A lawyer had been talking theology with Jesus. They were discussing the following Old Testament Law:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10).
Apparently, the lawyer had no problem loving some people (perhaps the ones that agreed with him politically, theologically, and culturally – or maybe the ones who had worked hard enough to deserve his love), but he had a problem loving other people. So the lawyer asked Jesus:
“Who is my neighbor?”
Jesus told the lawyer the story of a man who was in big trouble. The first two people to realize the man was in big trouble were people in positions of religious authority or prestige. They were people who kept all the religious rules and believed the right theology. But when they saw the man, they didn’t want to get involved so they did nothing to help the man in trouble. The third person was both a heretic with messed up theology and the man’s enemy. But it was the heretic who not only stopped to help, but gave generously of both his time and money to care for the man in trouble.
So Jesus asked the lawyer: “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
The lawyer answered, “The one who showed him mercy.”
It was the heretic who loved the man and showed him mercy. It was the heretic who walked in the way of Jesus, who fulfilled the law.
Jesus said to the lawyer, “Go and do likewise.” In other words, “Be like the heretic!”
Followers of Jesus aren’t frantically worried about having perfect theology. They know they don’t and won’t ever (at least in this life) have all the answers. They depend on Jesus to have the answers for them. So instead of being known as the people with the answers, followers of Jesus are known as people who show mercy. They give of their time and resources to both friends and enemies alike.
Go and be like the heretic!
April is a progressive Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.