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  • Writer's pictureDirty Minister

LOVE FOR DUMMIES: A Samaritan Story

I wanted to take an opportunity to share my favorite story in the Bible. It’s got everything needed for a good story. It’s got drama, it's got love, and it's got my absolute favorite, a sassy Jesus. But before we get into nerding out on this piece of scripture, I’ve gotta ask you a question. Who do you hate? I know, I know… That is not a very kind question because of course we all know, we don’t haaate…. anyone. We’ve all learned instead of hating someone, we just STRONGLY dislike them. But we don’t hate anyone because hate is a strong word. Okay, okay… I get it. We don’t want to use that word. But if you could, just for a moment. Who would it be? Who pushes you to drop f-bombs? Who aggravates you to no end? What kind of person do you wish you could just scream in their face and call them “a fucking idiot!” without any consequences? Would it be the kind of person who leaves their grocery cart in the middle of a parking space? Or might it be that person who somehow got control of bluetooth in the car and never lets a song finish before moving onto the next one? Some of you might hate the kind of person who just stands on the moving sidewalk in the airport. Or maybe its bigger than that. Maybe it’s people on one side of the family that have been the cause of so much drama that Thanksgiving has become a family meal to dread. Or might it be people associated with a political party or ideology that you just can’t even fathom why anyone would ever think like that? Could it be a hate so big that it encompasses an entire generation!? Thanks a lot boomers… (Just kidding) Or maybe it's so specific… Like when people put silverware and napkins at the beginning of a foodline. Seriously!? This line is a mile long and I don’t know what is between here and there so how am I supposed to know what utensils I’m supposed to take right now? Do I risk it and guess, hoping that I grab the right ones but ultimately screw it up and have to go back to the beginning of the line and interrupt others trying to get started on getting food? Or do I just grab it all risking only really needing one and wasting away two perfectly good utensils? I can’t put them back at this point and if they are plastic, I just added to our plastic waste for NOTHING! Just put it at the end so I can make an informed decision on my silverware needs… Anywho... We’ve all got someone we might be able to hate for this exercise. Keep them in the back of your mind as we get into my favorite Bible story. Jesus unveils, starting in Luke 10:25, a challenge to the Jewish people to redefine their concept of neighbor. Just before this, Jesus sent out 72 people in pairs to begin sharing the news that Jesus is coming, to share of the miracles Jesus has performed, and the ministry Jesus has been up to. Then we jump right into our story here, so we don’t exactly know where they’re at or how long after this takes place. What we do know is that we’ve got Jesus, an expert in the law, and some sort of crowd. First thing to pop off is an expert in the law stands up and asks the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Right outta the gate, Jesus responds with his sass by answering the expert’s question with a question. “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” Because Jesus knows this guy isn’t genuinely curious about Jesus’ thoughts on eternal life. What’s he doing asking a question to something he apparently is an expert in!? He’s asking with his own hidden agenda. And Jesus knows. He knows… It's like when I ask my 5 year old before bed, “did you brush your teeth?” I know they didn’t brush their teeth. But I ask anyway just in case they say, “yes.” Then I will have caught them. “I KNOW YOU DIDN’T BRUSH YOUR TEETH! Why are you lying to me!? We brush our teeth every night before bed. This is nothing new. Now get in there and brush your teeth!” I’ve caught them with my question that wasn’t really a question. But Jesus is much sassier than my 5 year old and puts the question back on the expert, “how do you read it?” The expert responds with what is, of course, the right answer. He quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. “LOVE the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind. And LOVE your neighbor as yourself.” DING DING DING! This expert did a mighty fine job showing off his expertise. Jesus even gives him the credit, responding, “Yea, you have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.” That’s it, way to go expert guy! He answered Jesus' question and even got Jesus to acknowledge his rightness. Walk away expert guy, you got this one. But have you ever gotten something right, but couldn’t let it be? Have you ever pressed your luck too far? For instance, my wife and I have had a “game” we’ve played throughout having kids. It's simply the nose-goes game. Whenever we catch a wiff of a poopy diaper, whoever touches their nose first gets out of having to change that diaper. And I gotta say, I’m pretty good at this game. But there will be times where I catch that wiff, quickly draw my finger to my nose, and watch the wave of disappointment wash over my wife’s face. She’ll give her typical huff of loser-dome and go grab a clean diaper/wipes and get to work. I did it! I got out of cleaning up poop. But sometimes it just slips out of my mouth… “Gosh, you’re pretty bad at nose-goes.” That’s it. Next thing I know, I’m the one cleaning the dirty diaper. Jesus is about to metaphorically clean this expert of the law’s dirty diaper of theology with a big ole LOVE-bomb! Because that expert couldn’t just take the win he got. He continues to push and asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” How Jesus answers this question is what I find so life changing! Because you see, he goes into a parable (a made up story to portray the Kingdom of God). He tells of a man who is making a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho. Now this trip is not a safe one, and the audience knows this. