Back in May 2007, I published a post called “Do we want to be associated with a Samaritan?” This has remained one of my favorite posts that I’ve written. When Jesus told the parable of “The Good Samaritan”, he did something very confusing for the people of his time. He used a heretic as an example of someone who was obeying God. I wondered then, and I still wonder today, would we be willing to be associated with a heretic in order to obey God?
The greatest commandment, according to Jesus, is to love God. The second greatest commandment, which is like the first, is to love your neighbor as yourself. According to Jesus, the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments: love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40).
But he [a lawyer], desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:29-37 ESV)
This is a sweet, little story that we tell to our children in order to motivate them to take care of people. But, as I was thinking through some of the comments to my post “All people will know that you are my disciples…“, this parable kept coming to mind. Specifically, I wondered, “Why would Jesus choose a Samaritan to be the good example?”
Yes, I know the standard answers: Samaritans and Jews did not get along with one another, so the Samaritan demonstrated love to someone who he was not expected to love. (Notice, for example, that the “lawyer” even refused to speak the name “Samaritan” instead calling the man “the one who showed him mercy”.) This is a great lesson. But, is that the extent of Jesus’ lesson?
Who were the Samaritans? This is how the wikipedia article on the Samaritans begins:
The Samaritans (Hebrew: ×©×•×ž×¨×•× ×™×), known in the Talmud as Kuthim, are an ethnic group of the Levant. Ethnically, they are descended from a group of inhabitants that have connections to ancient Samaria from the beginning of the Babylonian Exile up to the beginning of the Christian era. The Samaritans, however, derive their name not from this geographical designation, but rather from the term ×©Ö·×žÖ¶×¨Ö´×™× (Shamerim), â€œkeepers [of the law]â€. Religiously, they are the adherents to Samaritanism, a religion based on the Torah. Samaritans claim that their worship (as opposed to mainstream Judaism) is the true religion of the ancient Israelites, predating the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.
Notice that the Samaritans were different from the Jews with regard to ethnicity, but they were also different from the Jews with regard to beliefs. The Jews thought that the Samaritans held to incorrect doctrine, while the Samaritans thought that the Jews held to incorrect doctrines. They were separated by both ethnicity and beliefs.
Adding this to our understanding of Jesus’ parable, I find it remarkable that Jesus used a Samaritan to demonstrate God’s true love. Emphatically, Jesus has both a Levite and a priest pass by the injured man without stopping. Remember, the Levites and the priests were responsible for guarding the true faith of Judaism. They were responsible for taking care of the temple and the sacrifices. Jesus himself seemed to agree with the Levites and priests with respect to beliefs. So, why did Jesus not use one whose “doctrine” is correct to also demonstrate God’s love? Or, to ask this in a contemporary way, why did Jesus choose a heretic as an example of love? Could it be that the Samaritan’s love demonstrates that he understands (knows) God better than the Levite or priest?
Belief is important. Teaching is important. Doctrine is important. But belief, teaching, and doctrine separate from an active demonstration of the love of God is not truly from God. Could it be that God is more pleased with “doctrinal deviants” who nevertheless love others than he is pleased with “orthodox believers” who do not show his love?
In other words, could it be that what we say we believe is not a good indication that we are disciples of Christ? Could it be that how we live is a better indication that we are followers of Christ? (I need to point out a great quote that Isabel from “amateur” shared in the comments section of a previous post: “What I say I believe is not what I believe; what I believe is what I do.” -Donald Miller.)
Now, please do not misunderstand the purpose of the post. You can call me “soft on doctrine” if you’d like, but it would only show that you don’t know me. I am not suggesting that we stop studying Scripture. I am not suggesting that we stop discussing the meaning of certain difficult passages. I am not suggesting that we stop developing theology. Instead, I am suggesting that these activities are worthless if we do not live what we believe at the same time.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan understood this, while neither the Levite nor the priest understood it. Perhaps it is time for us to associate with the Samaritan – who correctly demonstrated God’s love – instead of the Levite and priest – who only had a correct system of beliefs without demonstrating God’s love.