“You are NOT the Good Samaritan”

Hearing this statement at a Young Life conference 35 years ago set me on the path to discovering the Jesus of scripture. The speaker (I think his name was Bob) wanted the audience to understand that we tend to eisegetically read scripture. Eisegesis was a newer term to me – one of those theological terms that I thought was of no practical use. The speaker proved to me otherwise.

Eisegetical scripture reading, Bob explained, happens when we read the text through the lens of what we already believe to be true. What we read is shaped by our preconceptions. As I took notes, this cognitively made sense to me. I prided myself that I certainly was above reading scripture through such lenses. Then the speaker rocked my world, wounded my pride, and pretty much disrupted everything for me.

Turning to Jesus’ parable we know as the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Bob showed us just how real and subtly we read eisegetically. I remember him asking the audience, who in the story we most identified with. It seemed like we all figured we were the Good Samaritan, or at least tried to be. I know I assumed as much – after all, that’s what Jesus was asking of us, right? It’s what we learned in Sunday School.

Then the unraveling began. Bob helped us understand that Samaritans were despised (nay, hated) by Jesus’ audience, the Jewish theologians of the day. Some members of the Jewish nation had long prior compromised their charter and beliefs and married people outside their faith and ethnic group. These were the Samaritans. They were called half-breeds and dogs. When people traveled to Jerusalem from Galilee to honor God through the various annual festivals, they added days to their journey just to avoid Samaria. The parable, the story that Jesus told, was in response to a religious expert’s question:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?”  The expert answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

As Jesus told the story, one could envision the legal expert understanding why the priest and Levite passed to the other side of the road, away from the robbery victim. They were on their way to serve in the Temple and contact with a bleeding person would have disqualified them to do their jobs. It was the law. However, what probably made the expert’s hair stand up on the back of his neck was Jesus’ introduction of the Samaritan as the ‘good guy.’

Wanting us to get the effect of what Jesus was saying to his audience 2000 years ago, Bob retold the story in modern terms. He talked about a pastor or a Young Life leader passing to the other side of the injured man. Then Bob went on to say, “But a Homosexual, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.” The hair stood up on the back of my neck! Not so much because he said ‘homosexual’ but because he had messed with scripture, that he had messed with the neat, domesticated story I was so familiar with. I was no longer the good guy – that was no longer on the table as an option.

What’s more, Jesus’ primary point wasn’t to be a ‘good’ Samaritan. The expert wanted to know who his neighbor was. After hearing the parable, he had to admit that his neighbor was, in fact, the Samaritan (though he couldn’t bring himself to utter ‘Samaritan’), and that’s who he was to love.

Who might Jesus substitute for ‘Samaritan’ today, if he were to tell the story in a manner that might make the hair on the back of your neck stand up? It’s an important question that we may not want to think about. Discovering the Jesus of scripture is a wonderful thing, but doesn’t come without the undoing of our domesticated version of Him or without some angst. But, as I said in the previous post, it’s well worth it!


Sunday School Answers

Billy attended school with me during my early Junior High days. He was in most of my classes. He was also our pastor’s son. He clued me in on something in seventh grade that might have had a larger impact on my life than I might have expected.

We were part of a Sunday School class of all boys (at least, that’s what I remember). I also remember that we were a typical group of seventh graders with built-in ADHHHD. Paying attention to the teacher or lesson was not high on our abilities or agendas (I suspect most of us were not in the class by choice). Billy’s clue was related to our Sunday School class. He told me he learned from his dad that if asked a question by the teacher and unsure of the answer, “Jesus” was always a safe response – a “Sunday School answer.”

One Sunday I was particularly distracted when, toward the end of class-time, our teacher asked me point-blank if I knew the answer to the question he had just asked. I had no idea what he had asked! And I was pretty sure he knew I hadn’t been paying attention – I suspect the question was his way of letting me know. Remembering Billy’s suggestion, I said, “Jesus!” emphatically and with confidence. The teacher looked a bit surprised and said something like, “Yes! And don’t ever forget it!” Class was over. I got the answer right and I didn’t even know what the question was!


“You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.” C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock.

