Tag Archives: Love

Two Commands: Simple but Challenging

Most people, whether they are Christian or not, are aware of what we often refer to as the “Greatest Commands.” These are the two commands of loving God and loving neighbor. They sound so simple and in fact, they are pretty simple. However, these two great commands are also very challenging and sometimes it seems like our assumed familiarity with these commands obscures the challenge. So allow me to poke, prod, and really go all preacher on us for a few minutes.

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Years ago I was traveling through Illinois down the very boring stretch of Interstate 57 and after sever cups of coffee, nature was calling. So trying to make the most of my stop, I pulled into a Cracker Barrel restaurant thinking I would get a bite to eat while also stopping to use the restroom. Now I’ve ate at a many of Cracker Barrel restaurants in my lifetime and the men’s room is always to the left and the women’s to the right. So with nature really desperately calling, I glanced up as I entered the restroom to my left and saw the sign that said “Men” on it. 

So I entered into the restroom and seeing as how desperately nature was calling, I just saw a stall and opened the door so that I could take care of business. However, it was in the middle of taking care of business that it dawned on me, “Rex, why aren’t there any urinals in this restroom?” That was about the moment when beads of sweat began forming on my forehead as I heard the sound of a couple of women entering this restroom. Apparently my ability to read and interpret a simple sign such as the gender of a restroom was not as accurate as I assumed.

Now let me share a more important point with you: I suspect that for many people, including myself, these two great commands of loving God and loving neighbor have become so familiar that we glance at them, assume we know what Jesus is saying. However, could it be that our assumption is a little off… perhaps a lot?

In Matthew 22, the occasion is a rather dubious question. The Pharisees and Sadducees have already tried entrapping Jesus with questions about paying taxes to Ceasar and the resurrection of the dead, so now they send in a lawyer to literally ask which commandment in the Torah is most important. However, Jesus answers correctly by quoting the Shēma from Deuteronomy 6 saying in v. 37, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind.” This was the correct answer because obeying Torah was all about loving God.

“Jesus becomes our interpretive lens for how we understand the teachings of the law and in fact, the teachings of all scripture, and how we love both God and neighbor.”

Yet this is where everything gets interesting because Jesus didn’t stop with the Shēma. Instead he continues to answer the question with two other points. In v. 39 Jesus quotes from Leviticus 19 to say that there is a second great command, “You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.” So now loving God is impossible without loving our neighbors and likewise, when we love our neighbors we are loving God. Obeying both commands happens by doing the teachings of the Law and Prophets. This is why Jesus says in v. 40 “All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

That seems strait-forward except that there is a twist here. Jesus has taken the role of a prophet calling people to repentance with the promised hope of coming salvation. In doing so, Jesus comes as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets which mentioned during his sermon preached on a mountain in Galilee (cf. Matt 5:17). So not only is Jesus disclosing the interpretive lens through which he understands the Law and the Prophets, Jesus is also living is the embodiment of the Law and the Prophets. Now Jesus becomes our interpretive lens for how we understand the teachings of the law and in fact, the teachings of all scripture, and how we love both God and neighbor.

But I’m not sure all Christians like this. We gather around the Lord’s Table in sanctuaries for worship where we confess through song and prayer that Jesus is Lord and hear the word of God proclaimed to us through scripture and sermon but does that transcend the way we live. Do our beliefs and values really become Christ-like?

Less than a hundred years ago there were Christians living in America that defended the racist and discriminatory practices against Blacks in this nation. Every person, Christian or not, can look back on this awful history and see just how badly these Christians failed in living the great commands. But today, in the name of what is supposedly good and politically beneficial, there are Christians who will defend unjust practices against people seeking to migrate into this nation from other countries… practices that have now rendered great harm by separating children from their parents in immigration detention facilities. This happens despite what scripture has to teach us about treating “foreigners and aliens”, despite what scripture teaches us about showing mercy, and despite how Jesus treated the Samaritans and Gentiles (enemies of the Israelites). This happens despite the fact that Jesus tells us we are to love God by loving our neighbors as ourselves.

