There is a worship song that used to be pretty popular called, “One Way Jesus” which went “One Way. Je-sus”, funnily enough.
It’s got a pretty catchy hook and I remember hearing it for the first time many years ago and quite liking the tune. I didn’t really take too much notice of the words though.
Many popular worship songs have this same message of Jesus being the only thing we really need. He’s all we’ll ever need. And there is no way to get to God, than through Jesus.
Or is there?
Now, this idea is great! And in some ways, I don’t disagree. But there are some problems that we will encounter if we are honest with ourselves. Like, what happens when we have huge bills to pay? Or, when we lose our job? Or when we experience a loss of a relationship or someone close to us?
Ugh, just reading over those I realize those are such mild problems. What if you home was completely destroyed by a hurricane, or you genuinely go without food so there is enough for your kids, or you are genuinely being persecuted because of your faith?
Which by the way, if you’re reading this in the UK or the USA, is not you.
So is Jesus enough in every situation?
But that isn’t even the biggest problem that we’ll encounter in this type of thinking. A more important question may be, well which Jesus?
The Jesus who told us to forgive anyone who wrongs us, or the Jesus who got angry and destroyed tables.
Last week I read a tweet from a semi famous Christian personality. In the tweet he hoped that the recent hurricane in Florida would draw millions to Jesus. He also had just enough characters spare to have a go at Atheists.
An Atheist then responded that He had just spent 8 hours volunteering at a shelter, had helped board up his neighbors home and was going to return later for another 8 hour shift at the shelter.
Only one of these tweets demonstrated Jesus at work. I hope I don’t need to tell you which one it was.
This begs a pretty important question. Where do we find Jesus? Do we find him in Church or in the Bible? Do we find him in the worship songs we sing every week? Do we find him when we recite the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday? Do we find him in Christians?
If we let go of control and are truly open to an experience in those times and places, then I would say yes.
But what happens when we only see Jesus in those places? In those specific teachers, or Christian writers or theology?
Then, we usually being to protect our Jesus. We become weary of outside thinking or ideas that don’t fit into our preconceived notions of who Jesus or God is.
Jesus told a parable himself that warned us of becoming pious of our traditions or beliefs. It was a story about two different men who each walked past and ignored another man who had been beaten up and left to die. A High Priest, then a Levite both held back from showing compassion. I’m not sure why. Probably why most of us hold back. We’re too busy, someone else will do it, that’s not my responsibility.
Or if we’re honest, it’s just too much of a hassle.
Finally, in the story, A Samaritan stopped to help. Now, to understand the significance of this, we need to know that the man Jesus was telling this story to was a Jewish expert in the Law. Samaritan’s hated Jewish people and Jewish people hated Samaritans. But it was the Samaritan who stopped to help. Not the religious men. Not the pious. It was the one person considered the scum of the Earth to the listener of the story.
Today that might be an Atheist. Or maybe it is a Shikh. Or maybe it is a Muslim. Maybe if Jesus was telling that story today, he would have used a popular Christian teacher in the place of the High Priest and would have a Muslim stopping to help the poor left to die man.
Or maybe he would have a Transgender person stop to help. Or a Liberal. Or a Right Wing Conservative.
Maybe the point isn’t one person, but the person we each uniquely need to hear in this story.
Imagine that one group of people you think are the world’s worst sinners. The people you think are the problem. Now read this story again and replace Samaritan with someone from that group. Now imagine this story is for you only. And imagine that you are one of the two people who walk by and do nothing.
If you’re the father who lost their son in 9/11 and has been carrying an intense pain ever since and you allow the evil that was carried out by a few to apply to millions of people, then you need to read Muslim for Samaritan.
Or if you are the woman who believe that gay people are the cause of all the world’s problems and that the shear thought of two men or two women living together never mind married, makes you sick to the stomach. Then you need to read someone from the LGBTQ community for Samaritan.
These people are interchangeable dependent on who is reading the story. Jesus used Samaritan because the man he was sharing this story with needed to have his preconceived prejudices of the Samaritan’s smashed.
But that doesn’t let any of us off the hook.
Now, for the man who was left to die. Who is he? Who is she? Who are they?
Jesus very subtly implies that he is that person left to die. Jesus very gently suggests that it is the people who claim to care or know most about him, that are the ones who really have no idea and walk by.
Then Jesus reveals that it is is the last person we would ever imagine it to be, who bends down to help Jesus back up on his feet.
When Jesus is telling this story to the well educated and clever Jewish man, He asks him which of these passer bys was the most loving. The man responds, “The one who had mercy on him.”
He can’t even say “the Samaritan man”. He can’t even bring himself to say his name. His own ignorance and prejudices have just been exposed and his shame and anger prevents him from really answering the question.
We face the same challenge. When those who we have already written off, are acting more Christ like than the people who claim to know Jesus best, then we have to face our own pain and it’s not pleasant.
We have to admit, that maybe Jesus does not belong to us but belongs to everyone.
Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, Gay, Straight, Republican, Democrat, Liberal, Conservative, Black.
When any of us act with love and compassion we are showing Jesus to the world. Christians need to hear this more than anyone. We need to acknowledge that we don’t own Jesus and we don’t own Grace. This Samaritan story is mostly for us because we are the ones who have got it most wrong.
Over and over in the Bible, God shows up in all the unexpected places and through all the unexpected people. In the Old Testament He shows up in the stillness, not the fire or wind. In the New Testament, He warns us of ignoring the least of these, because He is among them.
Is God really bigger than we could imagine, like we love to claim?
Well if He is, He can be found in people or places that we think He wouldn’t.
If God’s ways our bigger than our ways, then why do we limit Jesus’ power in the world to Western Evangelical Christianity?
He has got to be bigger than us. He has got to show up in and through the people we least expect Him to.
Because when we say Jesus can’t be found in that group or this group then all we’ve done is created a God in our own image.
And we need something much better than that.