One Race – To Act or Not to Act
Pastor Frank Bowden
Have you ever seen a news story that made you stop and scratch your head because the characters involved acted in a way that didn’t match the stereotype that is generally associated with them? Like, if the news played for you the story, and you saw the people involved, but they stopped the video before anything happened and said to you, “Finish the story. What happened?”, you would finish it in a certain way based on your perception of the people. Then they press play, and what actually happened was nothing like you imagined. -as if the people acted out of character.
Let’s be honest, we’re conditioned to think certain ways about certain people or groups of people, and when reality doesn’t match the stereotype, we’re often left a bit bewildered by what we witnessed. This kind of a thing happened in a Texas courthouse back in 2016 when inmates in a prison saw their guard collapsed on the floor. They broke out of their cell, and instead of grabbing the guard’s gun and trying to escape, they called for help so that emergency personnel could come and save his life. The whole thing was on film.
Isn’t this story fascinating? I mean, I’m glad it turned out the way it did, but would anyone here have finished this story this way if they only saw up to the point of the inmates breaking out? Most likely no. -because we’re conditioned to think that all inmates are bad; they have no moral good; they only care about themselves. In reality, though, their compassion for a guard, the man they’re “suppose to hate” outweighed their desire for freedom. One inmate said? “It never crossed my mind not to help, whether he’s got a gun or a badge. If he falls down, I’m gonna help him.”
In our text this morning we see a similar thing happen where the characters involved act in away that doesn’t match what the original hearers were conditioned to think. For the last few weeks, our church has been confronting the issue of race and racism by studying what the Bible says about One Race (the human race) as unified, diversified and glorified and how sin is working against God’s creation.
I’m going to go ahead and give you the end of the sermon now…here’s the big takeaway that we’re going to work toward this morning:
Don’t settle for the view in the mirror, but fight for the beauty of diversity.
We are drawn to the view in the mirror…it’s a drift that pulls us. Left unchecked or ignored, it pulls us like a riptide further and further away from celebrating the diversity God has birthed among us as the people of God…We have to fight against that pull. That pull can come from culture or family, or it can be influenced by what you read, watch, or listen to. We have to vary our inputs. Our text this morning in Luke 10, gives us some insight into what causes us to drift toward the mirror…it starts with a problem:
I. The problem is: your heart, not the mind
25 Then an expert in the law stood up to test him, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the law?” he asked him. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind;” and “your neighbor as yourself.” 28 “You’ve answered correctly,” he told him. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus took up the question and said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him up, and fled, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down that road. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 In the same way, a Levite, when he arrived at the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
Jesus is teaching. In the middle of His teaching, a lawyer stands up to ask a question. The word “lawyer” really means “a scholar of the Torah.” This guy was a scribe, an Old Testament expert. He’s not coming to Jesus looking for new insight or trying to get spiritual answers for himself, because we’re told he was testing Jesus. Could he trap Jesus in a theological mistake? So, he asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus leans into this man’s expertise and asks, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” Better said, “How do you recite it?” Jews would do this twice a day, recite a summation of the whole law, and this lawyer knew that. He answered Jesus by quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18… “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind;” and “your neighbor as yourself.” Without realizing it, the lawyer sets himself up. You see, the word “love” is in present tense… You are to constantly, continually, in an uninterrupted way love God like this and your neighbor without ever a violation. Jesus affirms his answer. “You got the question, right? Good job. But then Jesus quotes Leviticus 18:5. “Do this, and you will live.” You want eternal life? You know the rule… Love God perfectly, love your neighbor as yourself. Do this, and you’ll have eternal life. Jesus knew this man could never do that. Jesus is just holding up a mirror so the man can see his sin and his need for salvation.
Knowing the Bible isn’t this man’s issue. The problem isn’t in his mind, but living it is his real problem. He knows he walked himself into a trap as soon as those verses left his lips. Those who know God live differently in the world. It’s evident by the way they treat other people. So, he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” Jews had a social hierarchy within society. It started with the priest, then the Levite, then the Jew, next Tax collectors/outcast, then Samaritans, and finally Gentiles.
Don’t miss what he’s really saying here. He’s really saying, “Some people,
some groups, I don’t have to love, right? Some people are excluded from that command in Leviticus because they don’t rise to the ranks of being ‘my neighbor’. I’m okay with God…I keep the law and I’ve checked out all the people that qualify as my neighbor according to me, and I’m fine with them, unless you have a different definition of ‘neighbor’?” Jews would have defined neighbor in terms of members of the same people and religious community, fellow Jews. If you weren’t a fellow Jew…if you didn’t look like the mirror, then you weren’t actually a neighbor, and in their mind, they weren’t doing anything wrong by not showing love to an outsider.