So I wonder if a hundred years from now, a generation of Christians will look on this generation and wonder how our generation could so badly miss the most simple teaching of Jesus just we wonder about those Christians in the 1950’s during Jim Crow? The good news though is that just as there were Christians during the twentieth century that defended racism, there were Christians knew such racism was wrong and that loving God and loving neighbor by following Jesus meant loving Black people as themselves. For that reason I am also confident that there are plenty of Christians who understand the denial of justice and mercy towards foreigners is wrong and that loving God and loving neighbor by following Jesus means loving all foreigners as ourselves.

May we have the moral courage to hear and obey Jesus when says, “You must love the Lord your God with all your hear, with all your being, and with all your mind… You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

Romans, Reconciliation, and The Gospel

People ReconciliationOne doesn’t have to look very hard to see the problem of racism is a difficult issue in America. Fifty years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the dream that got him killed still has yet to be fully realized. Now I don’t make any claims of fully understanding the problem of racism or knowing how to fully address this very complex issue. However, I am a pastor who believes that local churches should be communities where racial-reconciliation is practiced because these churches are called to be a living embodiment of the gospel. Sadly, that’s not always the case. Nevertheless, following my previous post Racial Reconciliation and the Romans Road to Salvation from a couple weeks ago, I want to sketch how Romans instructs us on the practice of reconciliation.

The Racial Tension Among Churches

I had just begun a new ministry with a church that was very diverse in terms of race and ethnicity. So here I was sitting at a table outside an ice-cream parlor where folks from the church were meeting for some milkshakes and fellowship. Sitting at the table with me, a White person, was a elderly man and his daughter who were both Black and another woman who was White. At some point in the conversation, the White woman sitting next to me mention how her dog did not like Black people.

Though I can’t recall the context of the conversation that preceded that comment, I can recall the look on the face of the Black woman sitting across from me. The offense and hurt was plainly evident on her face, and understandably so. Though the White woman wasn’t trying to discriminate or make any racial insults, her remark was unwise and lacking in any sensitivity. I could only imagine how such a remark aroused the memories of those times when this Black woman was given “the look” when she walked into a boutique full of White women, when she heard co-workers laughing in the break room at a “harmless” about Black people, and so forth.

As a fairly young minister at the time, I wasn’t sure how to handle the situation. However, I knew something like this had the potential to become very divisive, disrupting the Christian unity that God was forming among this diverse church.

But there’s also another point to be observed from this story: reconciliation in a church is much more than the fact that people of different skin colors and ethnicities worship and fellowship together. As I said in my my previous post:

The fact of the matter is that racial integration and racial reconciliation are not the same thing and worshiping together in the same church building and living as a unified church body that practices reconciliation with each other is not the same thing.

So even though worshiping and fellowshipping together is important, reconciliation that springs from the gospel of Jesus Christ is much more. Reconciliation is the embodiment of the gospel vision and that means that it is the practice of the ideal.

Putting The Gospel into Practice

In my previous post I was trying to show that we miss the point of Romans when we reduce salvation to the individual justification of sinners. Such reductionism comes from asking the wrong questions when reading through Romans which then obscures us from how Paul is trying to instruct a divided church of Jews and Gentiles to live as the people of God. Ergo, the church, where a person’s statues as justified before God is experienced, is a community. So even though salvation is a gift from God to each individual believer, the gift of salvation is fellowship within the community of God and his people. However, the embodiment or practice of reconciliation is necessary for this vision of salvation to exist as a concrete reality.

While a large portion of the New Testament speaks to this very issue, I will briefly draw our focus in this post on Paul’s letter to the Romans. In doing so, let’s assume that we understand that we all are guilty of sin and thus lack any foundation for passing judgment on one another. Let’s also assume that we are humble enough to know that it is only by the grace of God that we have been justified as sinners and are being sanctified. In making these assumptions, we not only embrace are large portion of what Paul has addressed in the first eight chapters but we are humble enough to have made the commitment of living as obedient children of God (baptism into Christ).

This is good. Now we are able to continue in presenting ourselves as living sacrifices while also recognizing that we are just a portion of the body, in need of the other portions whose skin color and ethnicity may differ from our own. But what happens when we encounter tension, when we do something that causes injury and offense, as I recalled in the story above? This is where Paul’s instructions about practicing love and equality with each other is so necessary. to hear again. Romans 12:9-10 says, “Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other” (CEB). Then in chapter fifteen Paul instructs with the admonition to “welcome each other, in the same way that Christ welcome you…” (v. 7).

