We’re continuing our series entitled Simple. As I said last week, we’re going to talk about some of the same things we talked about in 2007 when we had this simple idea to start a church in South Tampa.
Because the thing is with simple ideas is that as you move down the road, sometimes people forget why they began doing it in the first place and they begin to complicate things. And I believe one of my primary jobs at Logos Dei is to keep the main thing, the main thing – to keep things simple, no matter what season we find ourselves in as a church.
Our mission at Logos Dei Church is to nurture people on their journey toward becoming authentic disciples of Jesus. Simply put . . . we want to help people grow.
But what does that look like? How do we know if we’ve been successful with our mission? What are the markers of growth in somebody’s life?
Is it knowing a bunch of stuff? Taking notes and studying them later? Memorizing scripture? Being first place if we have a bible drill? Knowing the lyrics and notes to all the worship songs (without a hymnal)?
I think those things are important, but the New Testament makes one thing very clear . . . Spiritual growth has far less to do with how much you know, than how well you love.
When Jesus gathered with his disciples on the night that he would be betrayed, he said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
In other words, discipleship is about your relationship with God and how that spills over to your relationships with each other and the world. Not just with those who are easy to love but also to those who are not so easy to love. After, who else was in the room that night . . . Judas.
As you know, Jesus often told stories to try to illustrate what he called the Kingdom of God. What he described was a radically different way of being in the world and being in relationship with each other.
And his ideas often left his listeners baffled because he consistently invited them to consider what the world would be like if we did things like . . .
- loved our enemies;
- did good to those who sought to harm us;
- or even die for what we believe in.
And since his ideas were hard for some to comprehend, Jesus tried to help by telling stories—we call them parables. This morning we’re going to look at one of his most famous parables.
Let’s listen to the text . . . READ Luke 10:25-37
Jesus has been preaching and teaching, and healing and casting out demons . . . and everywhere He went, thousands of people followed him. And among those following Jesus was an expert in religious Law and he asked Jesus to offer a rabbinical opinion about the law.
Now before we jump in to thinking that this guy is just a punk, you need to know that this was normal social interplay in this culture.
This is how the powerful, elite, professional, educated folks interacted with each other, so they could figure out who each other was in the societal pecking order.
The lawyer was certainly interested in Jesus. After all, Jesus had been generating a lot of buzz. Some of the things he was saying and doing were edgy and different. And so, he was trying to figure out who this Jesus guy was.
That’s the framework of our story: a lawyer and a rabbi just doing what they did. But that lawyer had a surprise in store for him, because Jesus was not your average rabbi.
Here’s a quick review of the set up:
- A lawyer challenges Jesus, asking for exact instructions about how he might attain eternal life.
- True to form, Jesus answers the lawyer’s question with a question of his own.
- The dance continues because, of course, the lawyer knew the answer before he even asked
- So, he replied: the rule, the way to attain eternal life is to follow the two most important commandments: love God and love your neighbor, of course.
Then he follows up with another question, “And who exactly is my neighbor?”
In answer, Jesus tells a story.
There was a man traveling from down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away leaving him half dead.
Along the road came a priest, who was traveling the same way. When he saw the hurt man lying on the side of the road he crossed over to the other side and continued on his way. So likewise a Levite came to the same place, saw the man, and passed by on the other side.
Then came a Samaritan along the road. The Samaritan stopped and helped the wounded man; bandaged him and took him to safety; provided for him until he was fully healed.
And Jesus concludes the story with his own question, a different one: “Which of these three was being a neighbor to the man who was hurt?”
The lawyer had just asked for a straight answer, you know a little bit of clarification about his previous question, perhaps a list. You know he had his pencil and legal pad ready, for a list that he could check off one by one and meet the legal requirements for heaven.
But Jesus’ story threw a wrench into the whole business.
Let’s look again, because we always have to be careful with very familiar passages of scripture, careful that we don’t mistake familiarity for understanding.
This is how I’ve always heard it:
There was a man traveling from down Jerusalem to Jericho. He fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away leaving him half dead.
Along comes a priest, who passes by, a Levite who passes by, and a Samaritan who stops.
As I learned from my Sunday School felt board lessons on this story . . .
- The priest was way too powerful and important to stop and so he hurried on because he didn’t want to be bothered.
- The Levite (who assisted the priest in the temple) did the same, because he was also busy and in a hurry, so he went on.
- Then a nice Samaritan came by and did what the other two should have done but they were too snobby and self-important to do.
- And so, you should always help people. That’s the mark of spiritual growth.
Well, that may be the way it was taught but it wasn’t the way the lawyer and all the people listening heard it. They heard about the man robbed and beaten and they knew: that stretch of road is dangerous; happens all the time.
Then the priest comes by, and a Levite comes by but neither of them stop.
The people listening would have thought—well, of course they wouldn’t stop. I mean, the man needed help, but those two were unable to help him.
They weren’t necessarily shady, arrogant figures; they were bound by the laws of the temple to stay away from anything that could make them unclean; there was an involved process they would have had to undertake to make them eligible to serve in the temple again, and as they were probably headed to preside over sacrifices and serve the people there, they couldn’t risk breaking the law to stop and help.
They probably passed by feeling sorry for the man, sad that they couldn’t help, and maybe even guilty for not stopping. But they had to follow the law.
Then came the Samaritan.
Now you need to understand that Jews and Samaritans didn’t like each other . . . at all.
In fact, they had actually hated each other for over a thousand years. There was long-held ethnic hostility and political and religious rivalry between Jews and Samaritans.
But as the story continues, it’s, shockingly, the Samaritan who stops and helps.
And at the end of the story, Jesus asks that pointed question back to the lawyer: which of these three was BEING a neighbor to the man in need?
Not: who was following the law?
But: who was being a neighbor?
The lawyer had asked “who is my neighbor?”
The lawyer wanted a clear answer to his question, so he could get out there and make sure he was checking all the boxes he needed to check to insure spiritual growth and eternal life.
And we want that, too.
The way we’ve typically walked away from this story is with a list, just like the lawyer wanted, right?
Make sure you help the homeless guy on the street corner, the person with the flat tire, or send money to the starving children around the world, or build wells in Malawi . . . a list, and a reminder to always help people who are in need, amen.
And this of course is a very nice way to interpret this parable, one that I am sure Jesus would have taught had he been the kind of teacher whose main objective was to leave us with a nice morality tale that makes us feel guilty when the guy at the stop light knocks on the car door window asking for money and we pretend like we don’t see him while praying that God makes the light to change quickly.
But I’m just not sure that giving the lawyer—or us—a list of rules was what Jesus intended.
Remember, Jesus wouldn’t answer the question the lawyer had asked: who is my neighbor?
Jesus’ story in answer challenged: who in this story is being a neighbor?
When Jesus told this story, he changed the paradigm, he rocked the foundations of that powerful lawyer in search of his next step up and he does that to us, too.
You see . . .
- Authentic discipleship comes from a faith that animates our lives and transforms our hearts.
- Authentic discipleship strives for inner transformation that results in radical actions of love that rock convention, that might even challenge the law, and that hold the potential to change the world.
The church, made up of followers of Jesus . . . disciples . . . should be the magnet that draws people to God through loving everyone radically.
On the night Jesus was betrayed, he said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
And on that same night he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
And Paul reminds us in his first letter to the Church in Corinth that each time we share in communion with one another, it’s an opportunity to examine your heart. To ask yourself, is the Love God has for me, is the relationship I have with the father spilling over into the relationships I have with those around me, not just the people who are easy to love but also to those who are not so easy to love.
It’s at the table that we are reminded what authentic discipleship looks like. It’s just that simple.