My wife and I sat down yesterday to study the Bible together. It’s something we don’t do nearly often enough. (Chalk that to busy lives, etc.). In any case, I’ve been reading the Bible for twenty-five years now. Yet, sometimes that’s all I do: just read it (Leviticus, I’m looking at you).
On rare occasions, like yesterday, do I dive in to that wellspring more deeply. But when I do, I’m usually blown away.
Yesterday morning was one of those occasions where Jesus well and truly messed with my head.
What do I mean?
Consider the Parable of the Good Samaritan:
“But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:29-37 ESV).
What stood out to me, which I’ve honestly never considered before, is what Jesus doesn’t say. Now I know the historical, and cultural context–how there was bad blood between the Jews and Samaritans. Just using a Samaritan as an example would very much have offended the sensibilities of Jesus’ audience.
But what He doesn’t say–what He doesn’t rebuke them for is there belief. Presumably, the lawyer (he who had posed the question), the priest, and the Levite (exemplars of the law all) all believed the right things.
They held right doctrine.
Yet, unless I miss Jesus’ point, this isn’t enough. They believed the right things, but that belief didn’t lead to a corresponding action. So Jesus doesn’t here rebuke their lack of faith; rather it’s their lack of action He excoriates.
Or as James says, “Faith without works is dead.”
Lest I be accused of misunderstanding, or worse misapplying Scripture, let’s consider the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” ( Matthew 25:31-46 ESV).
Here again neither the sheep, nor the goats, are anywhere rebuked for their faith, or lack thereof. Presumably, they all believed the same things. And just as the reward of the sheep seems to come as a surprise so, too, does the punishment of the goats.
All had the same faith, yet only some allowed faith to give birth to action. And it’s not that their works saved them; rather, those works were borne out of a transformative faith. My speculation is that the crux of the matter is humility–humility, and gratitude.
One group did what came naturally because they didn’t believe they were worthy of the gift of salvation. Mercy and grace weren’t just for them.
They other group, for whatever reason, merely believed the right things. But didn’t put it into practice. The mercy and grace they were shown was never shared. Which to me displays an abject lack of gratitude.
And is something, if I’m honest, that I’m all too often guilty of. I get so busy working, dreaming, promoting me, playing on the Internet, that I forget Whose I am.
I want to a sheep, but am all too often a goat. God help me. “Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief.”
How about you? What is your primary motivation? What gets you up in the morning? Are you a sheep or a goat?