The streets were packed last night right after the New Year’s celebrations. Everyone wanted to be in the city to welcome with hope a new, more positive year than the last – so the cars were jammed in every direction like never before and busses were refusing passengers for lack of standing room.
It so happened that on the ride home, two ladies were talking about one of their friends who was suffering from nightmares in which she was being attacked by demons. While I sat quietly, listening as a bystander, I decided to offer an insight just before disembarking.
To my surprise it also was the same stop on which they were disembarking, and as we stepped off the bus, the lady who had been most enthusiastic in their conversation (the one who was talking to the one whose friend was being tormented), she was trying to get established with me, asking “what are you, are you a Christian or…”, “Christian!? what kind? are you ‘born again’?” and of course it was obvious to make a point then that only those who are born again can actually see the kingdom of God.
Well, right at that moment I saw a beautiful green moth on the footpath, having nearly been trampled by the mob of passengers and being only spared by half an inch, so I stooped down to save him. He crawled on to my finger and tried to flutter away but fell straight to the ground again – seemingly blind or disoriented or just lost at night time but otherwise healthy.
So I picked him up again and, carefully cupped in my hands, began carrying him to a safer place.
The two ladies had already walked on, not concerned or even interested in the beautiful moth, and not even slightly aware of how nearly they had crushed him. So it got me thinking and reflecting on it all.
Among the ideas such as John 3:36 (those who do not see life), Proverbs 12:10, John 5:44 – the most interesting was the parable of the Samaritan from Luke 10:25-37. There, Jesus was asked by a man who was a lawyer (a man that had made the interpretation of God’s law his profession) he tried to exalt himself over Jesus, saying: “teacher, what must I do in order to inherit eternal life?”.
Jesus responded by asking him to answer for himself: “What has been written in the law of God? What is your reading of it?”.
In typical fashion, as a sinner who had been taken captive by sin, the man did not go toward the opportunity for conviction. Instead, he chose an answer that he believed would justify him according to the life he was living:
No doubt he believed himself to be a keeper of the law and that nobody could possibly accuse him otherwise, and so we see Jesus’ wisdom: although knowing that the man was evading conviction, did not accuse him of dishonesty but just as St. Paul has described , He emptied Himself and gave the man a response according to love:
The lawyer was trapped! He had begun the conversation with a challenge toward Jesus: “teacher, tell me why I can’t have eternal life!”. He did this to prove that he was capable of confounding Jesus, but it turns out that although he had not equipped Jesus with any evidence of his own sin, he was in the difficult position of having claimed to have kept the law and being therefore entitled to everlasting life while yet having sought the expressed assurance from Jesus that he will inherit it . Although Jesus did not condemn the lawyer, the lawyer did not hear the words of Jesus as an assurance but as a conviction.
The lawyer was convicted not by any charge of Jesus’ accusation but by his own conscience – and to his commendation, he did not pretend to be satisfied with Jesus’ answer . Instead we see that he wanted to justify himself (v29). It was then that he yielded and subjected himself to Jesus’ judgement, saying “and who is my neighbour?”.
Jesus understood the man’s tendency to discriminate against Samaritans according to his culture. (In those days, the Jews were regarded as the ones having the authentic religion of God. The Samaritans were regarded as Gentiles by the Jewish people: unclean, simple/beastly, brutish, uncivilised, immoral etc, and the Samaritans knew their identity in that way). So to answer him, Jesus told the story of a Jewish man who was beaten by robbers and left for dead:
Two Jewish people walked by the man and did not have any compassion. They had no interest in helping but in fact passed by on the other side of the road. They obviously would not think twice if the man had died on the side of the road. Instead, it was a Samaritan – someone who had always been despised (thought of as little/insignificant/worthless) by the Jews – that is the one who went out of his way to help the man.
In fact, not only did the Samaritan stop and help, but Jesus describes in more detail exactly what love would do: the Samaritan treated the man’s wounds and brought him to a hotel on his own donkey. The next day he paid the hotelier to look after the man, pledging to pay whatever extra it had cost to keep the man until he had recovered.
The Samaritan was not looking for any favour or reward, and nor did he have any malice for the Jewish man despite having always been looked down upon by people like him.
Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’Jesus Christ, Luke 10:36
.. the lawyer answered according to his conviction: “the one who showed him mercy”.
If the lawyer had only been concerned with the most correct definition of the word, he would have to give an answer that is consistent with the dictionary:
Neighbour:Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
1. one living or located near another
Since proximity is an important factor, Jews and Levites were typically closer to Jerusalem and Jericho than Samaritans, so the “certain Jewish Priest” would be a close neighbour, the “Levite” a nearby neighbour while a “Samaritan” would be seen more as a stranger in the area:
We can see that Jesus’s question wasn’t designed to ask the lawyer what the legal definition of a neighbour is, instead the question was designed to correct the lawyer’s reading of the law by shifting the emphasis from the definition of the word “neighbour” (wherein the lawyer was tending to exclude a certain class) and placing the emphasis onto the word “love” – showing the lawyer how far away his culture had led him from producing the fruit for eternal life .
Jesus’ question isn’t really asking the man to define which of the three passers-by were more like a neighbour, but which one of them was fulfilling the intent of the law:
‘Go and do likewise.’Jesus Christ, Luke 10:37
If it wasn’t for the moral of the story being owed to the lawyer’s convictions, we would naturally expect the Jewish Priest to be the first to help: he is one whose role is to be among the Jewish community to minister and to serve; next there was a Levite: one who was appointed to intercede for the people before God in the temple, pleading for mercy and salvation – and instead Jesus shows us that an outcast – the very type of person that the Jews had learned to be unclean and unfamiliar with the laws of God – that happens to be the only person who had produced the required fruits in the time of need:
The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.St. Paul, Galatians 5:22-23
Knowing that the lawyer had received the value of the insight that he had asked for (although had not originally sought), Jesus reiterated His judgement: Go and do likewise.
.. so as I am reflecting upon the parable and the story of my own experience last night – not having spent money on a hotel for the moth and having not forfeited any valuable time (rather, being delighted to spend a few precious seconds holding and admiring the beauty of God’s work ) – it occurs to me that people can get so consumed by their religion, wanting to know it all and trying to be esteemed by others because of it; and tragically not only does life pass by unnoticed by them all around, but indeed it groans – eagerly longing for the day that the children of God are revealed “so that it may be set free from its bondage to decay”.
As the New Year brings about a customary reflection upon the year just past and the forming of resolutions going forward, may your considerations be influenced in part by this story. Maybe you will see that over the past year, all the teachings of the elementary matters of Christ have been effectively fruitless: teachings about rituals and baptisms, laying-on of hands, of repentance from dead works, the dead being resurrected and of eternal judgement – all of which do not produce in their own rite the fruits of salvation – and although we will do this if God permits, by far the true purpose of Christianity is to produce fruits worthy of the kingdom: to give to God what belongs to God and to treat others with love you would expect if you were them.
He has declared to you, man, what is good. And so what does the Lord require of you? except for to do justly, to love mercy, and to be humble as you walk with God?Micah 6:8