Monday, November 20, 2006

To the Letter

But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor?
(Luke 10:29)

The parable of the Good Samaritan has been taught on countless times, and it has much to show us with regards to the presumption of faith. There are several things that we need to point out here. First, the lawyer obviously had the wrong motive for asking Jesus this question anyway, as it says he tempted him and that he wished to justify himself.

Don’t be too quick to dismiss yourself from this aspect of the passage, however. Many times we presume upon what God means by the law, pouring our own righteousness into it. We also may at times question the rightness of what God seems to be saying, or twist the text to mean something it doesn’t by trying to read into it, like this lawyer was doing. This lawyer, in trying to justify himself, sought an exact meaning of “neighbor”, so as to have a formula for righteousness.

Imagine him at the judgment: “But I loved my neighbor, just like you said to; I followed your commands to the letter”. Of course, this shows that what he was really trying to do was get a license to be able to love only those he must in order to inherit eternal life, and to necessarily exclude all others, at his personal discretion. Again, we see the results of trying to develop an exact method using the scriptures in an overly literal, all encompassing way.

Think about the child whose mother tells her that she cannot ride her bike to the park; she goes anyway, and when her mother scolds her, she cries, “I didn’t ride my bike, I walked”. Can you see how childish and utterly ridiculous this lawyer is being in this passage now?

Still, we see that today many have not taken this lesson from Jesus. They will take one or a few verses, and then dogmatically assert that this is the prescription for righteousness, instead of comparing these verses with others, using the clear, overall teaching of the Bible as a guide. All this is doing is the same thing the lawyer (and all religions apart from true Christianity) was attempting: to bring a measure of works to the kingdom of God. Christians have been deceived into jumping through spiritual hoops. Place your faith in Christ alone as your hope, not only of salvation, but also of sanctification. Only a justified sinner can battle effectively against sin. Overcoming sin comes from a relationship not for a relationship.

Salvation is not a process, where we do this, then achieve that type of deal. There is no must do order of salvation, it is of grace alone. This does not mean that we will not do these things that are evident in a true Christian life. Yes, we repent, get baptized in water, read our Bibles, pray, and pursue sanctification. But these are measures of obedience, not means of saving grace. These things are a result of salvation, not a requirement for it.

This fact points beautifully to the next aspect of Christ’s teaching here in this parable: the idea of duty. By showing us the priest and the Levite specifically, Christ was definitely trying to convey something even more than the fact that being a neighbor means more than your own kind.

Imagine the priest; he was on his way to the service; he had no time to help; he was already going to go help his parishioners, and there were hundreds of them, not just one man. Besides, how can he be expected to care for everyone he came across that needed help, he had his own flock to care for, and God put him in charge of these people, so God would want him to take care of his own? He had a prior commitment: there will always be people that need help; his job was to help those already entrusted into his care. Christ is putting his second commandment above prior duty. Those parishioners will still be there; this man may have died, and he needed help immediately.

Imagine the Levite; he was heading to the temple; no way could he touch this man, he had consecrated himself. The temple service he was going to happened only once a year; God would be furious if he defiled his hands just to help one soul, he was sacrificing for the sins of a whole community. Again, obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22), and Jesus destroys the self-righteous lawyer’s, and many believers’ attitude.

Never are we to presume that we have the right way; we must continue to seek God, not trust in our own inventions, justified by our own pathetic knowledge of God gained by scripture twisting. Duty and prior commitment, even about church matters, can be no excuse to ignore the calling by God to demonstrate Christ-likeness.


Jonathan Moorhead said...

Hey, it's not Monday yet!

Even So... said...

he he is not Tuesday yet either...

Matt Gumm said...

That picture is so cool. What is it?

Even So... said...

Greek learning tool...