As people committed then to loving each other, treating each other as equals, and extending hospitality to one another, we realize that at times we will have disagreements. We also recognize that because we are still sinners, we will at times say do things that offend each other. However, our love unto, equal regard for, and welcoming of each other regardless of race and ethnicity means that we are humble enough to repent and forgive each other. That is, when we offend, we go to those we have offended and confess our sin against them. We remain humble enough to listen so that we are able to learn from our mistake rather than repeat them same sin over and over again. Likewise, when we are offended and the offending person comes to us confessing their sin against us, we remember the we too are sinners forgiven by God and so we forgive the person who has sinned against us.

A Final Word…

This is what it means to practice the ideal of reconciliation and embody the very gospel of Jesus Christ through which we have been reconciled to God and each other. By embodying this gospel in the practice of reconciliation, which Romans provides instructions for doing so, we demonstrate what a true community of people belonging to God looks like. We show the world what love, equality, and hospitality truly are and then we are poised to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, explaining to the world how this good news is received from God. And we all know how much our neighbors among an increasingly diverse America, where racism and discrimination continue, so desperately needs to see and hear such good news.

The Shack: A Story On Suffering and Hope

Last Friday evening I watched the film The Shack directed by Stuart Hazeldine. This film is based on the 2007 novel of the same title by William P. Young. Having read the book, I wanted to see the film too. Like most film adaptations of a book, the movie loses some of the dialogue. Nevertheless, it’s still a good movie to watch.

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In fact, here is the little response I posted on Facebook after watching the movie:

“I just returned from watching #TheShack at the theater. Though the movie, and the novel of the same title it’s based on, is fictional, it tells a wonderful story and powerful truth about God and life, love and forgiveness, faith and hope. Having buried my oldest son, Kenny, nearly fifteen years ago, there is so much I resonate with. From the question of suffering to the hurt and anger that ultimately inflicts more harm on one’s soul to the conflict and encounter with God, I resonate. The thought I had when the movie was over was a reminder that though I have sinned in life, made many mistakes, and often judged both God and people when that is not my business, God still loves me, is at work for the good in my life, and how much I just want to love others and be a part of that Good which God is bringing about in Jesus Christ.”

As you can tell, I resonate with so much of the drama because of the tragic loss of my own son. However, that doesn’t mean I abandoned my theology hat when I watch the film. So from a pastoral-theological standpoint, I also liked the movie.

Of course, some are quite critical of the movie. Some of those critics are Christians who are concerned about the doctrine and theology of the film, like this review by Al Mohler (or for a much more balanced critique, see the review by Focus on the Family). But this really misses the point of the film in my opinion.

First, sometimes it seems like some Christians almost go looking for something to disagree with. In that’s our objective, we’ll find that something in almost everything we do. It’s even more frustrating when a minor issue is made into a bigger issue than it really is. Are their some elements of the dialogue in this film that I question from a theological standpoint? Of course, there is but I didn’t watch the film to get bogged down in little particular details and miss the major point of the film.

The beauty of this film is its journey into the world of suffering where there is brokenness and deep pain along with doubt and uncertainty that evokes a crisis of faith for anyone unfortunate enough to be on this journey. I have and still an on this journey, though I have learned how to walk along this way. This film is about the healing that everyone suffering needs. This is a healing that comes knowing that God still loves them, that the grace of God is still for them, and that they can trust in God again even though they don’t always understand.

And I’m telling you, as one who has suffered, there are people you meet every day who are dying from the inside out. Maybe they’ve buried a child, been through a divorce, been sexually abused, are drowning in drugs and alcohol… they’re the broken and what they need is not a lesson in the fine particulars of Trinitarian theology but a reminder that God the Father, Son, and Spirit love them and long to redeem them. That’s what The Shack reminds us of. So don’t get lost in the details and miss the big story, for if you can hear the big story then you just might be better equipped at helping someone who is dying on the inside find life again.

Lastly, I don’t normally recommend books I haven’t read but since I know this author and trust his judgment, I’ll recommend his book as a companion read. John Mark Hicks, Meeting God at The Shack: A Journey Into Spiritual Recovery, 2017. Besides being an apt theologian, Hicks has traveled on the road of suffering and so I believe you’ll bennefit from his perspective.

