Christians, Let’s Get Back to Basics

You know, sometimes I wonder how often Christ rolled his eyes at his followers while he was here on Earth. I imagine that he was imminently patient with the frustrations of dealing with people who had spent three solid years with him, listening to everything he said, but were still just not getting it. But there is no sin in a sigh as you have to restate the same things over and over, an occasional head shake, maybe pinching the bridge of the nose, or even an eye roll. He was, after all, human.

He tried repeatedly to simplify things for them (and for us). He used parables in the hopes that the important things would click, and because he knew people have a tendency to remember stories far better than lectures. And he tried to break things down to basics. Probably the best example is this: love God, love your neighbor. Three of the four gospels have a version of this quote (John is a little different from the other three, but I’m not gonna get into that–it’s for Biblical scholars). Bear with me as I give you three copies of the same fundamental idea.

First, a little background for the passage. A teacher of the law asked Jesus which commandment was the greatest. Now we don’t know much about this guy other than that he was a Bible scholar (which for him, would have been the Pentateuch (the first five books of our Old Testament) and the books of the prophets). It says that he “tested” Jesus with his question. We don’t really know what his motivation was; it could be that he was a true seeker, and wanted to know if Jesus measured up to the hype, or that he was trying to trick Jesus into some objectionable offense (this was a pretty common occurrence). But it doesn’t really matter why he asked the question. Jesus used it as a teachable moment, one I’d dare say was one of his most important. Here are the three versions of his response, in the NIV (please don’t be upset if I didn’t use your favorite translation–I’ve read lots, and they really do come out the same; you can read yours if you prefer). Note that in the Luke quote, Jesus turned the question back to the enquirer, and the words are his, but then Jesus said he answered correctly.

Matthew 22:37-40

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Mark 12:30-31

30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[a] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] There is no commandment greater than these.”

Luke 10:25-27

27 He {the scholar} answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

Both of these quotes come from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:5[a] and Leviticus 19:18[b], if you want to look them up). While we modern day people think of the commandments as “the big ten”, he was talking about far more than that. There was a huge list of laws, some applicable to the entire nation of Israel, some specifically for the Levites (who were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of the nation), and some even more specifically for the Levite priests. But with all those rules to choose from, Jesus felt these two were the most important, and they even managed to capture the essence of all those other laws.

Basically, Jesus said, “There is too much, let me sum up.”

If you boiled everything down to its most basic roots, you’d have two categories in which all the other laws fit. Loving God involves not worshiping other gods (even things or people we treat as gods). It also includes a desire to please God by behaving as he wants us to behave. And the most important of those behaviours, what Jesus said was the biggest thing in all of the laws and guidelines God set out, was “love your neighbor as yourself”.

And what happens next? The scholar asks what all of us want to know: Who is my neighbor?  That’s right, I want to know exactly whom I have to be nice to. Jesus follows up with one of the most recognizable parables in scripture, the story of the Good Samaritan. The point he’s trying to get across to the people is this: everyone is your neighbor.

Wait, do you mean the meth addict in the line at the pharmacy? The gay couple sitting together at the coffee shop? The single mom on welfare who’s pregnant again? The girl with tattoos and facial piercings who visited the church last weekend? The unemployed man begging for change at the entrance to the shopping plaza?

Yep. All of the above. And everyone else too.

But don’t I get to decide whether they’re worthy?

Sorry, nope. That’s not your job.

There is absolutely no encouragement to do so. In fact, one of the primary points of the good Samaritan story is how lowly the Israelites thought Samaritans were (for cultural reasons), but HE was the only one who was a good neighbor.

Read the next part of the passage: (from the account in Luke)

Luke 10:29-37

29 But he {the scholar} wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 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. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

I think it’s kinda funny that Luke added “the scholar wanted to justify himself”. Common disease of the human race.

And after the story, Jesus asked him who he thought was the neighbor. The (potentially imperious) student of the scriptures knew the right answer. Even if he didn’t like it, it was glaringly obvious. And Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus said, Don’t be like the priest, who was supposed to be one of the highest spiritual leaders of all Israel. Don’t be like the Levite (the tribe from which the priests were selected) who were in charge of being support staff for the priests, and caring for the temple and the other spiritual needs of the nation. Pause and think on that for a second. Don’t be like the “spiritual” people, but instead be like one of the lowliest outcasts, and put someone else before yourself. Because the “spiritual” people refused to do so.

The Samaritan didn’t say, “He shouldn’t have been walking through such a rough neighborhood.”

He didn’t say, “He must have been up to no good, or he wouldn’t have been here.”

He didn’t say, “He doesn’t deserve my help. He’s probably in this predicament because of bad choices, and now he’s suffering the consequences.”

There was no victim blaming anywhere to be found in this story.

He didn’t even say what I think might have been most understandable: “His people and my people have hated each other for a long time, and I doubt one of them would help one of us. Why should I?”

It just says, when he saw him, he took pity on him. I think an even better translation of that word, in the context of the passage, is that he had compassion.

At that moment, it didn’t matter how or why the man was in the condition he was in. It didn’t matter what his race, upbringing, or fundamental beliefs might have been. All that mattered was that the Samaritan saw a need and did everything he could to help. He had compassion. In fact, he went above and beyond. He not only lifted the guy out of the disastrous situation he was in, he made sure there was enough money to help him recover fully and get back on his feet. He didn’t offer his help based on whether the man deserved it, or earned it after the fact, or groveled at his feet in thanks for his marvelous generosity. He also didn’t let the innkeeper bear the expense of a decision that he had made. He offered to cover any additional expenses the next time he was around. He lived out his convictions to the fullest. He put his money where his heart was.

So I ask you: Is this how Christians behave? Is this what the rest of the world sees when they look at people who claim Christ’s name as part of their identity? Sadly, it has been far too often not the case. We definitely have a tendency to be more like the priest and the Levite, turning our heads to people in need. And it seems to have gotten even worse lately. This is something that desperately needs to change. If the majority of non-Christians see the majority of Christians acting in ways that are the exact opposite of what Christ called us to do, in fact, the opposite of what he said was one of the most important concepts of all, it’s no wonder there is animosity towards us.

So how can we turn this around? I truly believe it starts with each individual. If I claim that Christ is important to me, then my behaviour should reflect that. I should be willing to reach out to those in need, regardless of whether their need is a result of their own mistakes, or whether their beliefs align with mine. All of the people. I should be prayerfully considering how God can use my own special gifts and abilities to show his love to a hurting world. I should be working on me, not dictating how others should be spending their own money and gifts. I’ll ponder on this, and I ask that you do as well, and next time we’ll delve a little more deeply into specific instances, because there are so many people in need in this world.

Advertisements

What Do YOU Think?

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s