It seems like, for many decades, we Christians often focus our efforts on one big topic – Holiness. This manifests itself in so many ways, and in many religious groups or denominations. When my parents met, they could not be married in the Catholic church because my mother was divorced. The divorce made her “not holy enough” to have her marriage consecrated by the church. Or, to state it differently, allowing her to have ANOTHER marriage would cause her not to be holy, which of course the Church could not do. That is how it was explained to her at the time. Further, many of her neighbors, co-workers, and acquaintances shunned her because she was a divorcee during a time when most people (religious or not) believed it “was bad”. Ah, how times have changed!
In contemporary ways, this attitude still exists. LGBT are not welcomed in many churches – Protestant, Catholic, and others – as many view it as unholy. Few churches restrict attendance based on divorce today, but stigmas still exist in many forms. In addition, congregations are encouraged to present themselves in ways that show their holiness; by wearing certain clothes (suits for men, dresses for women), by avoiding secular movies or music, by abstaining from activities or winning souls door to door each week. At the same time, if people who DO partake in said activities or dress differently were to enter the church, more often than not the congregants would not welcome them warmly. I’ve seen that and I’ve done that. It exists today. This is not a religion or denomination issue – this is a human issue.
All these views or rules are in place to point us to one thing – being holy. Now, don’t put words in my mouth – I am not saying not to be holy! I am not even saying we should not take the direction or encouragement we receive in church seriously. There are many scriptures that call and direct us to holiness. But I am saying, as a society and as a Christian Body, we often look at the wrong things when we seek holiness. Heck, even the rhetoric by many politicians and the platforms they support focus on moral directives that supposedly make this country and its citizens “more holy”. But, my thought is that we are going about it the wrong way.
For example, a few years ago I started a new job and went out to lunch with some new co-workers. For some reason, the story of the Good Samaritan came up, and one co-worker decided he’d share with me and my other new co-worker what the story REALLY meant. His version went something like this:
One day a man was seriously injured and fell to the side of the road. At the same time, a priest who was heading to his duties in the temple was walking down the street. The priest, wanting to avoid the man, went to the other side of the street and passed him. In the mean time, the Samaritan – who was the dirtiest of the dirty by the virtue of being a Samaritan – helped the man immediately. He even paid the inn keeper to care for him and promised to come back and pay any amount due, as long as the man was cared for.
And the moral of the story? The priest cared so much for God, that he knew he could not touch the man because the injured man would make the priest unclean, and then he would not be able to serve God or God’s children for several weeks. During those weeks – God forbid – he would be worthless as he purged the uncleanness from his life. We, as Christians, should be more concerned about serving God like the Priests of the Bible and yearn to remain clean for God.
I promise, that is what he said. And he believed it with his whole heart. And, on the surface, it DOES sound nice to yearn to be holy, to remain pure enough to be used by God and to serve others so they can get closer to Him as well. But how does this story read in the Bible? Let’s check it out.
Luke 10:25-37 ESV (as told by our Lord Jesus, but emphasis is mine)
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “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.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
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.”
Jesus clearly shows here the Samaritan, despite his “poor standing” as an unclean person, showed love and mercy and was the person we should emulate. NOT the Priest, who we assume was very holy in appearance at least, as we also assume the Levite was holy based on the additional rules and laws that applied to both. Rules and laws direct us to Christ, but Christ directs us to Love. And love always directs us to His Righteousness, which makes us holy. Well, that and His sacrifice, but that is a different blog post!
So, as I have been reminded I hope to remind you – show mercy. Be kind to the impatient traveler next to you. Assist the mom who is struggling with two young kids as she’s grocery shopping and mentally trying to figure out how she is going to afford Christmas. Don’t react to the tailgater who is scowling into your rearview mirror, inches behind your bumper flying at 80 mph. Overwhelm with kindness the person who sent you a message telling you LGBT people can’t be Christian. Feed a hungry person. Smile at a stranger. Ignore the loud politician who posted a harsh meme on Facebook, or your friend who shared it. THESE things lead to holiness as we emulate the teachings of Jesus Christ, more than any 3 piece suit or hymn. And, before WE know it, He is our focus instead of our own actions. Let us go and react as the Samaritan reacted. What a blessing.