Monday, June 4, 2018

Dirty Words

One of the most well-known stories in all of Scripture, even among those who are not Christians, is Jesus's story of the "good Samaritan." It was a shocking story to the audience of His own day, and it continues to be a great lesson to human beings today about what it means to truly be neighbors with one another.

A number of English translations take a gentler approach with this story, having Jesus identify the third man as "a man from Samaria," which I thought, in the English, was rather nice of Him. See, the Samaritans were detestable to the Jews, absolutely disgusting. Had Jesus actually said the word "Samaritan," He would have drawn attention to that and probably turned much of His audience away. Especially when He contrasts a "Samaritan" with a priest and a Levite! No, no, He must have said it was a man from Samaria, putting the emphasis on the regularness of the man and only including Samaria as a side note. After all, He wanted His audience to keep listening, didn't He?

But this is where Jesus does something that is so Jesus, and it's beautiful. 

He says, "Samaritan."

He didn't have to. There are constructs in any language that would have permitted Him not to; He really could have said, "a man from Samaria." All it would have taken would have been for Him to use the word "man," a preposition "from," and the name of the disgusting region. But He didn't. When Luke records this story for us, he records it as one word - the root of Samaria with the suffix that indicates "a man from." 

A Samaritan.

Yes, Jesus said a "dirty" word.

And at this point, everyone listening to Him had a decision to make. Were they going to stay dialed in, listening to the story that Jesus was telling, taking His point and His instruction to heart? Were they going to feel their own disgust so heavily that they could no longer pay attention, that they'd disengage entirely and come back when He started His next parable? Were they going to be so shocked and shamed by the comparison of the most faithful men of Israel - the priest and the Levites - with a dirty Samaritan that they would be unable to move past their own conviction of heart, forever condemning and judging themselves because even the worst of the worst was better than them? 

The people had to decide what they were going to do with this Samaritan; they had to decide what they were going to do with this Jesus; they had to decide what they were going to do with themselves. 

Jesus doesn't mince words. Read the Scriptures. If you're short on time, read just the red letters. Try to find one place where Jesus doesn't tell it like it is, where He hems and haws, where He softens His message because it might offend someone's ethnic, racial, or religious sensibilities. There's not one. Jesus lays the cards on the table and then tells us it's up to us how to play this hand. He always has; He still does.

It's amazing how many of us think God's message to us today is cryptic, that we have to spend a lot of our time "discerning" what Jesus is trying to say to us. Is it this? Is it that? Well, it certainly couldn't be...? But that's not the Jesus style. That's not the testimony we see about Him in the Scriptures. It's simply not the way that He speaks. 

Which means that the only thing we have to figure out is the same thing the crowds that day had to decide: what are we going to do with it? 

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