Jesus responds to his question with a story. The story is set in a familiar place, the road from Jerusalem down to Jericho, a 17-mile stretch of road legendary for its robberies and murders. It was known as “The Way of Blood”. This would have been a very believable story for those listening.
A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and the predictable happened; he got robbed. A group of men jumped him. They didn’t just rob him; they stripped him. I mean, they didn’t just take his wallet; they took everything, left him virtually naked. And then they beat him. And the term for “beat” here carries with it the intent to inflict pain repeatedly. They pummeled him. And they left him half dead. We would say today he was in critical condition. He was in the process of dying, and he was already half-way there.
Jesus introduces a little bit of hope. Here comes a priest…This is varsity-level Judaism. He’s the best of the best, a pure-blooded Jew. A priest would know Leviticus 19:34 says. -that if you see a stranger in need, you do whatever it takes to meet his need. But what did he do? “And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.” Jesus uses a verb that has in it the word “anti” to strengthen it. He literally went the opposite direction. He saw him and went the opposite direction.
Jesus goes on in verse 32, “In the same way a Levite,” A Levite served as an assistant to the priest. He is an important figure in the spiritual leadership of the people. He would know the law and what was required of him. Maybe he’ll be the hero. Yet, he came to the place and saw him, and then he crossed over the road (same verb used here as with priest) and went the opposite direction.
It is a stinging indictment on the religious establishment. Brennan Manning, an American author, said, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” The Priest and Levite had just been to worship God (to love God) then were immediately given an opportunity to exercise their love for God by loving their neighbor. They took one look at this man at an absolute time of need and refused to help, refused to love. These two are the epitome of lifeless religion. They play church, but it has no effect on the way that they live.
Did you catch what Jesus did in this story? The lawyer asked him, “Who is my neighbor?”, but Jesus turned it around to say, “Let’s talk about being neighborly. Instead of talking about who qualifies to be your neighbor, let’s talk about the quality with which you love.” If you’re even asking the question, “Who qualifies for me to love?”, you can’t fulfill that commandment to love your neighbor. It’s not about who qualifies, because there isn’t a singular person or group of people that is excluded from the love of Jesus. Like the lawyer, we try to justify ourselves…but most often, our problem regarding ethnic tension and cultural diversity has less to do with our mind’s ability to understand the differences, but more to do with our heart’s refusal to accept them. The drift toward the mirror is strong. The solution to breaking it is to:
II. The solution is: love without discrimination
Jesus is building up to the climactic hero, a third traveler to come down the road, and in Jesus’ culture, there was a trio of religious officials that commonly went together: the priest, the Levite, and then the very class of people the lawyer belongs to, the scribes. If you were listening to this story in the crowd, a scribe is who you were thinking the hero of the story was going to be. And then Jesus turns their world upside down by saying in v33…
33 But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion. 34 He went over to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day[a] he took out two denarii,[b] gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him. When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
37 “The one who showed mercy to him,” he said. Then Jesus told him, “Go and do the same.”
In the context of Jewish-Samaritan relations, this could be the worst possible thing to happen. Last week, Pastor Jason described how bad the relationship between Jews and Samaritans was. Samaritans to the Jews were heretics, half-breeds — literally half-foreign offspring of Jews intermarrying with foreign colonists at the time of the Assyrian conquest in 722 BC. They were an unclean class of people; to eat with them was equivalent to a Jew eating pork. The bitterness was so deep; the animosity was profound. Whenever a Jew
traveled from north to south, or south to north, the easy way would be to go through Samaria. They never did. They went around Samaria. Nobody went through Samaria. They wouldn’t put the dirt of Samaria on their shoes; the hatred ran so deep.
And so here comes a Samaritan. What is going to be the Samaritan’s attitude toward this guy? If you’re worrying about who qualifies to be your neighbor, he doesn’t qualify. One, he’s a stranger, but two, he’s an enemy, and there’s a tremendous amount of racism between the two. Well, when the Samaritan comes along, “He came upon him and instead of going the other direction, when he saw him he felt compassion.”
