So I've been going through the book of Luke with a friend of mine. I send her a part of a passage each morning with a couple of words--sometimes an explanation of the historical background, sometimes questions about interpretation, sometimes thoughts about what it means to apply those stories to our own lives. We've just hit Luke 10, and this morning I sent her the story of the Good Samaritan.
I'm sure you know the story, where Jesus was doing some teaching. A guy came up and asked Jesus how to find eternal life. Jesus asked the guy what he thought, and the guy answered "Love God and love my neighbor." Jesus told him that he had it exactly right. But that didn't satisfy the guy, so he asked who his neighbor was. And in response, Jesus told a story. He told a story about this man who was beaten and left for dead. Religious person after religious person saw him, but did nothing. Instead, they crossed to the other side of the road so they wouldn't have to deal with him. And then a Samaritan, that most-hated race, walked by and took care of the guy--treated him just like family and gave everything he needed to get well. And then Jesus asked the guy, "who did you think was a neighbor in this story? The answer, of course, was the Samaritan.
When I read this story this morning, I thought of the conversation that's stirring in my community about this billboard that our local atheist group put up in our community, saying that you don't need God to hope, to care, to love, or to live. This has caused a firestorm of controversy in my very religious community, and some people are saying and doing some hateful things. Some people who claim to be followers of Jesus, in fact, have not been loving toward the people who put up this billboard.
Is it just me, or does this completely contradict the message of Jesus--the message of the cross--the message of redemption? I get the fact that people might feel like their ideology is being attacked. I get that they take this personally, because their belief in God is a part of their identity. But how can anyone think that responding by publicly disparaging other people or by doing cruel things to people who don't believe in God somehow advances the kingdom or the message of Jesus?
What happened to the message of loving God and loving others--even those who would ordinarily fall into a category of people we might consider our enemies? Because the Jews and the Samaritans--they hated each other. They had major ideological and practical differences that made getting along with each other impossible. But when Jesus wanted to talk about what it means to truly follow him, he used the example of going above and beyond for someone who is your enemy.
What if, instead of reacting to this ideological statement in the abstract, the church actually got together and tried to think about how to extravagantly love the atheists in our community (or the Muslims or the Bhuddists or the Hindus)? What if we started mowing lawns, providing for physical needs, or having conversations with others who don't believe the same things we do? What if (gasp!) we actually became friends with those who might never see the need to believe in God? How would that change the world? How would that change us?
So I'm heartbroken, personally, as I think about how my community has responded. I long for the kind of world that we'd be living in if everyone acted like the good Samaritan all of the time. I wish that everyone in my community who loves Jesus would actually take the time to figure out a practical, sincere, and extravagant way to show the love of Jesus to my atheist friend and all of his friends.