“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12
The Bible sure can be braggy sometimes!
Here we have the Word of God channeling Marlowe Stanfield and declaring to us, the readers, “You want it to be one way, but it’s the other way”. Apparently Scripture can, if we let it, do more than teach us the things of God. It can grab ahold of us and show us the brokenness of how see the world.
Worldviews are tough to change. Prescriptive teachings like, “Do this ____” are frankly not very motivating. We may apply them out of a love for God, but that doesn’t mean they have taken over our heart and revolutionized our thinking. I think this is why Jesus did a lot more than just prescriptive teaching of a bunch of new commandments.
For example, there was this one guy who came to Jesus wanting to know how to inherit eternal life. This guy isn’t new to religion. He’s an expert. He knows his stuff.
Jesus gives him a really fantastic answer: “Love God and love your neighbor”.
In the immortal words of male model turned philosopher, Hansel, “It’s so simple”
But it’s not so simple. Not for the expert. He wants some clarification, which is probably a good idea because eternal life is kind of a big deal.
“Who is my neighbor?” he asks.
Jesus could just tell the man the answer here, but He’s far too frustrating for simplicity. Instead the man gets storytime. It’s a really familiar story, but a lot of the characters and cultural dynamics are sort of foreign to us today so I’m going to re-imagine it in todays world…
“A family suddenly found themselves fleeing their home and country for their lives. Evil men had forced them and thousands others to abandon everything they owned. This family of refugees were helpless crying out to whoever would offer assistance. A man who called himself a Christian heard of their plight, but out of fear that this family might actually be the evil men in disguise, ignored their plea for help. Then, another individual who has heard the teachings of God and should know the call to help the helpless was made aware of the refugees. They too refused to help. Then a Muslim heard of the great need of the refugee family. He gave generously to organizations that ministered to the family. He donated clothing, toiletries, and other items that this family and others like it could use. He prayed fervently for their safety and advocated compassion and acceptance for those like them.”
Then Jesus asked the guy who knew his stuff, “Which of the men was a neighbor to the refugees?”
Jesus concludes by instructing the the expert to treat the refugees how the Muslim treated them.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is often read as an instruction to love people who are in need. Although Jesus tosses in a nod to that kind of action at the end of the story, that was never the point. The entire parable was told in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” or “Who do I have to love?”
The answer, as discovered by the parable, is “The Muslim”. Both in the context of the original parable and the re-imagining above the “neighbor” is not a popular character to the expert. Samaritans were quite disliked in the time of Jesus. The purpose of the parable isn’t to treat the needy well. That’s a given. The expert in the law identified without any help from Jesus that the right course of action was helping the refugees. It doesn’t even show up as a discussion whether or not to help them! The real revelation for the expert is that someone he despises is the kind of person he is required to love.
Ultimately, within the context of the story, he doesn’t HAVE to love the Muslim…
Only if he wants eternal life.
The telling of the parable forced the expert to explore his own prejudices and notions on God. Rather than simply saying, “Love everyone…even people who annoy you, or you are afraid of, or even those that you hate”, Jesus told a story which led to the man himself struggling with what he has always believed. It’s better that way. The feeling of struggle, the tension between what we believe and what Scripture progressively reveals to us is Hebrews 4:12 in action. It is the living and active Word of God discerning our thoughts and intentions and exposing them so that we may deal with them in light of God’s heart…and grow.