This is really cool the distinction here: The priest and Levite passed by, but a different word is used to describe the Samaritan passing by…He doesn’t pass on the other side; instead he moves toward the injured man. This is so significant, because you must move toward people in order to love people. You must move toward others in order to build relationships. It doesn’t just happen on its own. It isn’t convenient. Love isn’t simply good intentions. The Samaritan is moving toward someone who would despise him, if he were conscious. -someone who would not do the same if the situation were reversed.
We see this Samaritan personally do 5 things that fight against the pull from the mirror and shows you and me how to fight for the beauty of diversity as we go about our day to day lives.
Change the view in the mirror by:
1. opening your eyes
All three men physically saw the wounded man clinging to life. Only the Samaritan looked and stopped to help. Before we can meet needs, we must be aware of them, which means we have to expose ourselves to the hurt and the injustice that is happening to others. Fight the pull in the mirror by broadening the inputs into your life.
2. opening your heart
The difference between the priest and Levite’s gazes and the Samaritan’s was compassion. When was the last time you asked God to show you areas in your life he would want you to grow in? Psalm 139:23-24 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
3. opening your hands
The Samaritan didn’t just feel sorry for this poor man, and he didn’t simply mind his own business, but took risks and sacrificed some of his own well-being in order to show love to his ethnically different neighbor. Compassion led him to move toward and examine, and then he bandaged up his wounds. Then he poured oil and wine. Then he put him on his own beast and walked beside it. And then he brought him to an inn, stayed with him. This is amazing for a stranger who was his worst enemy. This is amazing. This isn’t minimal care. This is maximum. Your actions toward others reflect your love for God.
4. opening your wallet
Instead of simply dropping him off and leaving, the Samaritan paid the innkeeper to look after him. This isn’t so much about money as it is about limitless love. This is about a man who said, “I will care for this man with no limit. I will love this man though he is my enemy and is a stranger to me. Whatever it is that this man needs, I will give to this man, and there are no limits.” He has an open account. “When I come back, you just tell me what it took, and I’ll take care of it. Invest in relationships with those who don’t look like you or who are culturally different, even if there’s no guarantee of return. Approach it with a no-limit mindset.
5. opening your schedule
The Samaritan was willing to interrupt his trip in order to offer aid to a helpless man. He put his journey on hold for a while in order to do that which was more important—show compassion and care to someone in need. You can be doing the “right thing” but still be wrong. The priest may have been right to not help so he wouldn’t be ceremonially unclean, but clearly he was still wrong.
There’s a larger picture on display in this narrative…It’s the revolutionary message of the Gospel, that Jesus has come not only to reconcile humanity to God, but also to remove the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile, and every other kind of social division or barrier, so that in Christ, there is no Jew or Gentile, no rich or poor, no man or woman, no free or slave. There is no more asking, “Who is my neighbor?” Sin is a story of division, alienation, estrangement. We first see man alienated from God in Genesis. Then Adam and Eve, a perfect couple no longer, are alienated from one another. Sin continues to war against God’s creation at the Tower of Babel when the whole human race is divided against itself.
But salvation is a story of reconciliation. Jesus is the universal Savior, the Savior of all humanity, Jew and Gentile, man and woman, black and white, Hispanic or Latino, Asian and Indian, rich and poor, old and young, slave and free. Do you want to see how Jesus fought the view in the mirror when preparing the apostles for their ministry? Look at Acts 1:8:
8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
This verse is constantly taught in terms of geography…how the Gospel will spread to all parts of the world. But if Jesus was only speaking in terms of geography, the better term would have been Galilee, not Samaria. But because he used Samaria, it forces all of us to consider the Gospel to all people, regardless of their culture or ethnicity, not just all places. And when we trust Him, truly and really, everything begins to change, and we cannot remain the same. Our old barriers and mindsets crumble beneath the work of the cross.
Today, for the first time, I invited Jesus Christ to be my Lord and Savior
+ I will have gospel-focused conversations about racism this week
-I have allowed sin in my heart to affect my view of others. Pray that I love without discrimination this week.
- Have you ever helped a stranger in distress? What prompted you to act?
- Why is it so shocking that a Samaritan is the hero of this story and not a priest or Levite?
- Describe the reaction Jewish listeners would have had to Jesus casting a Samaritan as the hero. Who would American listeners have a similar reaction toward being the hero of this story?
- What was the lawyer suggesting when he asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Why is this the wrong question to ask?
- Love is not good intentions, and love is not emotions. How did the Samaritan demonstrate love?
- What attitude or behavior does God want you to have that is the most difficult to accept?
- Pray for opportunities to experience the beauty of diversity this week.