Loving Neighbors – March 17, 2013
Isaiah 55:6-13, Luke 10:25-37
March 17, 2013
So, what are your expectations of God? That’s what we’ve been talking about this Lenten season. There were a lot of expectations about Jesus when he was here. And sometimes they become our expectations of God.
Do you expect that God is a king, sovereign of all the universe, and because of that everything should be the way we want it to be? There was that earthly expectation of Jesus! Do you expect that God is big on us doing the right things, as they also expected of Jesus? Do you expect that God will do the impossible, that he will listen to us and do what we want him to? Those are all things they expected of Jesus when he was here on earth, and we have to ask ourselves, “Do we have any of those expectations?”
How about this one. “Do we expect that God thinks like us?” And that’s a tough one! Because isn’t that the way we think about other people? Don’t we expect, when we’re thinking about things a certain way, that others will have the same thoughts? And isn’t that true especially when we’re trying to explain something or argue something? Don’t we think that if we have it right in our head, someone else will certainly see the logic and accept it?
It’s important in this life that we allow people to think for themselves and to honor that. And that’s not easy! But we’ll get along better in this life when we don’t assume or expect that people think like us. Well, while were at it, we need to be sure we don’t expect the same thing of God. In fact that ties in with the whole “will of God” thing. We sometimes think we know what God’s will is because its something that makes sense to us! But there are times when it doesn’t. There are times God’s will takes us a totally new direction. Just ask Abraham or Jeremiah, or Paul!
Well, I want you to see today that in Jesus’ time here on earth, the people had that same expectation of him. They expected that he would think like them. And they expected him to think about other people they way they did. They had certain accepted norms in their thinking about others. They honored certain people in their society, and of course some they didn’t. And they expected that Jesus would do the same.
Think for a moment of what they thought about the tax collectors and sinners. We said recently how funny it was that tax collectors seemed to have their own category! It’s almost as though they were worse than sinners. They were thought of as traitors. Because, as you know, they were Jews who worked for Rome. And by Roman law, it was legal for them to collect money that was above the Roman tax. In fact that’s how they got their pay! So for both of those reasons, they were hated, and rightfully, or “righteously” so! So when Jesus hung around with them, and chose one of them to be his disciple, that was shocking to the people! He certainly wasn’t thinking like them!
Think about the Gentiles. They too were looked down on by the Jewish people. As we’ve said before, they had become very exclusive about their faith. “We’re God’s ‘Chosen People,'” they thought. And by the way, “you’re not!” They were forgetting, of course that they were chosen because they were least of peoples, and that they were chosen to be the light of the world to those outside namely, those same Gentiles! In a book that was supposed to remind them of that, Jonah ran away because God called him to go and speak to the Gentiles in Nineveh. (Which was the capital city of Assyria.) And “He didn’t wanna!”
Well, the story for today involves a Samaritan. And of course the Jews didn’t like them very much either, which is what makes this parable so amazing! You might remember the time in John chapter 8, when Jesus was arguing some of the Jewish leaders, and after saying some harsh things to them, they respond by saying “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and you have a demon?!” Doesn’t that give us a little more insight into what they thought about the Samaritans?
The reason the Samaritans were looked down on was that they were part of the nation of Israel who had not been taken into exile in Babylon. They had stayed in the land, and they had done the unthinkable! They had intermarried with the other people in the region, and therefore they had blemished the purity of the race! They were so looked down on that when the exiles did return to the land, they did not include the Samaritans in the work of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem! So the Samaritans built their own temple, where they claimed it was right to worship. If you remember the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, you’ll remember that she asked Jesus about that. “Which is the proper place to worship?” (John chapter 4)
So, the Jews did not think very highly of the Samaritans, and they had a particular set of derogatory expressions for them! And don’t forget that the Samaritans were well aware of the way the Jews thought about them! That’s what makes this story so amazing! So when this man asked Jesus “Who is my neighbor?” that opened up this whole can of worms. And when Jesus told the people this famous parable, he blew out of the water all of their accepted norms about who should be honored and who should not! Again, they expected that he would think like them. And he clearly did not!
As I’ve mentioned before about this parable, Jesus starts it out with an interesting twist. He says “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers.” And the crowd would have said, “Duh! Of course he did!” They knew that road. They knew it was a perfect road to take if you wanted to get robbed! It was foolish to travel that road alone! So immediately, this became a story about someone who brought trouble upon himself. And I’m sure those people thought the way we often do about that. Because isnt it different in our minds when someone brings trouble on themselves, as opposed to when someone has trouble forced on them by somebody else? Don’t we feel like the latter is more deserving of help in some way?
Well, Jesus continues by telling about the two travelers who ignored the bleeding man. And of course, that’s when he puts the biggest twist on this story. He tells of the Samaritan. And make no mistake, this is the opposite from what the people might have thought. They would have been just fine with a parable about a compassionate Jew who saved a beat up Samaritan! But telling the story the opposite way would have made them very uncomfortable. They learned at that moment that Jesus didnt think the way they did!
That’s not easy for us, is it? We could think of our own versions of this story, couldn’t we? Who would the good person be for us? What would make this uncomfortable for us? Would this instead be the parable of “The Good Biker” or “The Good Afghan” or “The Good Communist?” What would be the version of the story Jesus would tell us, that would make us uncomfortable in this way?
When Jesus answers the question “who is my neighbor?” he clearly shows us that God doesn’t think like us. We should never expect that! We should try instead to listen to what he is telling us, to be more in tune with his spirit, and maybe then we can understand better how he thinks.
And isn’t that what we try to do as his people? As we go through this time of Lent, as we examine our lives and try to see where we stand in Gods kingdom, isn’t it our goal to try to understand the mind of God? We are told to be “conformed to the image of Christ.” In fact, in Romans 8:29 it says we are “predestined to be conformed to his image.” That speaks more strongly to us Presbyterians, doesn’t it? And if we are to be conformed to his image, if we are to be Christ-like, doesn’t it follow that we should strive to think like him? I suggested a while back that our wrist bands and bumper stickers should say WWJT, rather than WWJD. It should be “What would Jesus think?”
This is not easy, my friends. Most of us, myself included, have a hard time breaking out of our own thoughts, thoughts that take up our every waking moment. We have a hard time stepping back and considering what God may be thinking. Instead, we have a tendency to put our words in Gods mouth and our thoughts in his head. Did you ever have a conversation with someone who tried to convince you that Jesus would be a Republican or a Democrat or a Libertarian? I dont know about you, but that kind of thing makes me crazy!
So let me suggest that the first thing we need to do is to break the assumption, the expectation, that God thinks the way we think. In fact, it’s probably a more safe assumption that he doesn’t! The scriptures are full of examples of that. It’s just not easy to take them to heart!
So, take time these last days of Lent, to try to listen to what God might be saying to you. It might very well be unexpected. It might be challenging. And it might be cause to change the way you think! You are called to be like Jesus. May you know more every day what that means!
Eternal God, help us to know you better. Help us to hear your still, small voice that calls us to think and to love the way you do. Help us to have the courage and the strength to hear and to follow. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.