I have read the story of the Good Samaritan a thousand times and I still cannot imagine it. Because in the final analysis, it is not about doing good for someone you despise. It is about doing good for someone who despises you, and in some way has some power over you.
As far as I can tell from the scriptures, the Samaritans probably had mixed feelings for the Jews and mostly just wanted to be left to live their lives in peace. It was the Jews that hated the Samaritans as corrupt, half-breed Canaanites. The Jews had the true religion. The Jews were acceptable to God. And the Samaritans should not even be touched, like they were lepers, or like they might give off Samaritan cooties. The thing about the Samaritan woman at the well was she was friendly enough and willing to listen to what Jesus had to say, she just could not believe that Jesus, a Jew, was even talking to her.
So now we get to the story of the good Samaritan, and it is not about doing good for a person you hate. This is really not a love your enemies story. It is about doing good for a person who hates you and thinks you ought to burn in Hell.
Have you ever known such a person?
Maybe the popular kid in school who bullied you and made your life miserable Maybe a family member or so-called friend who makes the whole relationship toxic by practicing the art of verbal abuse. Maybe a boss who made your life a kind of living Hell because they wanted you to quit rather than fire you. Or a teacher or boss who enjoyed playing mind games and sending you home full of anger and tears. Maybe a neighbor or co-worker who goes out of their way to annoy you in one way or another, simply because they get a kick out of being crude and cruel.
Have you ever been in a situation, maybe in court, like for a ticket, or in dealing with some government agency where you knew you were in the right and they – the ones in authority knew you were in the right, too, but just out of sheer stubborn, sinful, blankety-blank, the decision goes against you just because they can, just because they have power over you.
When something bad happens to such a person, the normal human reaction is, “Good. Serves them right.” People these days talk about karma, about what goes around, comes around. And it is perfectly natural to want to see them suffer the way they made you suffer. But that is not Jesus.
In Jesus, we are to do good to those who despitefully use us. We are to accept the blessing of Heaven, because we are not likely to see it in the here and now – it is not likely to go around or come around any time soon – not when they get back on their feet with your help and promptly throw you to the lions. But Jesus tells us, Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
No one ever said living the Christian faith was going to be easy. But we have the Samaritan example. Go and do likewise. That is what Jesus said. It ranks right up there with go and sin no more. But here, my heartache is found in sixty years of observing the people of faith. For far too many Christians in America, I see faith in the heart, but it is a dead faith. It is not a living faith. And when it is tried, it is kind of half-baked, or half-hearted, and does not affect the overall course of people’s lives. Breaks my heart.
You know, Christian faith is not that hard to understand. I don’t understand why so many people pretend it is so difficult to figure out. It is not something we need to draw down from heaven; or cross the ocean to fetch. It is in our mouths and minds, and by the Holy Spirit, it is in our hearts – not just to think about on occasion, but to live.
God designed us to live, not just believe, but live a certain way. Each one of us unique, certainly, but overall the same. And we are to give it our best shot, life-long. You know, that endurance and patience the Apostle Paul talks about. He said we are to live a life worthy of the Lord, and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, …
I suppose in the end it really come down to another thing Jesus said. “Be ye perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” Okay, maybe no one is going to actually live a perfect life. Only Jesus lived a life without flaw. I understand that, but I am still going to give it my best shot.
I pray at night, grateful for the fact that Jesus has taken care of everywhere and everything in which I fell short all day long. Giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light, as Paul said in his verbosity. I am grateful that God overlooks my wrong in being a husband, a father, a preacher, a teacher, a writer, a worker, a friend – and no, I am not going to spell out for you every way I fall short on a daily basis. But then I get up the next day:
You know, I don’t pray for a better day. The day is the day the Lord has made. I am simply here to live it. The question is should I live the day by my faith in the way God designed it and me to live, or by some other way – some broad way that leads to somewhere else? … So I don’t pray for a better day, not even better, please, than yesterday. I don’t pray that things will go right today, that I will get anything special, that good things happen, that I be blessed or have a blessed day. I don’t pray for a better day, no. Instead, I pray that God will help me be a better person. God, you take care of the day. You deal with all of the things over which I have no control and let me focus on the one thing I can work on, which is me. Help me to be a better me and you take care of the rest.
Living our faith is not an easy thing. It is simple enough to understand, but not often easy to do. Thank God for Jesus who covers me when I mess up, and for the Holy Spirit who tells me what is the right, good and true thing and helps me to do it.