When the rubber hits the road, Australian evangelist John Smith reminds us that a fat Bible under the armpit does nothing to hide a censorious, unloving, judgmental attitude.
On one occasion, an expert in the law asked Jesus: "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 10:25) Lawyers love definitions, but this question was a little stupid. You don't earn an inheritance; you receive it because of a relationship. Jesus answered with another question (I only wish Christians would learn to ask astute questions rather than trot out Christian clichés): "What's written in the Law? How do you read it?"
The man replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and all your mind, and love your neighbour as yourself."
"Spot on," said Jesus. "If you're really doing this, you're living." It all sounded terrific. Unfortunately, in Israel at the time "neighbour" had been narrowed to mean "someone like me", "one of my group".
This is like Australians who say, "I do the right thing by my neighbour," but if an aboriginal family moves into the street they scream murder about its effect on property values. Jesus said it's doing that counts. Not theologising, theorising, philosophising, defining or recommending, but actually living it out in our daily lives as an expression of God's love within.
But the lawyer, having tripped himself up, wanted to justify himself. "Okay, young rabbi," he asked, "who is my neighbour?" So Jesus told a story. "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."
Picture it. He had no clothes on. He was unconscious, so he couldn't speak. We pick people by the clothes or their language or accent, but this man might have been anyone. On the Jerusalem-Jericho road the chances were he was a Samaritan or Jew, but he might equally have been a Roman, Greek or some other detestable Gentile. A priest came along, but when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side of the road. Insensitive? No - he'd been trained that his one task in life was to be a go-between between God and his fellows, so staying religiously "clean" was the most important thing to him.
I'm an evangelical, but with great grief I have to say that Christians of my persuasion are no different. It's more important to them these days not to say a rough word off the street than to show compassion, or anger against injustice and immorality. A second man came - a Levite, a layman. Perhaps his attitude was: "If the expert says he shouldn't do anything, I don't have to either." And he too passed by.
Then came a Samaritan. This was bad. Try telling George Bush a story about Good Saddam Hussein. To a Jew, there was no such thing as a "good" Samaritan.
But it was the despised Samaritan who looked after the man. And when Jesus asked the lawyer which of the three was a neighbour to the injured man, he correctly replied, "The one who had mercy on him."
Then Jesus said, "You go and do likewise." What really matters? That was the issue. We poor, beleaguered human beings think our value comes from what we wear, what we own, who we hang out with, what race we belong to.
Without a sense that there is a God who says, "I love you, and you have significance no matter what you wear or look like," we survive by dividing one another into "them" and "us". We make ourselves feel big by making someone else feel small. We try to feel superior or strong by making someone else inferior or weak. The Bible calls that sin. And we men do it to women, too, in and out of the Church.
What really matters, said Jesus, isn't whether you're beautiful or ugly, refined or outcast, but whether you love unconditionally. Some of us are Pharisees. A fat Bible under the armpit does nothing to hide the fact that we're censorious, judgmental, unloving, critical. The Holy Ghost wants to liberate us from our selfrighteousness. But God doesn't call us to a lifestyle he doesn't live himself. While we were still his enemies, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). We are the man injured in the middle of the road. We are unconscious. We can't express where we are. We've been beaten up by the robbers of life. We're in a state of utter nakedness and helplessness. There's no room for racism or sexism or class distinction. There's no room for superiority of any kind. There's only one magnificent possibility: because God has loved us, we ought also to love one another.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
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