There’s something we all share in common—a difficulty in living up to our claims. When we claim one thing and live another, we may not admit it but the H-word applies. Ever since the fall, we live in the friction between an airbrushed reputation and stone-cold reality, reality being who we are before God. Few would argue that authentic Christianity is at a premium these days.
You’ve probably heard it said that as we read the Bible, the Bible reads us. Luke 10 has been my focus this week as I prepare to teach the story of the Good Samaritan on Sunday. This account is one of those classic Sunday School lessons that gets taught so often that mental white noise can form between the ears of students.
For me, the story has had the opposite effect, convicting me of how minuscule my love is for God as well as my neighbor when compared to what it should be. I can only love my neighbor as myself if I love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Of course, only Jesus loved God and neighbor perfectly, but showing love and mercy to my neighbor—all those I meet along this road called life—authenticates my love for God or nullifies it.
A close look at Luke’s account yields some interesting observations that are easy to miss with a cursory reading. Jesus is teaching a group of people that includes “an expert in the law.” Everyone is seated, which is why Luke tells us that the lawyer stood up to test Jesus, obviously radiating confidence as he did so.
The man proceeds to ask the same question as the rich young ruler: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Only this time the questioner takes the offensive position, desiring to display his expertise of the Torah and possibly trip up Jesus as a bonus. Instead, he comes away looking foolish and must scramble to save face. So he asks a second question: “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus begins to tell a story that transcends time and culture. We can read similar stories in the newspaper or on the internet every day—a man is robbed, beaten, and left for dead. Along come a typical cast of characters that should—owing to their positions—lend a helping hand to this poor desperate man, a fellow Jew, lying on the side of the road.
Earlier in the day (at breakfast), the priest and Levite would have spoken the words of the Shema.
Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.
Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever.
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
And these words that I command you today shall be in your heart.
And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit at home, and when you walk along the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.
And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.
And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 11:13-21; Numbers 15:37-41.
Later that evening, after they returned home from their walk along the Jericho road, the priest and Levite would have repeated the Shema. The priest would pride himself in escaping the close call of defilement the wounded man would have caused him should he have come to his assistance. Never mind that he broke the entire second table of the law between his two recitations.
At this point, Jesus’ listeners probably think a third character—a non-clergy, good guy, stand-up Jewish citizen—will save the day and help the poor man. What a shock it must of been to hear a Samaritan came to the man’s rescue. A chapter earlier James and John had asked permission to call down fire from Heaven to deal with the 400-year-old “Samaritan problem.”
Through the pure eyes of a Jew in Jesus’ day, what wasn’t there to hate about Samaritans? They were half-breeds or worse. They worshiped at a rival temple that they had the effrontery to build themselves. And if this theological mongrelism wasn’t enough to instill hatred in the Jewish heart, the fact that some Jewish brethren had been murdered in Samaria sealed the deal.
Before his listener’s shock can wear off, Jesus makes his point with a final question: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” It appears everyone present got the point, including the lawyer.
Extending mercy and compassion to our neighbor provides evidence that we have tasted God’s mercy ourselves. “So then, you will know them by their fruits,” says Jesus. Authentic Christianity is the outcome of a radical change. This change—the new birth—sets one on a trajectory of new desires and new loves and new actions. The result is an authenticity that can be seen, heard, and experienced as faith works itself out in love.
What’s your reputation-reality differential? Let’s pray that God will make us the people he has called us to be, blameless and innocent, without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom we shine as lights in the world.
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (John 13:34
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15)
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Outdo yourselves in honoring one another. (Romans 12:10)
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8)
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galations 5:14)
Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another. (1 Thessalonians 4:9)
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. (James 2:8)
Beloved, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7)
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (John 15:10)
The Good Samaritan story wheel makes an excellent craft for Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, or homeschool. Children enjoy sharing what they have learned, and the story wheel provides a helpful tool for them to do so as well as for their own review.
Click on the image below for instructions and the downloads for this project.