Tuesday, January 27, 2015

How to inherit eternal life, part 18: The obedient one

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. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.' (Luke 10:33-35 NASB)

In order to understand the reference to the Samaritan, and to fully understand the richness of this parable, the last two posts have looked at how the problem between the Jews and the Samaritans developed. You can read those two posts here #1 and here #2

The parable of the Good Samaritan is incredibly rich on multiple levels, and it also gives us a glimpse into the humor of God. He loves using the unlikely to do the unexpected, especially when He can plant an ironic and deeply profound lesson in the midst of things. 

Remember that the trouble with the Jews and the Samaritans began with what was essentially a civil war in Israel. Because of Solomon's idolatry, God tore the kingdom from his descendants and promised it to Jeroboam if he would only wait, listen, and obey. Eventually, Solomon died, and his son Rehoboam inherited the kingdom. Rehoboam made it clear that he would be a tough taskmaster, taking more from the people than his father, Solomon. The people of Israel would have none of Rehoboam, and they made Jeroboam king. Only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin stayed with the Davidic line and Rehoboam. For the most part, the kings of both kingdoms (especially the Northern Kingdom) were ungodly and led people into idolatry and heinous sin, however, we must not forget that God initiated the severing of the kingdom. 

The tribes of Judah and Benjamin, ruled by Rehoboam, became known as the Southern Kingdom and the people were called Jews. The other ten tribes, ruled by Jeroboam, became known as the Northern Kingdom, (with their capital in Samaria) and the people were called Samaritans. Both kingdoms were filled with people who were typical people. Just like us, they were arrogant and thought they knew it all. Just like us, they thought they were God's favorites. (We tend to forget that God loves everyone!) 

Of course, the Jews still had access to the temple and Jerusalem and they felt that they were the keepers of the law. Oddly enough, the word translated as "Samaritan" is Samareia and literally means "guardianship" or "guardian". There became a sense that they were the guardians of the law (Remember, it was God who tore the Kingdom apart, so they thought they had a special dispensation, despite the fact of the incredible idolatry of the nation.) There are still several hundred Samaritans today. They have their own Torah and they believe that they are the guardians of the law. Needless to say, the Jews did not believe the Samaritans were guardians of the law or that they had anything "right" at all. Over time, the Jews had come to hate the Samaritans. 

With all that as background, look at this parable again. Jesus was talking to a group of Jewish people. The question that prompted the parable was, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus told the story of a man, likely a Jewish man, who was traveling on a dangerous road and was accosted by robbers. They beat him, robbed him, and left him for dead. A Jewish priest and a Jewish Levite walked past, saw the man, and kept going. They did not stop and they did not help the man in any way. The Samaritan (guardian) came down the road, saw the injured man who was, in a sense, his enemy, and at great expense and considerable inconvenience, helped the man. 

Jesus asked the lawyer to whom he was speaking, "Which of these three proved to be a neighbor to the injured man?" Because the discussion had revolved around the law, Jesus was essentially asking, "Which one of these three kept the law?' We cannot even imagine what it must have felt like for the lawyer, the expert in the law, (as well as the crowd) to admit that the Jewish people, who considered themselves keepers of the law, had totally failed at loving their neighbor, while the Samaritan man, who turned out to actually fulfill the law concerning his neighbor, had done the good they failed to perform. The Samaritans were not their worst enemy, but they were despised and rejected, and it must have stung. 

What Jesus showed the lawyer, the crowd, and those of us reading today was that they, who considered themselves as God's favorites, were not as godly as they presumed. The priest and the Levite were only thinking of themselves. The Samaritan thought first of the man on the road and it caused him to intervene. Our actions often demonstrate what is in our heart, and the Samaritan's actions demonstrated the compassion in his heart. 

When I look at this parable, I cannot help but think about all the times I've been a priest or a Levite instead of a Good Samaritan. The problem is not just that my actions have been more like the priest and Levite, but that my attitude has also been one with theirs. "It's only natural", we say, and that is right. The natural man cares first for himself, does first what he wants. It is the transformed-by-the-blood of the Lamb, obedient, godly man who cares for the things of God, the people of God first, and who first does what God wants rather than satisfying his own desires. 

Dear ones, we are not called to be "natural", we are called to be men and women of God, obedient and self-sacrificing, loving our neighbor as we do ourselves. Our actions will never be what God intended until our attitudes are right, and that requires a heart change, a relinquishing of our pride and our judgmental spirit. Let us, then, make it our goal to have the heart of God toward our neighbors, the heart of the Samaritan to those in need - despised, rejected, yet giving of ourselves to those who cannot help themselves.