The Road to Jerico
Is There a Problem With Being Holy?
Lately, there has been a lot of talk about “Christian” values. Most of this translates into” believers” not doing – or not allowing others to do things - that are thought to be abhorrent to God. Somehow this translates into being “christian.” This definition of Christianity turns our faith into a system of belief based upon rules that have to do with proscribed behavior. Believing in such a system can give one a sense of holiness, but is this really what God wants of us?
Assuredly, God tells us “be Holy, because I am holy” I Peter 1:16 (see also Leviticus 19:2), but what does this mean? The Christian pollster George Barna has indicated that the general public, and most Christians, are very confused as to what it means to be holy (Barna Group, 2006). About 25% of people in the U.S. think that they are holy. To be holy, means to be set apart for God’s purpose. For a follower of Christ, it means allowing God’s Spirit to guide us and to convict us of our sins.
The problem for “religiously oriented” people, including many "christians," is that the pursuit of holiness can become an end in itself. There is always a strong temptation to ignore grace and earn our salvation by works righteousness. In fact, this becomes a central issue in the dealing that Jesus’ had with the pharisaical Jews. Consider His parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). This parable illustrates what can go wrong when religious people make holiness the primary goal of their faith. Many of us are familiar with this passage. “An expert in the law” (i.e., a “scribe”), attempting to test Jesus, asks what he has to do to obtain eternal life. Note that he assumes that he has to do something.
Being a Jewish religious leader, he was involved in a system of works that – he thought – made him holy and righteous, if he could but obey all the sundry laws. Jesus turns his question around and gets the scribe to quote the Hebrew scripture that is applicable. The scribe correctly observers that we are to love God with our whole heart and soul and to love our neighbor as we would love our self. Jesus then says, “You have answered correctly, do this and you will live.
Rather than letting it go at that, the scribe tests The Lord further, by asking “who is my neighbor?” To a Hebrew of that time, neighbor meant ‘someone you have an association with.” Jesus responds with the parable. A man (we don’t know who he is) travels from Jerusalem to Jericho. This was on a sixteen mile, winding, road that dropped three thousand feet to Jericho. It was also known to be infested by robbers. Sure enough, the traveler is accosted by robbers who stole his clothes and belongings and severely beat him, leaving him for dead by the side of the road. As he lies there naked and in a semi-comatose state, three other travelers separately come by. Upon seeing the victim, these travelers must have been very nervous, since they realized the men who committed this crime might well be lurking nearby.
The first to encounter the victim are two religious folks, a priest and a Levite. Upon seeing the victim the priest warily walks past him on the other side of the road. The Levite goes by and does the same thing. Jesus does not tell us why they did this. However, by the nature of their status, we know that these two men were involved in temple worship activities. If they were to touch a dead body, or to come in contact with blood, they would immediately become ritually unclean. This would force them to suspend their religious duties and undergo a prolonged period of purification. In other words, it would temporarily take away their holiness. In the Jewish religious system, this was no small matter. Given the hassle involved, it is not surprising that they ignored the potential problem.
The next fellow to appear in this first century version of “caught on camera,” is a Samaritan. The Samaritans were half-breed Jews (they had intermarried with non-Jews during the Babylonian captivity), who did not worship the Yahweh of the Hebrews. They were despised by the Jews: the feeling was mutual. Jesus then tells us that the Samaritan has compassion on the victim, binds up the victim’s wounds, clothes him and sets him upon his donkey. He then takes him to an inn keeper, pays for his expense and promises to pay any additional charges upon his return. Certainly, the despised Samaritan has gone the extra mile. This must have astounded Jesus’s audience. He turned a hated person into a hero and radically expanded the notion of who our neighbor is.
Jesus then asks the scribe who started this magnificent teaching incident, “which of the three was a neighbor to the victim?” He replied “the one who had mercy on him.” Notice that this guy can’t even bring himself to say “the Samaritan,” because his dislike is still so intense. Jesus then told him – and is telling us –“go and do likewise.”
This is one of those episodes that allows one to differentiate between who is a “christian,” and who is a Follower of Jesus. The Lord wants us to turn from being a “religious” believer to a compassionate follower of His. He wants us to put the rules into perspective; If we fall back to rules alone, we will lose compassion – we will lose our sense of agape love. We are to keep God’s commandments because we love Him, not because we are trying to work our way to salvation by being holy. Remember that Jesus says, “If you love Me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Coupled to our loving obedience to God, we also extend compassion to those we come into contact with. May we all go and do so.