Thinking Out Loud

October 31, 2014

Parables Weren’t That Far Fetched

Filed under: bible, character — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:25 am

One thing about Jesus’ parables you can say for sure: The Good Samaritans and The Prodigal’s Parent represented the exception, not the rule. These stories would arrest the hearers in their tracks. But were they that big a stretch? We looked at that a few days ago at C201

Acts 1 8

You’ve heard of the story of The Good Samaritan. As with most parables, we believe Jesus invented the story on the spot. It begins in most translations “A certain man.” Only once — with Lazarus and the rich man — is the character in a parable even given a name.

The surprise ending of course is:

NIV Luke 10:33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.

It’s easy to say at this point that Jesus made the hero of the story a Samaritan for shock value. The story could stand — albeit not as forcefully — with one of his own people bandaging his wounds and offering to pay for his care at the inn. But were there good Samaritans?

Of course there are. There are good and bad in any sect you wish to define by drawing lines. There are good and bad Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics and Mormons. There are good Muslims and bad Muslims. It’s wrong to stereotype. But Jesus’ statement picture of a good Samaritan is revealed just a few chapters later, in Luke 17 in the story of the healing of the ten lepers:

NKJV Luke 17:15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.

That was a real life situation, not a parable. (I hesitate to say, this was a situation over which Jesus had no control; but theologically and practically that is incorrect. He could have easily placed it in the heart of the one man to return and give thanks; but it defeats the purpose of Luke’s inclusion of the detail if you’re going to dismiss it by saying Jesus supernaturally manipulated the post-healing moment.)

The point is that Samaritans, like any other group both then and now, should not be subject to stereotyping or profiling.

A study of Samaritans in scripture also reveals some paradoxical moments:

In Matthew 10, we see Jesus sending out the disciples with these words:

5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.

But as Jesus enters a later phase of his ministry he does just the opposite:

NIV Luke 9:51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.

But the Samaritans don’t receive him. This is the only place in scripture where they are cast negatively. If you’ve read the encounter Jesus has with a Samaritan woman at the well, you might think the key to verse 33 is Jerusalem itself. After all she says,

NIV John 4:19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

But the IVP NT Commentary suggests a broader theme:

The explanation is that Jesus’ face is set toward Jerusalem. In other words, rejection is his fate. Even though that rejection will occur in the capital of Israel, the Samaritan reaction mirrors that coming reality. The world is not responsive to Jesus; rejection is widespread.

The commentary on the verses that follow 53 is also interesting:

James and John ask for the ancient equivalent of nuking the enemy: “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” The disciples understand the great power they have access to, but the question is whether vindictive use of this power is proper. Is their hostile reaction justified? The request for “fire from above” recalls the ministry of Elijah (2 Kings 1). In their view, surely rejection means instant judgment.

Jesus corrects them. The text does not tell us what he said. In a story that is a little unusual in form, it simply notes that Jesus rebukes them and they move on to the next village. Many Gospel accounts end with a climactic saying of Jesus, a pronouncement that is key to the event in question. Here Jesus’ action speaks for itself. There is no saying; rather, the disciples’ saying becomes a view to be rejected emphatically

The disciples reaction is amazing considering that this passage almost assuredly follows chronologically the parable and the healing. Biases and prejudices do not disappear easily.

So who are the Samaritans in your life? In mine?

We’ve shared before about this verse:

Acts 1:8 NLT But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

and with this we’ll end today.

…Driving home, my wife pointed out that a most-literal reading of the passage would be difficult since Samaria no longer exists and the “end of the earth” (ESV and NKJV) or the even more archaic “ends of the earth” (HCSB and strangely, NLT, above) no longer applies to an earth we know is round and has no ends. (I like the NASB here, “the remotest parts of the earth.” Good translation and very missional.)

