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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Who is your Neighbor?

I was thinking about some of the recent posting about God's will and my mind started to meander down the old dusty roads of the gospels. I really took a long hard look at the "good Samaritan" passage, picking it apart and playing with the roles of not only the stories characters but the characters sitting around at the time Jesus told the story. It always amazes me what comes to light when I do this with different passages. I began to realize that Jesus was a master at creating paradigm shifts. His stories or parables held so much insight that we should really not teach them in the early years of life, but wait until we can grasp the depth of the lesson. I fear that we hear the kiddie version and leave it there, never going back to harvest the true lesson. This story is a great example of how a child's Sunday school lesson can never really understand or portray the dynamics of what is happening. We, as humans do not learn about hate, prejudice, rejection, fear, arrogance, stubbornness, and such things until we get out into the world and get the crap kicked out of us. It is on this stage that the good Samaritan comes to us. Here is the passage;

The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 26"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" 27He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'[
c]; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'[d]" 28"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." 29But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 30In 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. 34He 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. 35The 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.' 36"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" 37The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
So, here we have Jesus, and an expert in the law. The expert chooses to test Jesus. This expert comes up with what he thinks is a tricky question to see how Jesus will answer. The question ("what must I do to inherit eternal life?" ) is THE question that has, in my opinion, driven a wage into the church body creating tremendous division. This is no simple question, and Jesus is asked it point blank here. The answer give is unique and simple. ("What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" ) Jesus put it back on the tester. I think Jesus must have been giddy inside. You know that happy feeling when you have been waiting for someone to ask a certain question and when it is asked you can barely hold in the "I got you" feelings. I think Jesus was doing just that, he was walking this guy right into a paradigm shift. The tester answers with (27He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'[c]; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'[d]" ) . But this leaves another question that the tester feels he should get clarification on. The old, humm, "I wonder if I have done this?" kind of clarification, or justification, is more like it. How does Jesus define who my neighbor is? Is it the saved, God's elect, seekers, the guy next door, who is our neighbor? And, so, Jesus tells the story of the Samaritan. Now mind you, the writer of this gospel, Luke, just a little before this account told us about a Samaritan who rejected Jesus. So, of all the characters to choose from to be in this story, Jesus picks a very conflicting set of men to be in the story. He goes with a Pastor, a Levite, a Samaritan, and an unknown victim of a crime. Mind you this is no mistake, Jesus is driving home a huge point here. The Pastor and the Levite would be easy neighbors to love, but the other two possess a huge problem in that time, and maybe even today. The Samaritan is the one that comes through in a big way in this story. Or, the character that would most likely have the least expectation to help anyone. And the ones that we would expect to help, don't.

Can we, today, love our neighbor as ourselves? Do we actually do this? Or, are we more caught up with "what's your belief, I need to know before I help you?" Seriously, this is a huge issue today. Can we love our neighbor no matter what their belief is? Do we only love the saved? Do we walk past those in need as if it is not our problem? When you think about it, loving our neighbor becomes one of the elements to eternal life per Jesus himself. Leaving rude comments, slandering each other, or just being harsh toward others IS NOT LOVING YOUR NEIGHBOR, is it?

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