And Who Is My Neighbor?

Most people have heard the story Jesus told in Luke 10 commonly referred to as The Parable of The Good Samaritan. You can read the story here if you would like to reacquaint yourself with the story, which I would highly recommend. Why? Because despite the casual familiarity society has with this story, which has undoubtedly served as the inspiration for the names of numerous “Good Samaritan” hospitals and other “Samaritan” charities, this story really isn’t about a Samaritan.

Yes, you read that correctly! The Parable of the Good Samaritan really isn’t about the Samaritan whom, by the way, is never described as good (or bad) in the actual text. So while we may derive a side point about the virtuous character of the Samaritan, it’s not the main point of the story.

The story is actually about a conversation between a Jewish lawyer and Jesus. The lawyer approached Jesus wanting to “test” him by asking him a question about how he may inherit eternal life (v. 25). Wisely, Jesus turns the tables on his little religious test and asks him about what the Law says. More importantly, Jesus asks this lawyer about how he reads the Law (v. 26). It’s sort of analogous to saying “What does the Bible say about inheriting eternal life? How do you read the Bible?” That’s important because in becomes clear as the story unfolds that Jesus and this lawyer don’t read the Law exactly the same. Their hermeneutic for understanding what is necessary for inheriting eternal life is different. It begs the question of us, as we read the story, as to whether our hermeneutic differs with Jesus.

The lawyer responds by reciting what we commonly refer to as the greatest commands: 1) love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and 2) love your neighbor as yourself (v. 27) (see also Matt 22:36-40; Mk 12:28-31). If this lawyer was simply taking a test, he would have passed because he is right that about loving God and neighbor. The problem is his understanding of what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. He doesn’t want to really love every neighbor as himself and so to justify himself, he asks Jesus just who his neighbor really is (v. 29).

In turn, Jesus responds by telling him a story… Well you know the story. But the shocking part of the story is that of all the characters Jesus could have chosen to play the role of hero in the story, Jesus chose a Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans hated each other with an enmity that was full of mutual distrust, discrimination, and animosity. And yes, Jesus knew this and that’s the point. Because Jesus is saying to this Jewish lawyer is that the Samaritans, whom he hates, are his neighbor too and if he wants to have a place in the kingdom of God then he must learn to love the Samaritans as his neighbor and that looks something like how the hero Samaritan of the story loved the man who was viciously assaulted along the roadside.

“…we may never realize just how much we attempt to justify ourselves, just like the Jewish lawyer, so that we don’t have to love our neighbors as ourselves.”

So where do we find ourselves in this story? Who are we more like? The Samaritan or the Jewish lawyer? Of course, we want to become like Jesus but to do that we first need to ask if we’re not more like the Jewish lawyer than we realize. If we don’t discern that question then we may never realize just how much we attempt to justify ourselves, just like the Jewish lawyer, so that we don’t have to love our neighbors as ourselves.

When Jesus made the hero of his story a Samaritan, he was saying that our neighbors include those we regard as enemies, those we may fear, and even those we may discriminate against in one fashion or another. Had it been a White American evangelical Christian approaching Jesus like this Jewish lawyer, who would have been the hero of the story Jesus told? I think the hero of the story would have been a Muslim father from Pakistan, Egypt, etc… Or a LBGTQ Feminist girl attending college at Harvard, Stanford, etc… or a young Black male living in Chicago, Baltimore, etc… Or a Latino woman originally from Honduras, Mexico, etc… Or a… The list can go on and on and on.

The point is that our neighbors are also Muslims, LBGTQ people, Blacks and Latinos, and whoever else we think of as different from us. Jesus told the Jewish lawyer to go do as the Samaritan did and extend mercy to our neighbors. We don’t have to agree with our neighbor, share their same religious and political views, or even like their way of life but we must love them as ourselves by showing them mercy − doing acts of mercy as we have the opportunity. In fact, we’ll never see the kingdom of God unless we can learn to show mercy and be their neighbor by loving them.

“Until we learn to love these neighbors are ourselves, we are the Jewish lawyer!”