Most of us think of the verse in terms of ever expanding distances from our home city, but the disciples would have heard something entirely different with the mention of Samaria

Most of us think of the verse in terms of ever expanding distances from our home city, but the disciples would have heard something entirely different with the mention of Samaria

I’m not sure I agreed with the pastor’s take on Samaria, however. He chose Toronto, a city about an hour west of where we live, as our “modern Samaria” because of its cosmopolitan nature; because it’s a gateway to so many cultures impacting the rest of the world. Truly when Jesus met the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4, it was a clash of cultures in several ways at once.

But Samaria would not be seen that way by those receiving the great commission. In Judea they will like me and receive but in Samaria we have a mutual distrust and dislike for each other. Samaria is the place you don’t want to go to. Your Samaria may be geographically intertwined in your Jerusalem or your Judea. Your Samaria may be at the remotest part the earth and it’s your Samaria because it’s at the ends of the earth.

Your Samaria may be the guy in the next cubicle that you just don’t want to talk to about your faith, but feel a strong conviction both that you need to and he needs you to. Your Samaria may be the next door neighbor whose dogs run all over your lawn doing things that dogs do. Your Samaria may be the family that runs the convenience store where you rent DVDs who are of a faith background that you associate with hatred and violence. Your Samaria may be atheists, abortionists, gays, or just simply people who are on the opposite side of the fence politically. Your Samaritan might just be someone who was sitting across the aisle in Church this weekend.


Christianity 201 | C201 | 365 Daily Devotionals since April, 2010

July 11, 2013

Strange Biases and Prejudices

Filed under: ethics, relationships, writing — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:31 am

The first job I got at 15 was in a large department store that employed hundreds of people. One day while I was working on the 2nd floor, someone needed to contact a girl who was working at the first floor checkouts. Since there were six people working there, they asked me to describe her.

I described her in detail; her height, what she was wearing, her hair color and length, and the person went off in search of her. A few minutes later they came back and said — and these are the exact words — “Why didn’t you just say she was black?”

For the next several weeks, I somewhat prided myself in the fact that my brain registered her simply as a person, and not that she was African American (or more accurately, African Canadian).  I had gotten to know her well enough that her race just wasn’t a factor.

But years later, I was aware of more subtle prejudices that had crept into my life. The main one, I’m ashamed to say, was red-haired people who were left handed. Yes, I knew several of them. And this was years before “kick a ginger” was fashionable. I don’t exactly where it came from, though in middle school, I was (somewhat mildly) beat up in a school restroom by a guy with red hair, though I never asked him if he was right-handed or left-handed. You just don’t think of things like that at the time.

I don’t honestly know how the two traits blended to form one profile, but eventually, I got over it.  (The sound you’re hearing is all my left-handed and red-haired readers unsubscribing.)

Growing up in Toronto, there were all sorts of stereotypes concerning bad drivers.

  • one particular gender (can you guess?)
  • one particular race (“they don’t get in accidents, they cause accidents”)
  • cars from one particular province (bet you have this in the U.S., too)
  • persons driving particular models of car (it varied)

Of course, the more of the above factors you combined into one driver the more you wanted to avoid them.

But like my situation with the girl at the department store, I prided myself in not being consumed by these stereotypes, even though I suspected that the anecdotal evidence bore some truth.

black truckBut then, several years ago, I did latch on to a new driver stereotype, and one which I am guilty of as I write this: people with black pickup trucks. I maintained — and still do — that ownership of a black pickup is as much about an attitude as it is about the vehicle. I count the times we’re passed on the freeway by aggressively driven black pickups. (My wife notes how I seem oblivious to people in other types of vehicles who go speeding past.) I think this one traces back to a neighbor who I was convinced tried to run me off the road a few times in his Chevy truck. Or maybe it was a Ford pickup. I don’t really know.

I still maintain that a person could not — not even in Texas — be a Christian and drive a black pickup truck. The two attitudes are completely incompatible. (But having biases and prejudices and being a Christian, is obviously something I do not have a problem with.)

