In Luke chapter 10, an expert in the law stands up to ask Jesus a question. The purpose of the original question seems to be in “testing Jesus”. It may be that he wants to reveal Jesus as a false prophet. By asking “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”, it’s possible he was trying to catch Jesus in saying that something other than being a Jew can lead us into being a “child of God”, and thus worthy of the inheritance. We know that a lot of people were trying to catch Jesus in a moment of blasphemy against the Law, and yet in true Jesus fashion – He totally turns the tables.
With impressive rhetoric, Jesus asks the man a question in response, “What is written in the law?” The man answers proudly with his knowledge, and as Jesus pats him on the head in verse 28 the man remembers his original intent. Still wanting to test Jesus, and justify his original question, he asks for clarification, “And who is my neighbor?”
In response this time, Jesus tells the story we know as “The Good Samaritan.” He closes by tying the story to the original question by the expert in the law. Earlier it was stated, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Here we have Jesus pointing out that the assumed definition of “Neighbor” (any member of the Hebrew nation/commonwealth) fell short of this new movement the followers of Christ were proclaiming. Here, the main character we assume was a Jew (heading from Jerusalem to Jericho seems to point that way). The character in the story who had the most in common with him in regards to loving (Luke 10:27) ends up being the Samaritan. Even though there was a long history of tension and conflict between their people (and remains still today), Jesus is pointing out there is a grouping of people that goes beyond national boundaries or allegiance to human leaders. There is a foundational difference in the hearts of those who are living from the Love of God. This brings us together beyond any worldly division of culture or ethnicity. It melts away any prejudice we may have, for the purposes of God’s Love, mercy, and compassion.
Now, maybe the Samaritan knew this was a Jew. Scripture tells us he was “attacked by robbers…stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.” Maybe there were torn clothes nearby, or he noticed the man was circumcised (if he was naked). But it’s also possible the Samaritan was simply doing what he would do for anyone, whether friend, brother, or enemy of his people. His citizenship was in the Kingdom of God, which means that he was someone for whom “Love” was his native language. Love for all.
So was Jesus challenging the expert in the law to love “like” the Samaritan, showing mercy and compassion to even those who are broken, bleeding, and lying in the street? Or was Jesus challenging the expert in the law to admit that even here, in the people of Samaria, there can be those who are understanding what this Kingdom of God’s Love looks like?
It sure seems like the latter. Jesus was pulling back the curtain, opening the shades, and clarifying the unexpected Truth for this expert in the law – there may be more invited to this “who’s in?” party than you originally thought.
What are the implications here for us?
There are many, but here are a few thoughts: The Samaritan was so motivated by Love, he wasn’t worried about the terms of this world. Whether touching the man on the street would make him unclean or not, or whether they agreed politically or not, were not important issues. He was motivated first by Love. The opposite seems true of this political expert, who seems to try and catch Jesus in a moment of heresy. He has been living according to “who’s in” and “who’s out” for so long, he wanted to help catch Jesus off guard. But the heart of God is not stuck in the patterns and molds we like to form equations by. We cannot reduce becoming a child of God to a stamp of approval, a “sinners prayer”, or a purity ring. By doing so, we fail to love our neighbors who may already know more about actual Love than we do.
This story invites us to let go of sitting in a room deciding what we can do to be people who are “in”, and go out into a world of hungry, beaten, slaves to proclaim freedom, resurrection life, and sustenance. As Bob Goff has written, “Love Does”.
So how does this story offer to challenge our local churches? I think most of our local churches would be quick to tell you how much love God has for the poor. They know God loves the broken, the drug-addicted, and the alcoholic just released from prison. They’ll welcome them any day of the week, and proclaim God’s Love. The challenge in this story might be a bit harder to pinpoint, and might vary from family to family. Decatur is a city with quite a few ethnicities, cultures, and religions. It would be a pretty big “zing” for our people to admit some of these people who know nothing about Christ might in fact be living with more love for others. So what is it about our practices, our unspoken rules, and the ways we do church….are keeping us from existing and being known from our love for all others?