I recall Dr. Nat Bettis teaching the course, "The Life of Christ" at Oklahoma Baptist University. Dr. Bettis used John Walter Good’s, The Jesus of Our Fathers. In order to use this text he had to photocopy, with permission, his own. Later my mentor bought me a copy of Alfred Edersheim’s, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. These texts intend to help us think through the actions of Jesus in relation to his context in the first century.
Save Darfur designated this past weekend as Darfur Action Weekend and so Sunday was Darfur Action Sunday. We participated in this call at our church. Generally we follow the Lectionary Texts from week to week but for this occasion we followed the suggested text, Luke 10:25-37 – what many will note is the place of the parable of "The Good Samaritan." Two days later I am convinced one message does not allow us to explicate the full measure of this parable told in the context of a conversation with a young "lawyer of religion."
Yesterday and today I have listened to two messages by Tim Keller (Thanks to Steve McCoy for the "Keller Resource Page.") My interest lie in the title to the messages which related to "Neighbors" and a message about the "diaconal ministry" at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. Little did I know these were messages around the text in Luke 10 which would have been helpful resources for my own sermon preparation. One thing that struck me was the way in which different eyes catch different things though we travel similar tracks in our study. It was not lost on me that our own justifications tend to lead us around the very people in need. In fact, I am not so sure we do not hide behind the, "I will pray for you", offered to those who tell us of their needs and we are not sure we want to get too involved. It is a pious sounding thing but vacuous of action. No question we should pray. But in the grand scene of separation Jesus notes it will not be that we "prayed for" the naked, the imprisoned, the hungry, etc. No, it was what we did with the "power in our hand to do something" that marks us as Kingdom ambassadors.
One of the things Dr. Bettis noted back in the early 1980’s was the inequality of wealth to population. At the time he noted the USA possessed 96% of the world’s wealth but only 4% of the world’s population. (Which has not changed much today.) I am certain that in some ways Dr. Bettis intended us to grasp the responsibility that comes with wealth. Since that time I have read Ron Sider’s, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. My own sense of guilt rises when I consider what I have and what others do not have. I do need to understand these dynamics. But, is guilt the best motivation for helping? Do we do well to cajole Americans for their great wealth while the world writhes in poverty and hope the guilt felt will result in action? (I admit to times where any motivation to get someone to do good is a temptation.)
However, as I listened to Keller and reflected on my own message we seemed to hit a similar cord, though he much more clearly than I. Motivation out of guilt is absent from the parable Jesus told. There is no way a Samaritan would feel guilty for leaving a half-dead Jew by the side of the road. So, for us to consider a Samaritan a wealthy figure in the parable is a bit presumptuous. In fact, it is fare more scandalous for the Samaritan to give out of his poverty for another human being than to give out of his wealth out of guilt. Keller says something like this much more eloquently than I have typed here. The issue is what we do for people precisely because they are people made in the "image of God."
The one thing that strikes me comes when I think of my own tradition who for years has worked to raise awareness of the value of life targeting the issue of abortion as one of its chief social agendas. Where are we when other atrocities illustrate the devaluing of life. Can there really be any difference between abortion and the senseless ethnic cleansing taking place in the Sudan? And, this one will get me a few barbs, is there really any difference dehumanizing someone for their actions – murder or homosexuality – and ignoring both the millions of unborn and the hundreds of thousands lost to genocide? Jesus seems to address the issue of devaluing life that results in murder. We begin with labels, calling names and ascribing designations, we then may hate them and then tell them they should die.
We too often runt he risk of collapsing our politics and our faith so that we only speak of what fits our own agendas. For example, Wayne Grudem applauds the President (and on some issues I agree). It is as though the job well done is considered so when it fits a narrow agenda. But, when we fail to take all things into account are not our voices muted by our lack of consistency? The video below may illustrate just how far off we are when considering what is really important.