We’re supposed to love people. So I endeavor to do that. “Love the driver, hate the truck.”  Yeah, that’s what I say.

So my wife informs me that several months ago the pastor bought a black pickup.

As long as I haven’t actually seen it, I’ll maintain there’s no way that could be true.

Do you have any unusual biases against certain people?

March 2, 2012

So, You Think You Know That Person?

Years ago, just before an annual meeting at a local church where I was serving, a woman went to the pastor quite distraught over an article I had written in the local newspaper on some municipal issue that she didn’t think was appropriate for someone on church staff.

The pastor let her rant for awhile, and then said, “Well, say what you will, but I know his heart.”

While I appreciated his coming to my defense, I also have tried to adopt a similar attitude toward others. I need to either (a) admit I don’t know people fully, and certainly not as God does; or (b) try to get to them better, not just superficially, but get to know their heart.

So as soon as I saw this at Barry Simmons’ blog yesterday, I knew I had to share it with you.

Danger of Assuming Knowledge of Someone’s Heart

Jesus said “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1). However, contrary to secular society’s assumption, he was not saying that moral evaluations are off limits.  In the same Sermon on the Mount he talked about knowing someone by the fruit of their lives. What I believe He was saying is that we must be careful to apply to ourselves the same standards we apply to others, and with the same severity.  We should give others the same level of mercy and understanding that we want for ourselves.

He was also saying that we should not be quick to presume we know someone’s’ heart or the facts of their situation. Here’s a thought provoking list from Kevin DeYoung of things not to assume (prejudge):

Don’t assume you know all the facts after hearing one side of the story.
Don’t assume the person is guilty just because strong charges are made against him.
Don’t assume you understand a blogger’s heart after reading one post.
Don’t assume that famous author, preacher, athlete, politician, or local celebrity won’t read what you write and don’t assume they won’t care what you say.
Don’t assume the divorced person is to blame for the divorce.
Don’t assume the single mom isn’t following Jesus.
Don’t assume the guy from the mission is less of a man or less of a Christian.
Don’t assume the pastor looking for work is a bad pastor.
Don’t assume the church that struggles or fails is a bad church.
Don’t assume you’d be a better mom.
Don’t assume bad kids are the result of bad parents.
Don’t assume your parents are clueless.
Don’t assume everyone should drop everything to attend to your needs, and don’t assume no one will.
Don’t assume the rich are ungenerous.
Don’t assume the poor are lazy.
Don’t assume you know what they’re all like after meeting one or two of their kind.
Don’t assume you should read between the lines.
Don’t assume you have interpreted the emotions of the email correctly.
Don’t assume everyone has forgotten about you.
Don’t assume they meant to leave you off the list.
Don’t assume everyone else has a charmed life.
Don’t assume a bad day makes her a bad friend.
Don’t assume the repentance isn’t genuine.
Don’t assume the forgiveness isn’t sincere.
Don’t assume God can’t change you.
Don’t assume God can’t love you.
Don’t assume God can’t love them.

February 5, 2012

I Was Wrong: Some Christians Really Do Hate Gays

For the past decade I have strenuously objected to the notion that the defining feature of Christ-followers is that we are homophobic.  Maybe it’s because I live in Canada, and we’re a more pluralist, tolerant, softer-spoken bunch up here.  Maybe it’s because I’m a Christian and I really don’t know — nor would I say I have ever met — anyone who is an avowed gay-hater.  Maybe it’s because I’ve watched the Phelps gang on newscasts and consigned that type of hatred to “the lunatic fringe.”

But there are places in the United States — and I’m going to generalize here and say, more so, but not exclusively, in the southern US — where gay kids are being bullied for being gay by fellow students, and while the newspaper articles tend not to extrapolate beyond their boundaries, I think the kids get this kind of bias and prejudice from their parents. Even Evangelical parents.

So I was wrong.  There are some Christians out there who really do despise both gays who are out, and, hedging their bets just in case, anyone else they feel has homosexual tendencies.

