Friday, January 30, 2015

How to inherit eternal life, part 13: From Jerusalem to Jericho

Jesus replied and said, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. (Luke 10:30 NASB)

... So the people crossed opposite Jericho. (Joshua 3:16 NASB)
We are studying the passage from Luke in which Jesus paints a word picture of loving your neighbor as yourself. I have a little treat for you at the end, so be sure to read all the way through. (You can read about loving your neighbor as yourself and being a friend to sinners with these links in a separate tab and still keep this one open.) Today, we turn to the journey from Jerusalem to Jericho. 

Jericho is an interesting city and merits a closer look. Most people will remember the "battle" at Jericho in which the people walked around the city, day after day, as God prescribed, until the walls came down. The victory was, quite literally, won by their walk of obedience. What we often forget is that Jericho was the place where the children of Israel crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land. You may remember that they stood, after forty years of wandering, at the edge of the Jordan River. The water was rushing past and the walled city of Jericho was nearby on the other side. (BTW, this is the place where I was baptized and may have been the place where Jesus was baptized by John. Imagine that! Baptized in the place where Joshua and the children of Israel entered the promised land, where John the Baptizer ministered, and where our Lord Jesus was baptized as well. How incredible is that?) 

Jericho was a relatively large city, likely an affluent city (because of the walls), and well-populated. It was also filled with fear. They were terrified because of the vast numbers of the children of Israel who had just crossed the Jordan, and well they might have been, for their destruction was near. It would not, however, be the multitude of wanderers that would destroy them, but their God. 

Jericho is a beautiful city. It was known for its "aromatics" and had a wonderful fragrance. It is surrounded by desert, but because of the Jordan and the spring known as Elijah's Spring, it serves as a kind of oasis in the desert. Getting to Jericho was, however, difficult. The distance from Jerusalem to Jericho is roughly 18 miles. The journey is difficult, in part, because of the change in altitude between the two cities of more than 3000 feet, making at least a portion of the journey extremely steep. Because of the altitude difference, there is an accompanying change in the environment, becoming increasingly dry and arid as you approach Jericho. There are several excellent hiding places along the way and it was a popular place for robbers to hide. In fact, the robbers had been so successful in their crimes that it had become known as the "way of blood" because of the amount of blood shed in that place.

Some commentators suggest that, in this story, Jerusalem is symbolic of God's government and that Jericho symbolizes man's government. Others suggest that Jerusalem symbolizes paradise and Jericho, the world. Certainly, either of those are possible, but Jesus may have simply chosen this literal road for His parable because it was well known to His listeners and familiar as a dangerous path, albeit one that many of them would travel. The man traveling along the road may have simply been going about his business, living life as usual, when he was brutally attacked and left for dead. Those who passed him may have also been simply going about the business of life, hurrying through a dangerous and difficult path to get to an easier part of the journey as quickly as possible. That's the interpretation I favor.

You see, loving our neighbors isn't a scheduled event. We don't set an alert on our smart phone for "love your neighbor time". Jesus calls us to love our neighbor as we go about our day. While we are walking from one destination to the next (or driving, as the case may be), going about the business of life, we are to love our neighbor. The critical factor here is our ability to see our neighbor. Unless we are paying attention, looking around us, with the eyes and heart of Christ, we are not likely to see the need of our neighbor in distress. If we fail to recognize the need, we will never meet it. If we fail to see our neighbor, we will never love Him. 

There's another little problem that we often have, and you likely know it as well as I.  Busyness. When we allow our lives to be overtaken by "busy", we remove the margin that allows the adventure of God. We eliminate the opportunity to love our neighbor when we become too busy to "take the time" for the loving acts God places in our path.

God has not called us to be busy, but to be faithful. Let's begin today to ask God to develop in us the eyes of Christ, eyes that see the need around us, as well as the heart of Christ that responds to that need with ready assistance, willing to go to the distance until all that is needed is done. 
Here's your treat! The day before his death, Martin Luther King spoke to striking sanitation workers about this very passage. It is insightful, wonderfully written, and well worth the read. You can click on the link below to read it. You don't want to miss it!