Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Refugees and racism have been, and will continue to be, hot issues. It’s estimated that over 30 percent of the people in the Roman Empire in the first century were slaves. Slavery and persecution will never go away. These awful things perpetuate pain around the world.
As a Christian, I’m thinking about what we can do to help make things better. I wonder if you might share which Bible teaching, from your perspective, most succinctly instructs us on how to proceed?
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May I please make my answer personal?
I consider the Great Commandment to be the most significant and clear-cut biblical teaching on refugees, racism, and slavery.
“... One of the Pharisees, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments’” (Matthew 22:34-40).
In like manner, I consider the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) to be the best biblical illustration of how to make the Great Commandment practical.
You know the story. I need not reiterate it. However, I’ll share a short overview including a little commentary along the way.
Jesus takes this great theological controversy and puts it down on a Judean road. He simplifies by telling the story of an injured man–cut and bleeding to death.
A certain priest comes along and sees the dying man, but passes by on the other side of the road.
We can only speculate as to why he failed to render aid. Maybe he was late for church. He had other things to do.
The priest didn’t see an individual. To him, the victim was just another beaten man on the dangerous downhill road that led 30 miles from Jerusalem to Jericho.
Next, a Levite passes by. Levites were the worship leaders of ancient Israel. Perhaps, it was his turn to sing the solo at synagogue that night. We may never know why he failed to help, but we do know that he failed.
Thank God a Samaritan came next.
Sadly, Jesus listeners wanted anyone else to stop, instead of a Samaritan. Samaritans were despised and rejected by the Jews because they were “half-breeds” (I use the term guardedly).
Nebuchadnezzar sacked Israel and exiled the strong and healthy to Babylon. He left the sick and weakly behind. Over the next several generations, those left behind intermarried with people in the surrounding nations and the Samaritans were born - half Jew and half Babylonian.
We like to think that we all could get along without prejudice; unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case. We must do all we can to alleviate the pain that we exasperate on people who are “not like us.”
The Pharisees listening to the story were scandalized! The idea that a Samaritan could show more love and concern than a Jew didn’t compute!
The Samaritan pulls back the covers and sees a human being. He dismounts his donkey, stops the bleeding, binds up wounds, takes him to an innkeeper, and arranges financing to pay for his medical care, food and lodging while he recovered.
There’s the story; now let’s apply it.
The parable is a mirror of our world today.
Ours is a world of murders, violence, racial tension, drug dealing, and war. We live in a divided world. There are good people and bad people, and the bad people seem to be the majority.
We are all found somewhere in this parable.
Maybe you’re the VICTIM.
Perhaps you say, “I don’t know why I was born the way I was born? I don’t know why people treat me the way they do. Life is so hard. I just can’t get ahead.”
I’m lying on the side of the road. I feel whipped and beaten, stripped, robbed, dead and I can’t help myself.
Maybe you’re the ROBBER.
The robber saw a victim to exploit.
Why is Hollywood turning out so many lurid and violent movies? Why are video games filled with murder, killing, anger, and mayhem? Because their creators love us? No! Because they love our money.
Why is there Wall Street insider trading? Why do special interest groups rule Congress?
Because our nation is filled with robbers.
Maybe you’re the PRIEST or LEVITE.
To them, the bleeding victim was a nuisance to avoid.
Christianity Today Magazine once wrote an account of a radio station near Princeton Seminary that decided to invite 46 seminary students to come to their studio and record a five minute speech on the Good Samaritan.
They strategically placed an injured man on the sidewalk leading to the studio. Of the 46, 44 seminarians either stepped over the injured man or crossed to the other side of the street to pass by.
There are two kinds of sins: sins of omission and sins of commission. Though we may not be guilty of beating the fellow, we may be guilty of neglecting the fellow.
Maybe you’re the LAWYER.
The lawyer didn’t see a victim to exploit, or a nuisance to avoid; to him, he was a problem to discuss.
The best way to do nothing is to talk about it.
The lawyer said, “Let’s talk about neighborliness.” Jesus said, “Let’s talk about one man.”
Maybe you’re the INNKEEPER.
To the innkeeper, this man was a customer to serve.
The Samaritan comes in and says, “I have a wounded man here!”
“Fine, I’ve not seen a customer all day.”
Some people are glad to do anything if you pay them for it.
Maybe you’re the SAMARITAN.
When you pull back the covers, and instead of seeing a certain man, you see a human being, cut and bleeding to death; it’s hard to pass by.
There are so many ways we blind ourselves.
She’s Anglo, Arab, black, Indian, Chinese, Hispanic, or Vietnamese. He's filthy, blue collar, a gang member, a meth addict, a dropout, a hooker, or whatever.
As long as we keep putting people in categories, it’s easy to pass on by!
Most of the tragedies in people’s lives are not physical. Most wounds are not spouting blood. However, for those with eyes to see, many people around us are hurting, nonetheless.
Our character is not determined by how well we keep a schedule, or how many meetings we attend. Our character is revealed in those sudden choices in life that surprise us.
Who is my neighbor?
Jesus turned to the lawyer: “Which of these three was a neighbor to the man in need?"
The answer is rather easy. Which would you rather go fishing with? Go on a vacation with? Visit you in the hospital?
The Samaritan probably couldn’t preach a sermon or sing in the choir. But he knew enough to have a sympathetic heart and to reach out and help a person in need.
The real question is not, “Who is my neighbor?” The real question is, “To whom may I be a neighbor?”
Publication date: May 18, 2017
Photo credit: ©Thinkstock/AndreyKrav