When Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, those who heard His lesson had to determine what they were going to do with it. Were they going to be offended that He would speak of a Samaritan in the same breath as He spoke of a priest and a Levite? Were they going to be convicted that such a comparison was even possible? Would they continue listening to see what He had to say about it or would they tune out or turn away because of the directness of His words?
A number of questions circulated through the whispers of that crowd, but I guarantee you that among them was not this one: what do you think Jesus meant when He said "Samaritan"?
Nobody was asking that. Nobody had to. Everyone in the crowd that day knew exactly what He meant when He referred to the man as a Samaritan. Everyone in the crowd knew exactly the stark contrast He was drawing. Everyone in the crowd knew exactly the point He was trying to make. There were no semantics at work when Jesus called the man a Samaritan; He meant the man was a Samaritan.
There are never semantics at work when Jesus speaks.
But we are a people who think that there must be. We are a people who are pretty sure that semantics are everything, and if we aren't so offended by Jesus's semantics that we call Him out on them, we are precisely the kind of people who start the whispers asking the one question we never need to ask: what do you think Jesus meant when He said...?
Story of our lives, right? How many times have we heard this kind of question asked by people of the faith today? We hear someone talk about the very clear vision that God has put on their heart for the kind of ministry they're going to do, and then in the same breath that they tell us about the very clear vision, they confess that they are trying to figure out what it means. What do you mean what does it mean? If it was a very clear vision, it meant what it meant. Didn't it?
Or we talk about the nudging that we felt on our heart to go up to that person in the grocery store and say or do some specific action, just sensing that it was something that God wanted us to do. Then, we confess that we didn't do it because we weren't sure what it meant that we felt the way that we did. We weren't sure what, exactly, God wanted us to do with the feeling that we should go up to someone and say or do something. Spoiler alert: God wanted us to go up to someone and say or do something.
Or we suddenly find ourselves with the opportunity to partner with someone who is already doing a good work for God, someone who needs just a little bit of our resources to do something even greater. And we hear God telling us to write the check. We tell others about this awesome work and how we were thinking about joining it, then we confess that we never wrote the check because we weren't sure what God wanted us to give to them for their work. Uhm...money? That's pretty much the only thing you can write a check for.
Here's what's really happening, and I'm just going to say it: we hem and haw and ponder these questions because as much as we call ourselves a people of faith, we are no such thing, nor are we sure we really want to be. If we take God at His word, then it falls on us to either act or not act, to be a people of faith or to not be a people of faith, and we don't want to have to make that choice.
Rather, we contend that if we never quite figure out what God is trying to say to us, we cannot be held accountable for either acting or failing to act because we lacked the specific information to know what was by faith and what was not.
In other words, if we pretend not to know what God said, then He can't be mad at us for not doing it.
The problem is that we know exactly what God said. God said exactly what He said, and there are no semantics at play when God speaks. When Jesus says "Samaritan," He means Samaritan, no matter how unpalatable that may be to the listening crowd. When He says "go," He means go; when He says "do," He means do; when He says "give," He means give.
The question we have to ask ourselves is not what Jesus means when He speaks - we know what He means - but what are we going to do with it?