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We handle cases across the United States. Allen Stewart is licensed to practice law in Texas, California, New York, Pennsylvania, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio and Arizona.

Jesus, Justice and American Christianity (III)

Our culture’s attention span does not handle complexity well. As a result, most media, some religious leaders and virtually all politicians conflate liberal theology with liberal political positions and conservative theology with conservative political positions. Yet, one’s religious compass can point towards a conservative view of Scripture that results in a liberal view of many social issues. It is possible, and I would argue spiritually important, for Jesus’ followers to practice a theology that deeply honors the content of Scripture, and then lead lives aligned with helping the least among us.

As I pointed out in the earlier Jesus, Justice II commentary, Jesus adopted very liberal social positions for his time. Yet it is clear that Jesus maintained high regard for Scripture. He considered it both true and powerful. When tempted by Satan, Jesus expressly quotes Scripture to deal with evil’s suggestions.[i] He often quoted Scripture and encouraged Israel to live by its precepts.

But Jesus also viewed Scripture differently from his times’ traditions and commentators’ viewpoints. Specifically, Jesus showed mercy in the real circumstances set before Him. The conservative religious leaders of Jesus’ day restricted any “work” on the Sabbath, including helping others. Jesus specifically said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?[ii] Then, on the Sabbath, Jesus healed a man’s withered hand in front of these religious leaders.[iii] They thought He had broken God’s law. He didn’t care what they thought. This provides a template for how Jesus’ followers should respond to lesser authorities than Scripture.

In the first post entitled, “Jesus, Justice and American Christianity,” I mentioned in passing the Good Samaritan story as an illustration of Jesus being interested in a gospel that helps others. Here, I’d like to discuss that story further as it reveals the radical vision of Jesus.

The Good Samaritan story begins with Jesus answering a lawyer’s string of questions. The Gospel of Luke tells it this way:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,’ he asked, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he (Jesus) replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”[iv]

Jesus then answers this question with the story of the Good Samaritan. And since I’m unable to tell the story better than Jesus, I’ll just quote Luke here:

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of 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 took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins 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.”

“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.”[v]

The only extra-textual fact needed to truly understand the depth of this story is the historical relationship between Samaritans and Jews. During Jesus’ day, The Jewish faith excluded Samaritans from temple services. Samaritans were cursed in the temple.[vi] Basically, Jews considered Samaritans their enemies. And Jesus instructs us that the essence of loving God completely is caring for our neighbor as ourselves—even those that others label as our enemies.

The unfathomed depths of the Good Samaritan should convict Jesus’ followers. Any American Christian reading this story and remaining comfortable advocating limiting access to quality health care for anyone probably needs to read it again through the compassionate lens Jesus provides. And this story shows that a Gospel without deep compassion for those considered less than worthy of it, is simply no Gospel at all.

[i] Matthew 4:1-11 (NIV)

[ii] Luke 6:9 (NIV)

[iii] Luke 6:10 (NIV)

[iv] Luke 10:25-29 (NIV)

[v] Luke 10:30-37 (NIV)

[vi] The New International Dictionary of the Bible (1987) p.890.

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