In Part 1 of this series I illustrated the danger of thinking that we as the insiders can contain the blessings of God–we might find ourselves attempting to throw Jesus off a cliff. In Part 2, I continued with a story that shows how these blessings come even to those who stand against the very purposes of God–a Roman centurion receives the blessings of Jesus’ authority.
The point of this is to show through a series of engagements with NT stories that we must not only consider how we are to act in order to please God in our standing before him, but must also consider how we must act toward our neighbor who will not so act if we are to truly please God. In all, it seems that upholding our moral standards, or obeying God more generally, as a barrier to extending the fulness of God’s blessings to the world around us is a crucial mistake that might make us more the outsider than we realize.
The quintessential example of failure to extend blessing due to adherence to the Law is the parable of the Good Samaritan.
The Lawyer comes to Jesus, and correctly enumerates what must be done to obtain eternal life: love God, love neighbor. Like us, he knows that both are crucial, and that the doing of one cannot be an excuse to not do the other. And, like us, he is keen to make sure he knows who this neighbor is. How far does love extend? What must it look like?
The story that ensues is familiar. But too often, we fail to dig deep enough into the failure of love that is illustrated.
The man is beaten, and lays within an inch of his life. In fact, for all that someone can tell by looking at him, the man is dead. Why is this important? It’s a crucial factor because priests were forbidden to contract corpse impurity for any but their closest relatives. In other words, for a priest, and perhaps a Levite, to leave an apparently dead man unattended to was nothing less than upholding the Law of God.
Was the man who loved his neighbor the one who kept the Law of God and thereby kept himself pure to act on the people’s behalf in the Temple service?
Was the law-keeping obedient one the person who did what was necessary to obtain eternal life by loving neighbor?
The person who was neighbor to the man, and therefore acted with the love that leads to eternal life, was the non-Law-keeping Samaritan, the half-Jewish “other” who bound the man’s wounds, entrusted him to the care of the inn keeper, and paid for him to come to full health and strength.
When we wrestle with how the ordinances of God might impact our status toward outsiders, we are too often in the place of the priest and Levite–upholding the Law of God and thereby claiming that we are loving neighbor even while we leave our neighbor without food, without healthcare, without a true participation in the blessings God has given us.
These NT stories are merely about legalists who don’t really understand God’s Law. They are about people who understand all too well the Law that differentiates them and separates them from the world that lies beyond the people of God. But Jesus takes hold of the biblical storyline that demands we recognize God as the God of all–and that we extend the blessings of God as far as God’s own Lordship itself extends.
These are stories that call us to love the outsider, that demand of us that we set aside the law of God–not as a means by which we live faithfully, but–as a means by which we determine who is worthy to receive the good things that God has bestowed upon God’s people, the good things by which God pushes back the brokenness and fallenness of the world.
Love is not depicted in any of these stories as demanding that someone enter the people of God, it is depicted as a realization that God’s blessings burst beyond the people of God, enveloping even those who will not place themselves within the space marked off by that God’s rules and people.