A man who read the Bible professionally once asked Christ, “What can I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus Christ did not give him a list of Bible verses or a 2-hour lecture on foundations of soteriology. He answered with a question.
He answered with a question.
However, the learned man’s question revealed a glaring error in the purpose of reading and understanding the Bible. In John 5:39, He read the Bible diligently thinking it would give him eternal life (John 5:39). Yet, the Bible testified of Christ.
We are always tempted to twist Scripture to address our fears and comforts. However, we should read the Bible to encounter Christ in his glory and wonder.
Instead of rehashing John 5:39, Christ answered the learned man using two crucial questions. I believe we should ask ourselves these questions whenever we read the Bible (Luke 10:26).
- What is written in the Scriptures?
- How do you understand them?
The scribe knew what was written in the Bible. So, he answered (Luke 10:27), “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.”
But knowing verses and chapters is not equivalent to understanding the Bible. Hence, when Christ commended him for answering correctly, the scribe had a follow-up question. The question revealed his glorified ignorance.
“Who is my neighbor?”
1. How do you read the Bible?
Jesus answered the Scribe using the parable of the Good Samaritan. A man was mugged and left to die. But a priest and a Levite didn’t help him. Instead, a Samaritan got out of his way to help the half-dead man.
The priest and the Levite were probably coming from Jerusalem. They had done serving the Lord. Hence, touching the injured man wouldn’t make them unfit. They used the Bible to justify their ignorant refusal to help a dying man.
Evangelical Christianity has become synonymous with a culture of attacking the suffering. The loudest voices against people under institutional oppression are people who read the Bible frequently.
When we read the Bible, we see Christ demonstrating compassion to the weak, pursuing justice for the marginalized and offering hope to the nations. Yet, such a message has been condemned in Christian conversations as godless social gospel.
How do you read the Bible? If you break the bruised reed and quench the smoldering wick? Do you know the Christ you proclaim?
2. A Hermeneutics of Fear and Comfort Encourages Division
Martin Luther King Jr pointed out something, I often overlook when I read the parable of the Good Samaritan. Fear. And comfort. In his famous sermon, I’ve been to the mountain top, Martin Luther King Jr speculated:
It’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking, and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure.
If your personal comfort is more important than the risk of loving your neighbor, you will use fear as a justification for your lack of care. And your fear of people of color will become the lens you use when you read the Bible.
“But I have friends who are people of color,” you might say. But if you’re honest with yourself, your claimed friendship is probably based on your personal comfort. It does not cost you anything. Would you extend that friendship to other people of color?
If you’re afraid of immigrants and people of color, then they’re not your neighbors. You cannot love them because loving them will put your comfort at risk – no matter how much you claim you love them.
3. Avoid Using Christology as excuse for Disobedience
Many times I heard people claiming the parable of the Good Samaritan points to Christ. They said Christ is the Good Samaritan, therefore he’s the good neighbor to the broken. And the church is the innkeeper who takes care of the broken.
The priest and the Levite were called to love all people. It was their duty to do so. Yet, at a time they had to show that love, they chose not. Because the recipient was a half-dead man lying on a dangerous road.
I don’t know how many times I heard people saying, “I am a Christian. I love all people.” Yet, the parable of the Good Samaritan points out a particular person who we ought to love. Your neighbor is the broken, the suffering and the marginalized. After all:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
– James 1:27
4. You cannot love what you do not know
You probably read the viral post that said, “No white person alive has owned a slave and no black person alive has been a slave. We can’t move forward if people keep living in the past.” It sounds cool and convincing.
Sadly, such a statement reflects a disappointing ignorance of the legacy of slavery. Most Africans were born after independence, yet we experience daily the effect of colonialism. If you trivialize my history, it means you don’t want to know me.
The priest and the Levites trivialized the life of the dying man. They were confident in their ignorance. As long as you don’t value the struggles of the marginalized you cannot be their neighbor.
You read the Bible. And you can quote it in your sleep. But do you know who your neighbor is? Because you can’t say you love God if you don’t know your neighbor.
It’s absurd to claim that you love me if you don’t make an effort to know me. Love is built on a deliberate pursuit of knowledge. That’s how marriages are built. And that’s how Christ builds his church. Am I your neighbor?