Describe the last time you were moved to tears by something beautiful.
It wasn’t the last time . . . in fact, it was several years ago now. I was attending graduate school in North Carolina. I was living in the Raleigh area and attending church in the town where the school was located, Wake Forest. (Just FYI, Wake Forest University is not in Wake Forest, it is in Winston-Salem, I can explain it, but it’s not the purpose of this post!)
Anyway, I was attending a recent church plant. At the time, the church was meeting in a local school. One Sunday morning they had a group of children come before the church. I believe it was an Awanas group.
The children lined up in front of the congregation and quoted some bible verses and sang a couple of songs.
What really impacted me that morning, some fourteen or fifteen years ago, was when the children quoted John 3.16. Here was this large group of kids. A group comprised of children from many different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds. They represented Africa and Asia, Europe and South America. Places like Kenya, Switzerland, England, Zimbabwe, Germany, Belgium, China, Korea, Ecuador, Chile, South Africa, Mexico . . . and on and on.
Children of all colors and sizes. Children with different accents and features. Children with different cultural mores and fashions. And yet, because of the love, grace and gift of God, there they stood: together, side by side, and united.
As I listened to them quote For God so loved the world . . . it hit me. I saw the truth of that verse. I heard it in their voices and saw it in their smiles. God’s love extends over the whole world. It reaches to all ethnicities and races. It goes forth to every tribe, village, community, town, city, nation and continent.
As I listened and watched; I cried. I felt the impact. These words I had heard so many times. These words I had memorized and quoted so often; now became real. As Jeremiah said, God’s words burned within me.
I have never understood bigotry and racism. I have never understood hatred toward another just because their skin is a different shade than your own. Racism is the antithesis of the gospel.
I was born and raised and still reside in the southern USA. We have been defined by a history of injustice and racism. I pray things have changed, or at least, are changing.
Can you still here the “N” word in this part of the world? Yes. You can also hear derogatory words against whites and Hispanics. We have come far since the 60’s; yet, there is still a long way to go.
I am thankful that God is the God of all races and peoples. I am glad God’s kingdom is diverse. I am thankful heaven won’t be a place for just curmudgeonly old white folks like myself! Okay, maybe I’m not curmudgeonly, at least, not all the time!
Paraphrasing I John, if God so loved us than we should love one another. No matter our or their race. No matter the differences that separate our cultures. No matter the history that may exist. Differences can be acknowledged and even celebrated without disqualifying unity. Diversity in unity is the way of the gospel.
(And yes, I realize racism can go both and all ways. But, I’m a white guy, so I am choosing to approach it from that perspective.)
Jesus after all reached out to the Samaritans, a group loathed and hated by many Jews in Jesus’ day. He even made a Samaritan the hero of one of his parables! In fact, it has become one of (if not the most) famous parables of all.
When I have taught on the Good Samaritan, I have often told my students it would be like going back in time to the 1960’s. (Unfortunately, in some places the need to go back in time would not be necessary.) Going to an all white church in the Deep South and telling a story where some white guy gets the living stuffings beat out of him. Then a white pastor comes along and passes him by. A white sheriff sees him and ignores him. Then along comes a black man. He sees the injured white man in the ditch. He picks him up and carries him to get aid. Who is the neighbor?
Imagine the scene! I may not have made it out alive!
But, that’s exactly what Jesus did.
He was approached by a lawyer (a man well-studied in the Mosaic law, not a Nancy Grace!). He would have been undoubtedly Jewish. He asks a question of this reputed Rabbi, a Jew himself. He asks the question and carries on the dialogue in the presence of a predominantly or entirely Jewish audience.
He has a simple, yet provocative question: What must I do to inherit eternal life? Now, if there is anyone in the world qualified for such a question it is Jesus. Jesus however uses the moment to turn the tables. You see, Jesus knew the truth of what Luke tells us in his introductory remarks to this pericope: the man came to test Jesus.
So, Jesus decided to test him. Jesus gave him a lob. He gave him a pitch right down the middle of the plate. Jesus asked him what the law said. Again, this man is an expert in the law. If anyone knows about the law (save Jesus) it was this man.
I can picture his chest puffing out as he begins to answer. He is probably thinking, Please, Rabbi, this is far too easy. Don’t you know to whom you’re asking this question?
And, true to form, he does hit it out of the park. He nails it. He aces the test (or at least the first part). He answers with the great Shema passage. The very passage Jesus elsewhere will say is the greatest commandment and love of neighbor is second to it.
Jesus affirms it: you have answered correctly. He admonishes the lawyer to follow his own advice and he shall live.
Not many received such an affirmation from Jesus. But, he wasn’t satisfied. He had to push the issue.
So, he inquires further, And who exactly is my neighbor?
Now, I can picture it being Jesus’ turn to let out a wry smile. It reminds me of the old Charlie Daniel’s song. I admit it is a strange mental connection, but bear with me. Old Charlie is famous for his song The Devil Went Down to Georgia. In the song, the devil challenges Johnny to an old-fashioned fiddle match. Johnny, being a good southern boy, allows the devil to go first. After listening, he tells the devil: Well, you’re pretty good old son, but just sit down in that chair right there and let me show you how it’s done.
Jesus is about to show this pretentious lawyer how it is done!
And as soon as he starts the parable, the tables are turned. The trap is sprung. After he gives the details of the parable, Jesus now asks his question: Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?
The look on the lawyer’s face I’m sure was classic. I’m sure too, many standing around listening to this interchange had astonished, bewildered looks on their faces. Jesus just did the unthinkable. He made a Samaritan, a half-breed dog (in their eyes) the hero of the story!
Notice the lawyer’s answer, I think it is telling: The one who had mercy on him.
I picture him replying through clenched teeth. Notice, he can’t even bring himself to even utter the word Samaritan; instead, he refers to him indirectly.
Then to top it all off, Jesus adds one last addendum: Go and do likewise. In other words, you are correct again. Now, go and emulate the example of the heroic Samaritan! Classic Jesus! This is a pow right to the old kisser!
Let me, as I alluded to earlier, reset it in a southern context. You could do the same wherever you live.
In reply Jesus said: “A white man was going down from Birmingham to Atlanta, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A white, Baptist pastor happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a white, Baptist deacon, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a black man, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man in his car, brought him to a hotel and took care of him. The next day he took out a couple hundred dollars and gave them to the manager. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
That’s good advice for you and me, no matter our color. Go and do likewise!