Young religious legal experts were always asking Jesus questions, trying to stump or trap him into an answer they could use against him in some way. Kind of like our modern-day press corps, except that these 1st century Jewish young guns were probably better educated. One very interesting question is found in Luke chapter 10, where a young legal expert asked Jesus “Who is my neighbor?”
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:24-29)
The lawyer’s answer echoes the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 22:32-40 and Mark 12:28-34. In Matthew Jesus said the “great and first commandment” is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” It comes from Deuteronomy 6:5 and describes how to keep the first four commandments. The people were to worship Yahweh exclusively. They were to have no idols of other “gods,” nor were they to “borrow” any teachings of other religious traditions to make them their own. The second, love “your neighbor as yourself,” comes from Leviticus 19:18. This one encapsulates the outworking of the last six commandments. If you love your neighbor as yourself, you won’t dishonor your parents, won’t murder people, steal from them, nor tell lies about them to others. Love would also preclude you from coveting your neighbor’s wife or any of his possessions. Except for the Lord Jesus, no human can keep them perfectly. As the Apostle Paul points out, no one will be justified by the Law but instead, every human being is condemned by the Law. We can only be justified by faith in Christ, but the lawyer was looking for the way to justify himself. (See “The Good, Good News”).
Suddenly though, the self-confident young whippersnapper finds himself on the horns of a dilemma, which was not an unusual place for opposition scholars to find themselves. Jesus tells him he has the right answer – now just go and do it – which left the man guiltily casting about for a possible legal loop hole, a technicality if you will, on this “loving your neighbor” business. (Interesting to note is his seeming satisfaction that he was loving God with all his heart, soul and mind, when that a seems far harder requirement, though perhaps one easier to delude yourself that you are doing. “Neighbors” and their sometimes-annoying needs and tendencies are so much more “in your face” than God seems to be. But we digress.)
Instead of answering the question outright, Jesus told a story which ended with a multiple-choice question. We now call this the story of the “Good Samaritan.” It is a simple tale really, which has four main characters, a bit of drama and a hero. The first character, a traveler on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho is beaten, robbed and left to die. The next two characters were Jewish religious leaders. The first of these was a priest and the second a Levite, both of whom actually crossed the road to avoid helping the dying man. It is clear the victim was not, in their estimation, their neighbor.
The last character to come along was a Samaritan, a man of an ethnic group which the Jews held in great contempt. We all know what he did. He stopped and helped the man, binding his wounds and taking him to a safe place to recover, and paid for the man’s lodging and care.
Jesus then asks the young religious scholar:
Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers? (Luke 10:36)
Being of a good Jewish legal mind, the young attorney would know the priest and Levite would have had, in their own minds, a “good reason” not to involve themselves with this man and his trouble. After all, the man was obviously in bad shape, so they would likely have “justified” their actions by avoiding the potential of being ritually defiled by coming into contact with a possibly dead body. Knowing this, the obvious answer to the question as to who “proved to be a neighbor” would have been quite distasteful and uncomfortable to him, but the lawyer answered correctly, “The one who showed mercy.” Even worse than that humiliation, Jesus then told him to imitate the Samaritan, as He said, “You go, and do likewise.”
The Christian practices of mercy, compassion, and loving and serving others has been central to the transition of the world from the pagan culture in which the church was born to the largely “Christian world” and civilization which has prevailed for 1800 years. Even non-Christians were heavily influenced by the Christian oriented world they lived in. In fact, as we recently wrote in our “Atheists Need Christianity” blog, after working hard to rid the world of the Christian faith, leading atheists have realized how detrimental has been Christianity’s waning influence in the world.
[Atheist Tom] Holland points out that without Christianity, the Western world would not exist. Even the claims of the social justice warriors who despise the faith of their ancestors rest on a foundation of Judeo-Christian values. Those who make arguments based on love, tolerance, and compassion are borrowing fundamentally Christian arguments. 1“Atheists in Praise of Christianity?”
