Good Samaritan

The Careening Mind

Romans 13:8-14 (NLT)

Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.

This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.

Paul has returned to the theme he explored in the verses we heard two weeks ago. Why he deviated from his message to talk about government, no one knows for sure, but we are back to the importance of love in the heart of the practicing Christian.

As I said two weeks ago, in many ways Paul is restating lessons Jesus taught while walking on Earth, ancient ideas rooted in Old Testament teachings. In one way or another in all three of the synoptic gospels, Jesus says we should love our neighbors as ourselves. Additionally, in The Gospel of John our savior gives what he describes as a “new commandment,” to “love each other.”

“Just as I have loved you, you should love each other,” we hear in John 13:34-35. “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

We also see an expansion of the concept of “neighbor” in Luke’s telling of the lesson. When asked to define this word, Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan, where we hear we are called to show mercy toward people traditionally our enemies. In fact, we learn the act of showing mercy is lovingly transformative, making our enemies our neighbors.

If we love well, Paul is saying, we cannot help but fulfill the requirements of the ancient law given to Moses.

Too often, we think of this loving approach to the world around us as something to grow into gradually. Hey, grandparents are often quite good at showing deep, unconditional love, right? Maybe it is something we master as we get older, after we’ve done the hard work of establishing careers and accumulating the stuff that makes us feel secure.

Just one problem: Paul takes time to emphasize the urgency of our need to change, to stop committing sins that are either caused by misdirected love or a complete absence of love. He uses very traditional metaphors for good and evil and goes all “End Times” on us, warning his audience of the need to flee to the light before darkness is destroyed forever.

Quit your partying and your drunkenness. Get your sex lives under control, living according to the marital standards Christ so clearly upheld. Quit behaving like children on Facebook, where you openly quarrel and show your jealousy of each other.

Okay, Facebook isn’t in the Bible. If Paul were writing today, though, I wonder if he would use some of our Facebook posts as examples.

The urgency of Paul’s message can elude us now, if for no other reason than the passing of nearly 2,000 years without Christ’s return. Skeptics will raise this point as disasters unfold, asking, “Where is God?”

But at the same time, I feel certain most of those people would be wanting an extension, a little more time to get their lives in order, if Christ were to return right now. When Christ returns, or when we individually die and find ourselves standing before him, many of us may feel shocked at how quickly and unexpectedly we ran out of time.

Try to get your hearts in the right place now, Paul is saying, so that you may cling tightly to the salvation Christ has offered the world. Don’t wait! Wrap yourselves up in Jesus Christ. When we are conscious of Christ’s presence, our ability to love and simultaneously flee from sin increases exponentially.

Paul even gives us what sounds like modern “positive thinking” pop psychology as we try to better understand how to live lives that are more disciplined, more in line with the holy nature of Jesus Christ, who has saved us from sin.

Don’t just resist sin at the point where you are about to commit sin. Actively avoid sin by paying attention to your thoughts and feelings, learning to steer them.

Our minds can be like careening cars controlled by a half-asleep driver. We need to know ourselves; we need to know what thoughts steer us off the road toward danger.

Here I go again: How is your prayer life? How is your knowledge of what God has revealed to us in the Bible? Are you in worship regularly, so the Holy Spirit can shape your innermost thoughts and feelings?

Do you have a Christian friend or, even better, a group of Christians around you that you trust, people who can help you win the battles we sometimes have in our minds?

With the Holy Spirit at work in us, the car is not hard to steer. Paul is not telling us to take on some insurmountable task. With God’s help, all things are possible, including an end to sin and an almost unimaginable growth in our ability to love.



The Surprising Samaritan

Luke 10:25-37

I’ve noticed a very particular trait about the hero in the story of the Good Samaritan. Maybe you’ve seen this trait in him before, but it is new to me.

It helps that I recently read a couple of commentaries providing additional details for the main scene of the story, the road running from Jerusalem to Jericho. The earliest audiences for the story would have learned these details by traveling the road or hearing others complain about the road. But we cannot know these ancient details without the help of experts.

It’s a steep trip downhill going northeast from Jerusalem to Jericho. Jerusalem is about 2,500 feet above sea level, while Jericho is 846 feet below sea level, making it one of the lowest cities in the world. The 18-mile journey required a descent of more than 3,300 feet! For you hikers, the closest local equivalent I could find would be taking the Boulevard Trail down from Mount LeConte. Hiking guides list this trail as “difficult.”

And at least local hikers don’t have to deal routinely with bandits. Like many of our local mountain trails, the “road” from Jerusalem to Jericho was a narrow, winding, rock-strewn path with switchbacks and overhangs galore. In Jesus’ day, much of the path consisted of soft, flaky limestone that eroded easily. Thieves loved to hide along this road, attacking shaky-footed travelers to take what they wanted.

There is one strange thing about all the characters in this story. They all traveled alone. People usually traveled in caravans for safety. For whatever reason, the wounded man, the priest, the Levite and the Samaritan were taking big chances traveling alone. Everyone in this story was at least a little afraid.

This fact doesn’t justify the actions of the priest and the Levite, but at least we can learn they weren’t just being haughty. There’s a good chance they hustled away in fear. What had happened to this half-dead man in the ditch could very well happen to them, too, they must have thought.

To stop and help the wounded man, the Samaritan required a very special trait—courage. Not only did he have to fear the bandits himself, he had to fear being accused of banditry. Remember, Samaritans were considered unrighteous half-breeds by the Jews. Had a band of Jews found the Samaritan hovering over the man in the ditch, the situation might have quickly turned ugly. But all the same, he stopped.

He took on the time-consuming and laborious task of cleaning and binding wounds. He slowed his journey considerably in dangerous territory as he burdened his beast with the injured man. There’s no doubt he had courage.

Christians, we need courage, too.

We need courage to go to the places that frighten us. We need courage to be among the people we distrust or dislike. We need courage to act when action is needed, not waiting in some vague hope that someone else will come along and deal with the situation.

You may fear Muslims. We as Christians still need to be among Muslims. You may distrust poor people, particularly if they seem manipulative. We still need to be among poor people, helping them and witnessing to Christ’s love.

You may be tired of hearing about people with lifestyles very different from ours. You may even be pretty sure their lifestyles are sinful. But we still need to be among people of different lifestyles and ways of thinking, trusting that God’s word and the Holy Spirit will reveal—and heal—sin in all its forms.

Jesus calls us to go among all our neighbors offering mercy and grace. Mercy and grace are the healing wine and oil given to the world by Jesus Christ.

The featured image is a 1771 book illustration of the story of the Good Samaritan.