Thursday, November 24, 2005

Samaritan... or Levite?

Last night I saw violence.

Hurrying to church where I'm teaching the adult Bible study, I stopped at a red light at a busy intersection, just like the cars in front of me. We were all sitting peacefully still behind our wheels. Out of nowhere, the car ahead of me veered rapidly to the right and up onto the sidewalk. Initially, I thought something happened to the driver and it was an accident, but that was just me once again thinking that mankind isn't totally depraved. Two teenage guys jumped out of the way of the car and the car's passenger immediately jumped out and chased them across the traffic and to the other side of the road. Meanwhile I needed to drive through the lane that the death-car was semi-blocking, so I leaned on my horn to get this loser, a girl, to move. She sped off and I was able to continue driving, now with a clear view across the road to see the passenger, an older teenager who had since overtaken one of the pedestrians, repeatedly kicking the fetally positioned kid in the head and stomach. The second victim was long gone.
I could have chased the car and got its plate number. I could have done a U turn and chased the "bully" away. I could have checked on the kid lying on the ground. But I proceeded to church, and prayed for them in my opening prayer (after telling the riveting tale, of course.)
So who am I? In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus explains what it means to love your neighbor. Our neighbors are not abstract beings, like "every person in the world," or some starving child in Africa, though they should be helped. Neighbors are not even friends or fellow Christians. Jesus identifies a neighbor as someone directly in front of you who is in need, whether he be an enemy or friend. In this case a Jew was mugged and beaten on a road, and the pious priest (a Jew) walked by him, and then a holy Levite (priest) walked by him. A Samaritan, enemy to the Jewish people, saw him and "had compassion on him" (v.33).
It is very interesting, now that I am reading this closer, that Jesus actually doesn't say that the beat up Jew was a neighbor. He asks, "So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?" And someone answered, "'He who showed mercy on him.' Then Jesus said to him, 'Go and do likewise.'" Did you catch that? The neighbor in this case is the one who showed mercy, not the one who needed mercy.
Is it possible that Jesus' teaching here, which was in response to the man's question, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" is saying that you must love your neighbor -"neigbor" being the one who shows mercy on you- and that this Neighbor is Christ himself, who alone is the way to eternal life?
Anyway, I digress. I felt like the Levite who passed by the beaten soul in need of comapssion and went off to mention him fleetingly in a prayer. I'm just glad the Lord Jesus Christ didn't learn how to be a Saviour from me...