I’ll push this even farther because it is time we get the point. The currency of our gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ, is that we love God by loving others… we love one another but we also love our neighbors and even our enemy neighbors. It doesn’t matter what we preach and teach if we cannot love our neighbors as ourselves! To paraphrase Paul somewhat, if we cannot love our neighbors then we are as useless as a noisy gong.

Let’s be more than a useless noisy gong. We believe that we are called to be witnesses of Jesus, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God to the world. Very good! But remember that begins by loving our neighbors and the best place to begin is right in our own neighborhoods with the people living next door or just a few doors down no matter what skin color they have, what sort of lifestyle they live, what their nationality of origin is, or what their religious and political beliefs are. Until we learn to love these neighbors are ourselves, we are the Jewish lawyer!

On Judgment: They’re People, Not Problems

So there’s this trending video of a woman walking through a Target store as she holds up her Bible and rants about the evil of the devil and Target over the retail chain’s new transgender restroom policy. I haven’t linked the video here or shared it on any social-media platform because I refuse to give publicity to such stunts. If you want to see the video, do a Google search you’ll also see how effective she was in winning the masses to her viewpoint. And yes, I’m being sarcastic.

Like the infamous protests of the Westboro Baptist Church, this woman has the right to freely express her opinions and I have the right to mine. So when I saw the video clip, my reaction was a big sigh. After all, regardless of our opinions about the restroom policies of Target, it seems pretty stupid for someone to go waving their Bible around a store as they rant and carry on (= judgment). Such tactics may have had their place in some other bygone cultural era but not now… not in the twenty-first century of a post-Christendom society like much of America has become. Of course, I doubt this woman thinks about that or thinks much of what Jesus had to say about judging of others.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 6:37, NIV)

But as I thought about it more, I realized that a lot of people are quick to judge others. Everywhere we turn, people are passing judgment on others.

Judging Others

As a side gig to earn some extra money, I’ve been driving for Uber and do so mostly in the city of Baltimore. Like most cities, Baltimore has its share of social challenges. One of those challenges is a seemingly growing number of homeless people, both men and women, who either sleep in tents underneath overpasses or move around from shelter to shelter. When they’re not sleeping, they are standing at an intersection panhandling for money… a dollar or two from every willing motorist who is willing to spare a little extra cash.

While driving for Uber, I have heard a few riders make some rather condescending remarks (= judgment) about the panhandlers. It’s frustrating to hear how people who just finished eating dinner at an upscale sushi bar or steakhouse can so easily and so callously talk about the homeless. In fact, what this often brings to mind is Herman Melville’s powerful one-line critique of the well-off who pass judgment on the poor.

“Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.” – Herman Melville

However, the other night something scary happened. As I was making a turn, a man panhandling for money was struck by another motorist. The man was flipped over the hood of the car, landing on his head and shoulders. It was scary because what turned out to be a spilled soda looked life, from a slight distance, blood flowing on the ground. The last thing I or anyone else wants to see is someone else seriously hurt or killed. Fortunately, other than a few bumps and scratches, the man appeared to be ok. The driver stopped and was visibly upset, worried that she had seriously hurt someone. Myself and a couple of other motorists got out of our vehicles to help the man who had been hit while waiting for the police and EMS to arrive on scene.

That gave me a chance to talk with both the man who had been hit by the car as well as the driver who hit him. The man’s name was Dan and the driver’s name was Chelsie. It was good to learn both of there names because that meant I had to see them both as people. And they both are people! Though they both have two different lives, they are nonetheless people. That is also to remember that they both are someone’s child, perhaps someone’s brother and sister, someone’s old classmate. The people we meet every day are people just like you and I.

As I was driving home later, I realized that it’s easy to become desensitized to the city and all of it’s challenges. It’s easy to see a bunch of inconsiderate drivers and forget that they are people with real lives, perhaps even a life that is unraveling and full of pain. Of course, I’m never one of those inconsiderate drivers so… Oh wait! It’s also easy to see panhandlers on every street corner and presume to know why they’re begging for money (= judgment) and to see them not as people with real lives, with real problems and real stories, though tragic as they probably are, of which I have been spared (but for the grace of God, there go I!).

