Luke 10:25-37: “Caring”
Sunday morning worship, September 2, 2018
I want to thank you for granting me a quiet week in which to reflect, seek the heart of God, and gain a more proper but not conclusive perspective on life and ministry once again. If we are to grow, certain parts of us must die. But as painful as putting to death certain aspects of the way we’ve looked at life in the past are, the process by which we diagnose which aspects we need to retain and which ones we need to let go of can be just as painful. Those of you who’ve experienced what you thought would be a simple trip to the doctor for an immediate diagnosis and a prescription for a quick return to health only to find yourselves caught up in a daisy-chain of visiting one specialist after another before being told your remedy would be months in coming or maybe not even possible should be able to understand what opening your heart and mind to a visit from the Holy Spirit can be like. I’ve heard this process compared to peeling the layers of an onion, but if you’re like me peeling an onion only leads to lots of tears before the flavor of the food being prepared is enhanced. I invite you this morning, if you’re willing, to listen as I share what I believe was shared with me.
Luke 10:25-37 tells a story of Jesus we now call the “Good Samaritan.” If you’re not familiar with the story, Jesus is explaining to “an expert in the law” who his neighbor, whom he was to love as he loved himself, was. Jesus answered the man with this story:
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, 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 on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
Then Jesus asked this man, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The answer came, “The one who had mercy on him.” To which Jesus responded, “Go and do likewise.” The easy way to stand in the pulpit or sit in a classroom and to teach this story leaves people feeling they must, ought, and need to help or care for everyone and every cause that comes their way in life. But if we accept that every beggar on every street corner or every emaciated animal or child in every television commercial is our neighbor, then none of us could ever eat, let alone work and pay our own bills. Most of us are now afraid to send money to a cause for which we are solicited, not because we don’t care, but because we know if we give to one cause we will soon be bombarded with a torrent of appeals from similar causes. Computers now gather intimate information on our every purchase and also record every website we visit. Knowing that information is being bought, sold, and traded with unlimited advertisers, even the most caring heart can’t help but become at least somewhat jaded.
So let’s look once again at Jesus’ parable. This time let’s notice that the priest “saw the man [and] passed by on the other side.” The Levite “saw him [and] passed by on the other side.” The Samaritan “saw him [and] took pity on him.” I believe this week God told me there is also a middle position between passing by on the other side, i.e., not caring at all and wanting only to keep up with our scheduled plans, and doing all the Good Samaritan did. Our world is too large and too complex to care about everything and everyone. How can we care about everyone and everything? How can we pray for the world? It’s a question whose answer I’ve spent my life trying to find. It can easily become a terrifying obsession.
Now at 63, I’m still seeking an answer to the world’s problems but more realistically looking for some equilibrium. As I prayed my way through this story I was reminded Jesus chose Simon the Zealot to be one of his 12 apostles. Whether Simon was zealous for keeping the Law of Moses or a zealot who wanted to overthrow the Roman government or not even a zealot as in some translations, Jesus (a) spent most of His public ministry in conflict with any Jewish leader who wanted to inflict a zealous interpretation of the Mosaic Law on the populace and (b) he told Pilot, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36). Jesus also told those, even among his apostles, who objected to the extravagant gift by which Mary anointed Jesus for his burial, “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me (John 12:8).” Jesus also told a Canaanite woman with a demon-possessed daughter, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” and “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:24, 26). Near a pool called Bethesda “a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed” but Jesus only healed one man in that whole crowd (John 5:1f). And in a verse I’ve shared with you many times now, Jesus said, ““Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19).
As many miracles and good things as Jesus did, He left just as many problems unsolved—many more still blind, lame, and paralyzed, as many poor, and even the entire nation under Roman occupation. Jesus would even predict the destruction of Jerusalem’s beautiful Temple whose possible reconstruction still threatens wars. Jesus expressed His desire to do more—“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37)”—but loving His neighbor, even for Jesus, didn’t solve every problem of every person beaten down by life and lying by the roadside half dead. Too many still reject Him. So how are we to “go and do likewise”?
Jesus specifically trained 12 and left 120 gathered in room waiting for the Holy Spirit to arrive in power. We call what happened next (in Acts 2) Jesus’ solution to the problem—the birth of the “Church.” Paul reveals for us in Ephesians 4:11-13 the DNA of the true church: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Until Stephen’s martyrdom, there really only was one church. Our problem comes when we interpret “the body of Christ” Paul created in his missionary journeys as our one local church and make 1-to-1 applications from Paul’s letters. Please hear what I say next. Local churches were created to equip a group of people for specific and limited works of service outside a local church’s walls. Only in conjunction with multiple bodies of believers can we impact global issues. But none of us, none single one of us, can really care about more than God Himself asks each of us to care about. A single local church can’t do everything and solve every problem. We are limited. We are finite. Even together, united across the millennia, every generation will face its own battles that will mold its character and shape its faith.
Local churches were created to serve the people who attend that church by teaching them how to live in accordance with the gospel message and then helping the live out the Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is not the job of the congregation to serve the local church. It is the job of every born-from-above believer only to serve God as God gifts, enables, and directs them through the Holy Spirit. As long as a local church is serving a group of people by equipping them for this specific task, it deserves the loving care and loyal involvement of its people, however that care is directed by the Holy Spirit. But the harvest field lies beyond its local doors. When a pastor or a church or a denomination cares more about its own survival than the harvest field it has gotten off the narrow path and needs a course correction. We need to concentrate on doing what we were called to do—equipping people and being equipped to live godly lives outside these walls, not inside them. We can’t all care about every need of this world equally. We all have individual callings and specific giftings which are matched to the specific needs we’re called upon and enabled to meet. But that can’t also be an excuse to just pass people by on the other side because we have something else we want to do that day. Our hearts must remain tender and open to daily opportunities. We can always, at least, see the hurting along the way offer up a moment’s prayer every time we encounter someone in need—even if our only prayer is for the person God will send who is able to meet the need we’ve just witnessed. We can at least momentarily stop and ask God if there is something more for us to do here before we continue on our way. Maybe what we only stop and see today will ultimately create within us a heart that will one day later be called upon to meet that same or a similar need. If and/or when God does ask us to meet a specific need, then we need to do what the Good Samaritan did and serve that person, cause, or need sacrificially no matter what it costs us. We can care, properly and as called upon, directed, and empowered to care—again, not out of guilt or compulsion or even need, but out of love at the calling and directing of the Holy Spirit.