So a lawyer puts Jesus to the test and asks, “How can I get eternal life?” And Jesus says, “Well, what does the Law Book say?” And the lawyer says, ” Love God and love my neighbor.” And Jesus says, “Then obey the law and you’ll get sentenced to life.”
But this lawyer’s suddenly not into jokes. Now he’s feeling a little guilt. So he sets out to justify himself. “Oh yah? Well, then who’s my neighbor?” So Jesus tells him a parable.
It’s one we all know. A man is traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho and a bunch of robbers attack him, strip him, beat him up and leave him half dead.
So a Priest, a Levite and a filthy Samaritan are traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho and they come across a half-dead robbery victim. Which one stops to help?
The Samaritan. No joke. Why? Because he was more into obeying the law than the Priest and the Levite? The Priest and Levite could probably find some legal technicality that would excuse them from helping this guy out. Maybe the traffic directions changed there and they had to switch lanes. Maybe the robbery victim was right under a “No Parking on Shoulder” sign. The point is that like the lawyer, the religious ones of that day were masters at justifying their own sin by using the law to disobey The Law. This is what legalism does almost every single time.
Legalists set up lesser man-made rules and regulations and false interpretations of God’s good and perfect and righteous rules and then justify their disregard of God’s Law by pointing to their adherence to their own laws.
I grew up in a cult so I know a legalist when I see one. And I’ve never seen these tendencies on display so clearly as I have in the past year. In fact, if that robbery had happened today I think the response would have been even more extreme.
The religious leaders of our day wouldn’t have just passed by on the other side. They would have shamed the Samaritan for putting himself at risk of another robbery thus perpetuating the spread of more and more robberies. Then they would have made laws forbidding travel between Jerusalem and Jericho so as to prevent these robberies from occurring. Then they would have forbidden travel altogether because in reality robberies could happen anywhere. Then they would all insist we spray our selves with some horrid chemical called “Robber Repellant” to keep potential robbers at bay. And we might as well shut down the economy so there’s nothing for the robbers to steal. And all of this would be under the guise of “loving our neighbor.”
Meanwhile the actual victim of the robbery dies alone in isolation without friends and without hope.
Notice when Jesus wanted to give a description of what loving your neighbor looked like, he chose a stranger caring for and meeting the needs of one who was suffering. He didn’t choose some armed guard patrolling the road protecting travelers from potential harm. Harm happens. As does sickness and poverty and affliction of every kind. Until sin is extinguished from this earth the suffering smolders on. Love cares for those in the midst of the suffering. Power seeks to control the nature and distribution of it.
God’s good and perfect and righteous Law says to care for the sick and visit the widows and invite one another in and sing praises to His name, old men and children TOGETHER. That’s loving your neighbor. Legalism disregards God’s Law and instead props up lesser laws to redefine what loving your neighbor looks like, namely, close your doors, cover your face, and stay as far away as possible from your neighbor, especially the sick and the elderly. And don’t sing. ESPECIALLY not together.
In other words if you want to love your neighbor, pass by on the other side. That’s the new, improved, good-er Samaritan of our day.