Reversals and God's Kingdom
We’re talking about the “other” today: the kinds of people we see as different than ourselves. There are, unfortunately, myriad ways to classify people as “other”: based on their gender, skin color, tax bracket, education, sexuality, struggles. We minimize the histories, hardships, and emotions of the other. We naturally attribute righteousness and validity to those who are just like us. Yet that’s not the way of God’s kingdom.
A brilliant reversal marks Luke’s writings; you’ll notice accounts of people in the books of Luke and Acts that turn the diamond of the gospel message just so, so we experience a particular facet of God’s grace. We see foreshadowings of the kingdom of God in Mary’s magnificat (Luke 1:46–55), when a young, pregnant Jewish girl living in occupied territory praises God with prophetic themes: He fills the hungry with good things and sends away the powerful empty-handed. In Luke’s account in Acts 9, Saul, an influential Jew of Jews, well-educated Roman citizen, and zealot persecuting perceived spiritual infidels is humbled by his Lord. Luke recorded the prophetic song of Mary, exposing the theological prowess of the vulnerable virgin, and he also displayed the vulnerability of Saul as he met the One he persecuted, giving readers the ultimate origin story on the New Testament’s most prolific missionaries to the Gentiles. An unwed mother and a serial persecutor are instrumental in God’s kingdom.
The good Samaritan, a parable recorded only in Luke’s gospel, displays the same reversal.
Right Answer, Wrong Questions
In Luke 10, a law expert had just deftly answered Jesus’ question regarding how to inherit eternal life—love God with your everything and love your neighbor as yourself. The law of love was just on the expert’s tongue, when his focus shifted from eternal life to the borderlines of neighborliness as he asked Jesus: “Who is my neighbor?” (v. 29).
Why were the Samaritans so reviled? They were religiously and ethnically mixedblood descendants of peoples brought in to occupy the Northern Kingdom during the Assyrian exile (2 Kings 17:24–41). Samaritans were so hated for their “impure” ancestry and syncretism that it was customary for Jews to pray that Samaritans not inherit eternal life.
Jesus brought the prejudice of the Jews to the forefront by making the hero of parable a person of the ethnic group they most despised—and He loved far better than the priest or the Levite.
Even when we meditate on God’s law we can miss God’s heart on a matter. Humanity has been erecting prejudice and hatred since Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). The book of Jonah illustrates how obstinate and angry God’s people get when God extends mercy to “the wrong people.” For Cain, it was Abel. For Jonah, it was the Ninevites. For the Jews listening to Jesus in Luke 10, the wrong people were the Samaritans.
We, as recipients of God’s grace, can still be prone to put up borders that Jesus abolished. We can condemn entire ethnic groups as beneath us, as a matter of insidious, everyday custom. Just as the Jews erected boundaries to avoid Samaritans, we can fence in our homes, neighborhoods, schools, jobs, and yes, our churches, to avoid “them.”
If Jesus practiced an us-versus-them policy concerning worthiness, we would all be living on the outside of His love. Every. Single. One.
There is no “them.” There’s only us.