Becoming More Like Jesus

I don’t have the answer to all the social challenges face America, whether it’s homelessness, transgender rights, or else. What I do know is that we must resist judgment and condemnation, opting instead to engage people and get to know them by name. When we get to know someone by name, we see them as a person rather than a problem, and people are always people we must love rather than problems we must overcome. I am not saying that we can never have any convictions about what is right and wrong or by engaging people that our understanding of right and wrong must change. Sometimes our encounters with other people should and will move us to adjust our views and sometimes they won’t and shouldn’t but that is besides the point. What must change is us… you and I!

Rather than judging and condemning people we hardly know, if we even know them at all, we must become present with them and engage them so that we can get to know them a little more. That’s true for the transgender person standing in line at Starbucks with us, it’s true for the person panhandling for money at the intersection on our way home from work, and it’s true for our neighbor who doesn’t speak English too well, who has different political and religious beliefs than us, and it’s even true for the neighbor who’s favorite football team is the rival of our favorite football team. Though we cant strike up a conversation with everyone, it is to say that instead of passing judgment we should get to know the people we are quick to judge. When we do, what changes is us. We become more understanding, full of compassion, and eager to show mercy. And that means we become more like Jesus.

And if we still feel that someone or some organization has made a wrong decision, then I have a suggestion. Rather than going on a public rant I would like to suggest that we pray about it. That too seems more like Jesus!

The Good Muslim, Latino, and Black Man

Most Christians read the Bible. Still the best-selling book, according to the Guinness World Records, the Bible is available in numerous languages as well as more than enough English translations. For many Christians like myself and especially evangelicals, the Bible is regarded as the inspired word of God and therefore is regarded as authoritative in matters of faith. So it really goes without saying that reading the Bible is a good thing. But… as I have said before and will say again, how we read the Bible matters too!

In fact, how we read the Bible may matter more than whether or not we read the Bible. That’s because a bad reading of the Bible most surely leads to bad theological praxis, which means that a poor reading may be just as dreadful not reading the Bible at all.

The Interpretation of Loving Thy Neighbor

In the Gospel of Luke there is a story in chapter 10 about a lawyer, an expert in Jewish law, who approached Jesus with a question. The lawyer asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. So in v. 26 Jesus responded by pointing this lawyer back to what is written in the law. However, knowing that just reading the law does not necessarily mean that this lawyer will live out the intention of the law, Jesus also asked him about how he reads the law.

The question in v. 26 is pōs anaginōskeis and though some English translations differ, it is likely best rendered as “How do you read it? (NIV, ESV). The adverb pōs is a common interrogative asking “how” or “in what way.” The present tense verb anaginōskeis means “to read” and is referring to the law which Jesus has pointed the lawyer back towards in response to the question of inheriting eternal life. The question itself is about the lawyer’s “legal interpretation” of the law (cf. Green, The Gospel of Luke, 428). That matters because nobody just reads the law and does exactly what it says in literal fashion. Every reader is an interpreter and so how this lawyer or anyone else reads/interprets the law matters.

In the story, the lawyer goes on to correctly point out that the law is summed up with the two commandments of loving God and loving neighbor. Jesus agrees. But when the Lawyer continues, asking Jesus who exactly is a neighbor, Jesus presses in with the utmost of challenges… Jesus goes on to tell a story about a neighbor and in that story the neighbor happens to be a Samaritan (you can read the story of “The Good Samaritan” here). This is critical because Jesus is identifying a Samaritan, people whom the Jews hated, as a neighbor and therefore someone who this Jewish lawyer must love as his neighbor. Further more, when Jesus finishes the story by telling this lawyer to do as the Samaritan did, who acted with “mercy” (v. 37), he is telling him to treat all people with compassion (cf. Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, 175).

And Our Neighbors Are…

Going back to the question Jesus asked of how that lawyer reads the law, Luke is reminding us that how we read the Bible matters. However, the discussion here isn’t about how we understand the doctrine of end times or the doctrine of atonement correctly, not that such doctrines are unimportant. The discussion is about how we love our neighbor and whether our reading of the Bible moves us to love our neighbors as ourselves by extending compassion to all people.

If we leave the discussion right there, loving our neighbor as we love ourselves doesn’t seem so difficult. However, when we remember that Jesus spoke of a Samaritan in order to define just how this Jewish lawyer’s neighbor was, we must own up to the fact that our neighbors include those whom we just may in fact dislike, fear, and even hate.