What changed my mind was this article in Rolling Stone magazine.  And this story takes place in the north, in Minnesota.  The writer built the story around Brittany.

Like many 13-year-olds, Brittany knew seventh grade was a living hell. But what she didn’t know was that she was caught in the crossfire of a culture war being waged by local evangelicals inspired by their high-profile congressional representative Michele Bachmann, who graduated from Anoka High School and, until recently, was a member of one of the most conservative churches in the area. When Christian activists who considered gays an abomination forced a measure through the school board forbidding the discussion of homosexuality in the district’s public schools, kids like Brittany were unknowingly thrust into the heart of a clash that was about to become intertwined with tragedy.

At five online pages, the story takes some time to finish, but I encourage you to do so. To get a picture of what’s going on in public (and many private) middle schools and high schools. Especially if you’ve got kids who are just arriving at that age. Or kids that are in it. Or grandchildren. Or nieces and nephews.

The story describes, “a suicide epidemic that would take the lives of nine local students in under two years, a rate so high that child psychologist Dan Reidenberg, executive director of the Minnesota-based Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, declared the Anoka-Hennepin school district the site of a ‘suicide cluster,’ adding that the crisis might hold an element of contagion; suicidal thoughts had become catchy, like a lethal virus.”

I work in a Christian bookstore.  I proudly tell customers that we don’t actually have any books in the store that are anti-gay.  That God loves all people.  But the parallel gospel of hate follows oral transmission lines.  It plays out in the extreme when members of a weird family picket soldiers’ funerals, but on a far wider scale in more subtle forms that almost never — except in this case — make the evening news.

Bottom line: There are Christian families — the whole family, not just the middle school and high school students — who are making life a living hell for other students who are gay, or think they’re gay, or are gay for the time being, or who have gay tendencies or sympathies.  The barbs and taunts issued in the name of Christian proclamation are not just causing one or two students to take their lives here and there, they are causing a self-inflicted slaughter.

It took an article in Rolling Stone for me to finally see that.

And it’s got to change.

…I think if I were to speak to Christian kids in high school, I’d say, quite boldly, ‘Join your school’s gay-straight alliance.  I don’t know what you’re going to do when you get there, and I don’t know what they’re going to talk about, and I don’t know how uncomfortable you’re going to be hanging out there, but just show up; stand with those kids; tell them you’re there to say that not all Christians are about hate and intolerance.’

But some parent is reading this and thinking, ‘Wait a minute.  If I send my son or daughter to that group, some kids are going to think that they’re gay.’

Is this such a bad thing if you’re confident that they are not? Wasn’t part of Jesus’ mission to come and identify with us in our place of need and hurt?  Didn’t they falsely accuse Him of the worst things involving the prostitutes and tax collectors that He chose to be his companions?

In Ontario, my home province, we have this incongruous system whereby the Roman Catholic Church has a fully taxpayer funded separate educational system wherein teachers and support staff are so bound by lawyer-drafted policies such that they aren’t even allowed to use the words ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ in a sentence.  That’s not how you “have the conversation.”

In my son’s public school there are signs in every classroom that say something to the effect, “This is an LGBT friendly environment.”  Good, but a bit one-sided.  I always want to attach a post-it to each one that says, “And it’s Gr8 to be Str8.”  Parents in Manitoba have objected to similar classroom signage, but I’d rather lean in the direction of tolerance than toward the atmosphere of hatred and division.

Does this mean I’m soft on the gay question?  Actually — and I’ve said this previously — I think a generation of teenagers, both male and female, have been seduced by things on the internet.  They’ve found themselves in relationships (or serial relationships) which seem good and fulfilling, and perhaps are for a season, but at the expense of another path they might have chosen, another road they might have traveled.

But their stories aren’t over yet.  Their final chapters haven’t been written.

And I’m not going to sit by quietly while so-called Evangelicals or Christians cause their story to be cut short.

image: vi.sualize.us

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