The Unloveable Hero

“And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him.” (Luke 10:31-34 NASB)

And so, having stood, having attempted to ascertain the quality of the Son of God, and having felt the desire to “justify” himself, now the lawyer is challenged on his own quality.  The core of this parable is that the hero is not the one the crowd or the lawyer are predisposed to like.  The challenge is to call this hated one a “neighbor”.  Neighbors are people we like, people like us, who live near us, who are “comfortable” even if annoying at times.  Not a hated people group with a cultural history of animosity going back hundreds of years.

There are lots of applications of the way Jesus constructs this parable, some especially applicable to the culture of America in the 20th or even the 21st centuries.  But there are European cultures for which this is true as well.  Middle Eastern and Eastern peoples for whom this parable is especially hard, far more directly applicable than even for the USA.  As it turns out, we’re actually not that interesting nor that intense compared to others after all.  But there’s a personal challenge here.

The priest and Levite represented the religious establishment.  A road to Jericho passed near by the Essene settlement at Qumran, a group who would have listened to this parable and really hated all three potential neighbors.  They were already actively rejecting the religious establishment of Israel by this time.  And there’s another element here.  Jesus is Himself on His way to Jerusalem.  He is planning on passing through Samaria.  In fact He has recently been rejected by Samaritan villages because He was on His way to Jerusalem.  The social/cultural tension is all around Him as the lawyer stands to test and as Jesus tells this parable.

I live in a city with an identity crisis.  The pervasive hopelessness and perceived poverty run deep.  But these perceptions are illusions.  Unfortunately, these illusions seem to drive decisions in city hall, they seem to the major influence in community decisions, and when challenged to do or be more they form the responses of those who refuse the challenge.  The desire of the people to have the expectations of others lowered to their comfort-level.  And after a while, it becomes difficult to resist this desire.  It’s easier to lower the expectations rather than fight to maintain the challenge to do and be more.

But the Samaritans, Levites, and priests mill about together grumbling and shuffling from discouragement to discouragement focused on what they don’t have.  They take turns being the source of frustration for the community, striving to maintain the pecking order, smug that they are not the other two.  It’s a common play acted on many stages across the country.  And I have become convinced that small-town America is pretty enamored with this particular diversion.  And so this parable is necessary.  We need to hear it.  And we need to begin living it.

The expectation should be that the priest, done with his duties in the temple, would stoop to help the wounded man.  The expectation should be that the Levite, having finished the holy work at Jerusalem, would help the wounded man.  And the expectation should be that the man representing a hated hating people group would stop and help the wounded man.  There’s really no excuse for any of them not to help.  That’s the surprising thing about the parable, the priest and Levite don’t help.  It surprises the people and the lawyer.  The next surprise is worse, the Samaritan does help.  We all begin to win and our enemy begins to lose when all three become neighbors.  The victory is achieved when we expect all three to be neighbors, and they are.

What do the three potential neighbors teach you?


When A Lawyer Stands Up

And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25 NASB)

Last week, I decided to work ahead and complete my translation of this parable.  Unbeknownst to me (but knownst to God), I would need that last Sunday.  It worked out that I was asked to give a “devotional” in the Sunday service while the song before was playing.  Since this was fresh in my mind, I chose this.  But the divine element was that this parable dovetailed precisely with the sermon.  The person who was scheduled had a “fatherly” devotion planned, and my next scheduled speaking was on Father’s Day.

Yes, sure, all random chance, kind of like the universe, completely without orchestration or direction.  How do we “swim” in the pool of divine direction and intent?  Do we go with the current or fight against it, strive for the side, or even stay out of it all together?  As seventy “missionaries” return and they celebrate, up jumps a lawyer.  What timing!  Jesus has just praised God for revealing His purpose to the infants rather than the wise and intelligent.  How could this guy remain in his seat?  The infant believing he’s wise and intelligent could not remain silent.

As this lawyer stood to fight against the tide of Jesus’ ministry and direction, he stood as one of the wise and intelligent.  In representation of their group, he stands to “test” Jesus.  The word used combines “from out of” and “to test for quality or response”.  In other words, the Lawyer wanted to know what Jesus would do when asked a “hard” question.  Ironically, the group who just returned, had returned from healing and casting out demons, and so on.  Having returned from this dramatic demonstration of the power of God, Jesus says He saw the devil fall from heaven.  What a great time to ask a question about commandments!

This is one of those encounters where you have to wonder if the guy was even paying attention.  It’s a great example of what Jesus says in praise, that the Father revealed these things to the infants and not the wise and intelligent!  He didn’t get it.  He’s clueless about what’s going on, and focus’ only on his agenda: test Jesus to see what He will do.  “Yeah, yeah, I know all those miracles happened, and preaching and stuff, but I have a question about the law.”  Okay, thanks for playing.

In his wisdom and intelligence though, the lawyer provides an excellent opportunity for one of the parables of Jesus most quoted and misunderstood by masses of the unfaithful.  Anyone with a motorhome or camp trailer knows of the “Good Sam Club”.  Where did the name come from?  This parable.  Does the club have anything to do with the parable?  No, not really.  In 1966, several RV people banded together in a promise to help each other along the road (i.e. be a good Samaritan).

So, once again, a lawyer stood to speak.  I wonder if people groaned when he did.  “Great, not this guy again.”  I wonder if people looked on in interest wondering what would happen as well.  “This should be good.”  I wonder if people even noticed.  The thing is, this guy stands in the midst of a celebration and seeks to take the crowd and celebration in another direction.  I don’t know if he really expected Jesus to “fail” the test, the word used doesn’t suggest either way.  All I know is that his question has little or nothing to do with what’s going on, except as an example of Jesus’ claim his group missed the revelation.

So, what do I learn?  Well, first off, I learn to remain on a lookout for what Jesus is doing around me.  And along with that, I learn to jettison my agenda if it doesn’t seem to fit what I see my Master doing around me.  Regardless of whether Jesus was able to use this errant lawyer or not, he didn’t end up as an example of obedience to Jesus.  I would rather be one of faceless, nameless examples of faithful followers of Jesus.  It would be better to be one of the unnamed 120 in the upper room with the disciples than the named or mentioned opposition to Him.  It’s not that my name is written in Scripture, but that my name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  That’s where I want to be mentioned.

So what do you see when the lawyer stands up to test Jesus?