For a White Christians living in America, like myself, the story told in Luke 10 is a reminder that our neighbors include people who are Black, Latino, and Muslim. I mention these three groups of people because of the tensions that still exists between them and many White people, including White evangelical Christians. It also seems necessary as certain politicians and talking heads preach a message of  fear and animosity among White evangelical Christian voters, appearing as guardians of their livelihood at the expense of compassion for minorities.

A Final Word

The story that Luke tells involves a question about how one expert in the law reads or interprets the law. It also raises a question for us Christians as to how we read or interpret the Bible. For Jesus, any reading of the law that allowed a Jew to disregard a Samaritan as a neighbor was wrong. For Christians then, particularly those of us who are White evangelical Christians living in America, any reading of the Bible that allows us to disregard a minority person as our neighbor is wrong. In fact, any reading of the Bible that allows us to disregard anyone as our neighbor is wrong.

The story itself tells us how Jesus expects us to treat our neighbors… with mercy! We must treat all people with such compassionate acts that they will know us as merciful people. It doesn’t matter how well versed we are in the doctrines of Nicene Christianity, how quickly we can recite passages of scripture, or even if we read our Bibles, if in doing so we fail to show mercy to all people. Any lack of mercy is a sure indicator that we are not reading and interpreting the Bible rightly. Showing mercy is how we love our neighbor as ourselves and just as our neighbor is the good Samaritan, so also our neighbor is the good Muslim, Latino, and Black man!

The Gift of Non-Judgmental Grace

Working as an Uber Driver is a temporary gig and even though it’s not something I want to do for much longer, it’s really a pretty good job for what it is. One of the reasons I say that is because of the opportunity to meet a variety of people, as brief as our interactions are, and learn mostly through listening and observing.

I drive through the city of Baltimore, picking up one rider after another. One person is heading home after a day at work or college, another is headed to a bar or restaurant to meet some friends. It’s amazing to hear some of the things that riders will talk about with the person they are riding with or talking on their phone with when they forget that they are sitting in a car with someone they don’t even know. One couple chats happily with me about their new baby child, which they are enjoying a needed break from, while another couple argues with each other with one vulgar insult after another. Another rider is inquisitive about my religious beliefs while another rider is too drunk to care about anything but falling asleep (which he tried doing in the back seat of my car).

One couple I picked up was mocking a homeless panhandler we saw standing  at an intersection. They assumed the panhandler to be a drug-addict, which might be true. But this homeless person could just as easily be suffering from mental illness, could be a military veteran suffering PTSD stemming from his tours of duty in war, or he could be… Well, does it really matter?

As a minister I have spent time with people going through difficult times. Divorce, mental illness, addictions, jail-time, and so on. Though not always the case, often times the struggle stems from some bad choices the person has made… Sin! But something I’ve learned, which a few of my psychology friends have helped me understand, is the difference between excuse and explanation. Nothing excuses the wrong a person does but in many cases, there is an explanation for it. That is, there is an explanation for why that homeless panhandler just might be addicted to heroin or why that couple thinks they are better than that panhandler as I drop them off at the Capital Grill to eat a $300 dinner.

“But for the grace of God, there go I.” It’s something I try remembering as I encounter other people struggling though difficulties… especially since I know that I am a sinner too! And if it we’re not for the grace of God, we all…

We find it is easy to sit in judgment upon other people, especially when their sin is not our sin. It seems that our social-media experiences, where we quickly pass along memes and editorials that criticizes everything we disagree with in society, only encourages such judgmentalism. Regardless of the cause, we should resist the temptation to judge because if it were not for the grace of God…

Instead, perhaps we could give others the gift of non-judgmental grace. That is, instead of passing judgment on others, we empathize instead. Rather than assuming, we listen and/or observe in hopes that we might understand better. I’m not suggesting that we can never say something or someone is wrong but that instead of looking down on others for whatever circumstances they find themselves in, we regard others with mercy rather than scorn. Maybe giving others the gift of non-judgmental grace leads to other acts of kindness and blessing but whether it does or doesn’t, it makes us as people who are safe… people whom others can trust and approach when they are facing trouble. And that is where we join Jesus in the redemptive work of restoring and reconciling people to God, each other, and the life they have been created to live.