Have you ever stopped to think of all the people who asked questions of Jesus?
All kinds of questions, some sincere, others abrasive, many to trap him or set him up, several honest ones, and of course, those that were posed to make the questioner look good, smart, clever — you know the kind — testy questions that were really asked for motives other than might appear. Ah yes, what we are interested in and ask about tells a lot about what we are.
We ought to be thankful for the questions asked Jesus and think how poor we would be without them. Regardless of whom they may have come from, we always benefit from each one.
For example, even a selfish question can be of great help if we heed the Master’s answer. I’m thinking now of the man in Luke 10, who came asking Jesus about what to do to have eternal life.
Jesus answered with a question. The man came back with the answer, “You are to love the Lord with everything you have and everything you are and your neighbor as yourself (my paraphrase).” Jesus commended him, but it wasn’t enough.
Now we begin to see the real motive behind the question. It says that he wanted to justify himself. He asked Jesus another question: “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus handles it by replying with the now famous story of the Good Samaritan — you know the one — where the two religious guys passed by a beaten-up traveler, but were so caught up in self-safety, and being professionals that they almost stumbled over the work of God right in front of their eyes.
Fortunately, they managed to step around the traveler and not on him. But here comes that old half-breed Samaritan, despised and out of favor, but filled with compassion, which is what loving your neighbor as yourself is all about.
He didn’t look at the man to see if he was “his type” or not. We do that to people sometimes, don’t we? We think of people as just types. Good types, poor types, glamorous types, hardworking types, and all the rest, and in our heart of hearts we really don’t think anything much can be done about it. And also that we just don’t see them as our kind of people. I actually know of a pastor not to far from here who has said, “Anyone who is anybody in this town is a member of this church. He has forgotten that Jesus came from the far side of eternity to rescue us, and it was not an upgrade. He suffered the cross for us.
The Samaritan to the rescue
But back to our story. The Samaritan gets down off his animal, not concerned for his own safety or loss of time and money and helped the poor fellow out. After doing the on-the-spot work of God, he loads the chap up and takes him to town, gets him a room, and tells the innkeeper to give the man whatever he needs, and when I get back, I will pay you whatever it costs. In other words, charge it to my account.
I like this guy because he was willing to risk and do what was right without counting the cost. Jesus then asked another question of the lawyer: “Which of these three men do you think was a neighbor?”
The man answered, “The one who showed mercy.” Jesus then responded, “Go and do likewise.”
So what is the moral of the story? Well, there are many things to be learned from this brief event from the life of Christ, but one thing for sure is that you can’t be a part of the Kingdom of God and be looking for limits to your religion.
The real follower, the genuine article, is someone who is looking for opportunities to serve, not a nice little tidy religion that allows you to do your thing for God when you want and then get on with your own agenda.
You can’t compartmentalize your faith to where it is just an add-on to the many other things in your life, you know — just a part of your life but not the center.
God is life and is in all of life and must therefore effect all of life. Faith and love don’t act when it is convenient, self-gratifying, or in the public’s eye where it can get some praise. Real faith springs from the heart and looks for opportunities.
True love is willingness to be inconvenienced. The motives are pure, the actions sincere, the cost — whatever it takes, the consequences — mildly stated, eternally favorable.
Jesus gives us this warning that to the hypocrites of every age: “Woe to you” (Matthew 23:13, 15, 16, 23, 25, 27, 29).”
Following Christ is a heart issue. We must learn that we are out of options. The rich young ruler was looking for a fitted religion that gave him elitist permission slips whereby he could work it all out — his way — and go on running his own life. Costless, convenient, calculating and calloused: yes, we see here you can be very religious and also be very hardhearted.
This man was not unlike many today even in the church who want a “totally planned world” where we display our skills as church managers. Sadly we begin to manage others devaluing them replacing them with “bureaucratic schemes” to elevate ourselves. The result — an unspeakable loneliness and a life without God. Jesus says to the rich young ruler: Don’t rule God out, it is dangerous. A manageable God doesn’t work! God cannot be an add-on. The cross is ruthless and takes no prisoners.
The Rev. Chuck Cooper is a longtime pastor and the developer of Daybreak Ministries. He and his wife, Linda, live in Walla Walla. Contact him at Chuck.firstname.lastname@example.org. Pastors in the U-B circulation area are encouraged to write 500- to 700-word columns. Send them to email@example.com.