Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Feel Free to Say, "Um... What?"

The Good Samaritan
A while back, I wrote a sort of rambling confused piece about the famous parable of the Good Samaritan (click here to read it), in which I pondered this question: “Who is my neighbor?” The parable, found in Luke 10, is actually Jesus’s response to that very question... but as with a lot of things Jesus said, I find the answer more confusing than the question!

Anyway, after writing that crazy thing, it suddenly came to me... an answer to satisfy my "Um... what?" I'm going to try to lay it out for you here, but I honestly don't know how clear it will be. That is to say, feel free to also say, "Um... what?"

To recap, the whole thing starts when a guy asks Jesus “How do I get eternal life?” So Jesus says, “What does the law say?” And the guy says, “"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind, (Deuteronomy 6:5); and your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18)."” Then Jesus says, “You are correct, sir!”

But… of course the guy can’t leave it there… the Message translation says that he was “looking for a loophole!” Anyway, he’s like, “Who is my neighbor?” Maybe he thought there should be a limit to the amount and scope of people he was required to love… So then Jesus tells this long story:
Jesus answered, "A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he travelled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the host, and said to him, 'Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.' Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbour to him who fell among the robbers?"
He said, "He who showed mercy on him."
Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
What I have always found confusing about this is this: if you think about it, The man says, “Who is my neighbor?” (as in, “who do I have to love?”) and Jesus doesn't say that the neighbor is the one who needs your help – ie. the guy in the ditch. No, it says, that the neighbor was the one who HELPED the guy in the ditch. Um. What? I mean, wasn't the question sort of... who do I have to help? It just seems sort of flip-flopped to me.

"Won't you be my neighbor?"
In my previous blog, I sort of picked it apart and pondered over it, drawing no sound conclusion. Here, now, is the idea that invaded much later when my crazy mind was at rest:

And it’s that being a neighbor is a STATE OF MIND… and the helpful Samaritan actually lived in this state of mind. That is to say, there was no question for him about whether or not the guy in the ditch was or was not in his “jurisdiction.” Unlike the priest and Pharisee who were hanging out in their home state of disgust… fear and loathing… legalism and laziness… busy-ness and haste.

See what I mean? The weird thing is that the guy who was picking Jesus’ brain seemed to understand that all the little details of the law had an overarching spirit, and that this spirit was love… yet he still felt the need to figure out how he measured up.

And I have to say, I have felt his pain. It sure is a lot more convenient to have clear demarcations… specific instructions… Like when you’re on a diet – it’s a lot easier to have all the foods laid out on a menu plan than to just kind of wing it and all the time you’re wondering in the back of your head if you’ve eaten too much. People like me - we LIKE specific rules… so we’ll know if we’re hitting the mark.

A diet plan... much easier than guessing.
But I’ve got good news for us nitpicking legalists... First, there IS a clear demarcation… and it’s shaped exactly like a cross. And Jesus DID give a specific instruction… He said, “Believe in me.” And that’s really all there is to it. It’s completely easy.

However, it’s also difficult. I mean, you can’t lean on the picky little rules anymore. You can’t be the priest walking by the guy in the ditch who’s thinking, “If I touch that guy, I’ll be unclean,” or the pharisee hurrying by because he’s late for the class he’s teaching. No... now you’ve opened yourself up to that “neighbor” state of mind*… and the only boundary is Jesus Himself and His love and amazing grace.

*Now, as to how to achieve this state of mind... well... I'm still working on that. Paul tells the Romans to "be transformed by the renewing of your minds." To which, I say, "Um.... what?"

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