Even so, there is a rather new SJW twist on the “Who is my neighbor?” question. In this new version Jesus was wrong and as a result, unwittingly misled the young attorney, and the millions of people who believed His words. It may sound shocking, but Social Justice Warriors, outside and inside the church, have discovered something that upends the entire moral foundation of Christianity and indeed, the whole of Western Civilization. (the authors are aware that the phrase “Western Civilization” is probably a highly offensive trigger word to many people these days, but we use it for the sake of clarity) The new moral concept is so profound and so deeply concealed in biblical teaching, that most people could study their bibles every day for hundreds of years and never once chance upon it. It turns out the Samaritan, as well as the priest and the Levite, along with their children and grandchildren, and in fact even their ancestors, along with anyone they ever knew or heard of, were absolutely complicit in the attack on the traveler. They were complicit because they did not prevent it from happening. Moreover, all of their descendants also bear the guilt of this non-prevention, and if any should deny their obvious guilt, their denial, like the denials which the hapless accused “witches” in olde Salem offered, serves only to prove their guilt.
Christians know they are to practice compassion, mercy, love and self-sacrifice to those they come in contact with. But it seems we are also responsible to prevent those around us from acting immorally even if the immorality in question is legally sanctioned. We come to this profound understanding as we hear Social Justice Warriors claim that if the church had been acting as the church, slavery would never have happened on American soil. The thinking assumes that Christians, whatever percentage of the population was indeed Christian at the time, should have prevented believers and unbelievers alike from committing the moral transgression of owning slaves. Slavery was always immoral of course, but at the time it existed in this country it wasn’t illegal. Christians fully understand that legality does not confer morality upon any action, and it certainly did not confer the slightest morality to the evil practice of slavery. Yet we must consider what, if any, is/was the church’s responsibility, guilt and complicity in the abhorrent practice?
Do Christians have the responsibility today to enforce morality on non-Christians (or even other Christians) who are behaving immorally but are not breaking any laws? For example, abortion, like owning slaves, is a dreadfully immoral practice, but it is currently legal under American Law. Christians have the right and freedom to vote, and so it seems have the responsibility to attempt to get legislation passed to end this evil practice, to outlaw abortions as abolitionists worked to abolish the evil practice of slavery. Our Constitution provides the opportunity to protest practices we find morally offensive and to attempt to persuade others to our beliefs through peaceful means. Many abortions have been deterred by this process. However, neither the church nor individual Christians are responsible for immoral but legal acts of non-Christians or even other individual Christians. We should expect non-believers to act like non-believers and, living in these mortal bodies awaiting future redemption, we know that Christians still commit sin (evil deeds) in their own self-interest and act immorally. This new theory comes up morally and intellectually bankrupt, but also can be shown to be another “rubber ball” type theory in that “whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.” If we are responsible for not preventing the moral evils of others in the past, our accuser’s ancestors are likewise guilty of not preventing us from not preventing others from wrongdoing. Their ancestors should have forced our ancestors to force others to not allow slavery in the first place. As it historically turned out, thankfully, many of our ancestors ended the practice of slavery by fighting in a bloody civil war, in which many innocent persons were also killed, which it seems that somebody’s ancestors perhaps should have prevented.
But moving on, how do we test this new understanding in the here and now? If someone living in our neighborhood is engaged in adultery, fornication or same gender sex, to name but a few things considered immoral by Christians, all of which are legal, are Christians complicit because they do not or cannot prevent these actions? The answer is of course, NO! Keep in mind how leftists shrieked at pro-lifers to “Keep your Rosaries off our ovaries,” i.e., keep your religious morality out of the public arena.
Christians are to be salt and light in a dark world. We are each responsible to God for how we live but we are not responsible or accountable for how others live. By the same token, other people are not held guilty for how we live – no one is responsible for our choices or actions. The truth is every person is morally guilty before a holy God. As the Apostle Paul writes:
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)
But the factual statement that we are all sinners is not permission to live immorally or the end of the story. There is the promise of something better:
[We] “…are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:24-25)
It turns out Jesus was right after all. The focus of many in our current political/cultural discussions is dead wrong. The Christian focus should continue to be to love and serve God and love and serve others:
“You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.”Ω
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