C. S. Lewis spoke of first things throughout his writings. Just yesterday I was speaking with someone who had recently stumbled onto one of his essays that pointed readers to first things. I wonder what Lewis’ answer would have been if asked, “What is the first thing?” I suspect he would have said, “Jesus!” emphatically and with confidence. And he wouldn’t have been offering up a Sunday School answer.

Today if asked about the first thing, I answer emphatically and with confidence, “Jesus!” Many would agree with me. However, the answer begs a follow-up question: “Which Jesus?” Sounds like an odd question, but not really. One could be talking about the Jesus of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, whose job is to make us happy and show up when we need him. Or the Jesus of economic prosperity who lavishes us with material blessings. Or the Jesus we draw into our political bents to help us gain control over the ‘other.’ Or the western version of Jesus (or eastern). Or a Jesus whose main role is to simply get us to heaven. These incomplete Jesuses are a result of putting second things first – which is what he can do for us.

The first thing must be the Jesus of scripture, the real Jesus, not a ‘Jesus’ informed by culture, ideologies, or what he can do for us. The first thing must be Jesus only. Period. It takes concerted time and effort to see past the pseudo-Jesuses to the Jesus of scripture. I speak from experience. I can also speak from experience that it is worth the time and effort. It’s transformative.

It all starts with an open, honest perspective of where one is now. So, ponder for a bit: In what ways might the ‘Jesus’ you know be shaped by outside ideologies?


Metamorfoo

The Monarch butterfly fascinates me. It always has. I remember back in grade school when our class’ pet caterpillar ate all the milkweed we could find to feed it. We watched it shed its skin several times before it hung upside down, shedding its skin for the last time during the pupa stage, becoming a beautiful green chrysalis. We watched with anticipation as the chrysalis slowly became transparent, revealing the butterfly that was developing inside. Metamorphosis. What a great idea! Only God could come up with such an idea.

In the Monarch butterfly metamorphosis process, the caterpillar has but one job – to eat and not be eaten. After eating its fill of milkweed, the caterpillar takes a two-week nap inside the chrysalis. While napping, God transforms it into an amazing butterfly with the same DNA, but a totally different look.

Metamorphosis!

The Apostle Paul, author of the letter to the first century Roman Christians, cautioned his readers not to be molded by the world around them but, instead, to be transformed from the inside out by the renewing their minds (Romans 12:2). The Greek word that is translated as “transformed” is metamorphoo, from which we derive metamorphosis. Paul is telling the readers that in God’s economy, we are to act more like caterpillars rather than straining to become like butterflies. The economy of the world around us tells us we should strive to transform ourselves. Paul reminds us not to become molded by that approach, but to let God do the transforming through the renewing of our minds. But practically, how does that happen? A couple thoughts…

First, we need to learn not to conform. Or maybe choose not to conform. There were a lot of milkweed plants in the pasture on our family farm. I remember watching hundreds of caterpillars chomping away, focused on eating and not being eaten. I also noticed that the caterpillars were not at all tempted to join the cows as they ate the bountiful harvest of wild clover. They were not tempted to conform to what the cows around them were doing.

Second, we need to eat. God cannot transform a starving caterpillar. Nor can he transform people that aren’t taking in the nourishment that leads to a renewed mind. Consider this saying from the February 21 blog post…

If I keep on thinking what I’ve always thought,
then I’ll keep on perceiving what I’ve always perceived.
If I keep on perceiving what I’ve always perceived,
then I’ll keep on seeing what I’ve always seen.
If I keep on seeing what I’ve always seen,
then I’ll keep on doing what I’ve always done.
If I keep on doing what I’ve always done,
then I’ll keep on getting what I’ve always gotten.

This little verse is about change, about transformation. It starts with a change in our thinking; it ends with a transformed life. As we take in scripture, as we continuously hang out with the “visible expression of the invisible God” through the Gospels, and as we listen to messages that help us make sense of what we are reading, our minds are changed and renewed. Our main job is to let God’s thoughts permeate our minds and thoughts. Then, and only then, can God transform our behavior from the inside out. It’s his job and he’s really good at it. When we take the transformation process upon ourselves, we become become self-righteous moralists and are of little value to those around us who need to know Jesus.