characters: We have a group of robbers. We have a man who gets robbed and beaten so badly that he is half dead. Then we have the three main characters. The first character is a priest. The office of priest in Israel was of supreme importance and of high rank. They represented the people before God, and offered the various sacrifices prescribed in the law. The second character is a Levite. Levites weren’t quite as honored as the priests, but they were nonetheless a privileged group in society, and responsible for the liturgy and protecting the Temple.
So far Jesus has mentioned a priest and a Levite. Who would you expect to be mentioned next? The original hearers would have expected to hear that a Jew came down the road. But the third character is a big surprise. Jesus said a Samaritan came. It’s like saying, there’s Papa Bear, Mama Bear and a skunk. Samaritans were despised by Jews. Some 700 years earlier Israel was invaded by Assyria. Assyria exiled tens of thousands of Israelite captives, and they resettled the area with people from other parts of the Assyrian empire (see II Kings 17). The Jews that remained and the foreigners that moved in lived together, had children and became a new people. Their descendants were the Samaritans of Jesus’ time. Though Samaritans believed in the law, they worshiped at Mt. Gerizim rather than Jerusalem (John 4:20–22). They were considered to be half-breeds and heretics by the Jews. The racial and religious contempt between these two groups was intense and at times even violent.
Medication: A Merry Heart
Two mothers were talking about their sons. The first said, “My son is such a saint. He works hard, doesn’t smoke, and he hasn’t so much as looked at a woman in over two years.”
The other woman said, “Well, my son is a saint himself. Not only hasn’t he not looked at a woman in over three years, but he hasn’t touched a drop of liquor in all that time.”
“My word,” the first mother said. “You must be so proud.”
“I am,” the second mother replied. “And when he’s paroled next month, I’m going to throw him a big party.”
St Mark’s Community Church, Janesville
New Beginnings Church, New Ulm
Verse of the Week: Romans 5:8 NLT
Today’s readings: Leviticus 1 – 4