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was known for its danger. This road descended nearly 3,300 feet in 17 miles. The road ran through narrow passes at points, and the terrain offered easy hiding for the bandits who terrorized travelers. And unfortunately, this man encountered this danger and had been beaten, stripped, and left for dead. His assailants had left him with nothing to identify his status except his desperate need. Now we don’t really know who this victim was. I think Jesus didn’t give this man any descriptors on purpose. There is nothing to identify this man to any group of people or type of person so that anyone listening can easily see themselves as this man. A way in which Jesus helps the listener empathize with this victim. Jesus begins to shake up people’s expectations with the next set of details in this story. While this man is on the side of the road beaten up and unable to save himself, someone walks by. A priest! Of course, a priest has come to save the day! Right? Wrong… The priest walks right on by. WHAT!? Could you imagine if later today you saw a news report of someone who got beat up and left for dead in the parking lot of a local Target? The reporter cuts to video footage of your pastor walking through the parking lot, looking at this beat up guy, and just continued walking right into the store without a care in the world? I think that is what Jesus is trying to do here. He strategically names someone who is supposed to be a “hero” of the community, and they just walk right on by… But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He hits the crowd again. Because who is next? A Levite! What is a Levite? Levites were one of the tribes of Israel descended from Levi, one of the twelve sons of Jacob. These were Godly people! Good guys! That Levite came to that same place, saw the man, and walked right on by… Okay, now Jesus is kind of being a dick. He is making all these good guys out to be villains, or at the very least not anyone to be respected in this story. But then, Jesus pulls out the big guns. We all know, based on standard story-telling structures, that third person is gonna be the hero! Who might it be? Maybe a fellow Israelite? That would make sense as he was most likely speaking to a group of Israelites. But in Jesus’ typical flipping-the-scripts fashion. He names a Samaritan. It says, “But a Samaritan, as he traveled came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii (two days worth of income) and gave them to the innkeeper. He said to look after him and when he returns, he will reimburse the innkeeper for any extra expenses he might have accrued.” What is Jesus doing!? He has just made the hero of this parable one of the most hated amongst the Jews. Samaritans weren’t known as “good people.” They were terrible human-beings. They were regarded as unclean people, descendants of the mixed marriages that followed from the Assyrian settlement of people from various regions in the fallen Northern kingdom. Jews and Samaritans were enemies, and Jesus challenged the long-standing division between the two by making a Samaritan the hero of this story. This is what I LOVE about Jesus the most! He pushes his followers to rethink what they believe to know is true. He pushes on tradition. He pushes on stereotypes and biases. He pushes on expectations. And he pushes people to LOVE bigger than they ever could’ve imagined. After Jesus finishes his story with the Samaritan saving the day, Jesus then turns the question back to the lawyer, and the lawyer is caught on the very question with which he intended to impale Jesus. "Which of these three was a neighbor?" The multiple-choice question forces such a distasteful answer that the lawyer will not even use the word Samaritan. He says instead, "The one who showed him mercy," but ironically his circuitous answer provides an accurate description of a neighbor. Jesus has turned the issue from the boundaries of required neighborliness to the essential nature of neighborliness. Neighbors are defined actively, not passively. And I think this begs the question, who is your Samaritan? I started off asking you quite bluntly, who do you hate? Who is it that makes your blood boil? Who do you see as the downfall of our society as we know it? Is it a certain individual or some type of person? No matter who it is, Jesus challenges you to see them as the hero of the story. You see, the story of the Good Samaritan is not simply about a Samaritan showing the actions of loving our neighbor. It completely shifts the perspective of who we might see as a loving neighbor. It tears down our own biases and prejudices. Because we all are good at loving the people who love us back. That’s easy! That feels good and right. I think the expert of the law was trying to justify to himself his own idea of who his neighbor was by asking the question in the first place. But Jesus expertly spun the expectations around and forced the expert, the crowd, and even us today to redefine our sense of neighbor and who we are called to LOVE. So, let’s get out there and LOVE our neighbors! Let’s step outside today and see the world in a different light. Let’s allow Jesus’ teachings to change our mindsets and our actions. We can shift our hearts to see our enemies in a kinder light. To shift our perspectives and show the mercy exhibited by the Good Samaritan. And let us be motivated by nothing more than LOVE itself. Remember, the lawyer had initially asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus answered that question by telling a story about a Samaritan who kept a beaten man from dying. Jesus steered the lawyer to quote the commandments to love God and love one's neighbor. The first round of this intellectual contest between Jesus and the lawyer ended with Jesus' injunction "Do this, and you will live." The second round ends with a similar command: "Go and do likewise." But this time no promise is attached to the command. The duty of neighborliness is an expression of love of God and love of others, and those who show mercy show that they belong among the heirs of the kingdom, but the duty of neighborliness transcends any calculation of a heavenly reward. The Samaritan could not have expected any reward or repayment for what he did for the beaten man. One who shows mercy in order to gain a reward would, therefore, not truly be doing "likewise." My prayer for us today is to go out into the world and LOVE God and our neighbors just as Jesus has shared today. That our LOVE has no boundaries or limits. Our LOVE is not contingent on some reward. I pray that our LOVE extends far and wide without hesitation. I truly believe Jesus calls us to a LOVE that has the power to change the world for all. THANK GOD FOR A LOVE THE REDEFINES OUR PREJUDICES! -The Dirty Minister

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