“Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” (Colossians 4:6 NASB).
I rarely blog about current events, but there’s been a lot of hate in the news the last few weeks. Recently two young black men died in scuffles with police; a troubled man killed five officers in retaliation. On Sunday, I read a post by a young black woman who walked into a convenience store. A white police officer stopped her in the aisle. “How are you doing?” he asked. “I’m fine,” she answered as she moved to pass. “I mean, how are you really doing?” he inquired. “I’m tired,” she sighed. “Me too,” was his reply. He followed with, “I guess it’s not easy being either one of us right now,” and in one incredible moment, they hugged and cried.
The Good Samaritan
Most of us have heard the word, “Samaritan,” without giving much thought as to its origin. Samaritans are a people group that exists to this day and claims a lineage as children of Ephraim and Manasseh. They make their home on and around Mount Gerizim, a little over a hundred miles north of Jerusalem. Though they share a rich heritage, Samaritans and Jews began to diverge around the time of Eli, the prophet.
At the end of the Babylonian captivity, Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple, destroyed seventy years prior. According to Easton’s Bible Commentary, the Samaritans who had remained on Mount Gerizim during the captivity proposed cooperation between Samaritans and Jews in the Temple’s reconstruction. Zerubbabel and the elders of Judah declined the offer, and the relationship between Jews and Samaritans disintegrated from bad to worse. Samaritans believe they represent the true Jewish religion, and Mount Gerizim is the location God chose for His Temple. To this day, Samaritans keep the annual Passover on Mount Gerizim, complete with animal sacrifice.
The people of Galilee were very surprised to hear the story Jesus told of the compassionate Samaritan. The parable came to be known as “The Good Samaritan,” and the hearers’ astonishment came because centuries of ill-will brought the Jews to think of all Samaritans as “bad.” Believe me; the feelings were quite mutual. The Samaritan woman at the well, in John 4:1-36, was quick to remind Jesus of the disagreement over worshipping on Mount Gerizim and worshipping in Jerusalem. Jesus informed her that God seeks those who worship in spirit and truth, regardless of their location.
Seasoned with grace
“But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” (John 2:24-25 NASB).
The tensions we see in the U.S. have grown over a considerable period of time. Like the young black woman and the cop in the convenience store, I’m tired. I enjoy Facebook, but I’m especially tired of the blame and accusation I read, the constant drone of politicians, pundits, and their zealous followers. I realize I get way too much of my “truth” and wisdom from sound bites and Internet memes. Jesus knows the heart of man; He understands that our instinctive response is always to argue back, winning the day with crushing retaliation and partisan revenge. That’s why He continually calls us to stand with Him, asking us to exercise compassion when all those around us pick up stones… or build crosses.
“For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:14-16 NASB).
There is and should be a profound grief to these days. I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose one of my children in a traffic stop. Neither could I bear seeing my child become a police officer only to watch him gunned down by a deranged sniper.
Why Did Jesus Pick a Samaritan as the Hero?
Lest we forget, Jesus selected a priest and a Levite to illustrate the callousness of a self-centered world view, telling how they turned away from helping a man in need. On the other hand, Jesus chose a Samaritan as the surprise hero of the story. As it has been for millennia, Samaritans and Jews are very different; each people group is easy to recognize, categorize, and judge. Then, as now, Jews and Samaritans hate each. It has become an epic division which is now based largely on ethnicity, alone.
All of us are painfully aware that there are disagreements in our society. Here’s the thing… Jesus chose a Samaritan because he wanted to illustrate the character He wants to see in His disciples. Now, as then, Jesus longs for His followers to be the exceptions to human nature; He looks for those who would defy the hateful and thoughtless presumption of sound bites and memes. He waits in anticipation for those who will stand to bridge the gaps with compassion.
Because compassion enables patience, and patience is the foundation of understanding.
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