Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jesus keeps us honest about our religious pretensions, and about what God desires

When it comes to "morality" or "religion" or "spirituality", a lot of people assume that the goal is our own quest for excellence. Jesus challenges that self-centered type of religion by showing how that works out in daily life with the parable of the Good Samaritan: A traveler is attacked by thieves and left for dead by the side of the road. A priest passes by and ignores him. A Levite (another religious type) passes by and ignores him. A Samaritan sees him and has compassion. He bandages his wounds, takes him to safety, arranges for his care, pays his expenses.

The priest and the Levite are wrapped up in their own stories where they're the heroes, no doubt, more spiritual than other people, they may suppose. So they don't see that they’re half-villains in the story of the man they pass by without helping. The quest for personal excellence or religious status might be what stops them from being like the real hero of the piece: the Samaritan who set aside his own personal goals for the moment because he was moved by compassion for someone who needed help. The parable highlights the true nature of personal excellence and religious status.

And so, in his way, Jesus tells us that the story of following him may not be the story of our own quest for excellence, status, or achievement; it may be about how we fit into someone else’s story of their need for compassion and practical help.

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