file000494787407It is very infuriating to talk with Jesus. You ask Him a question and He replies with another question. Or He tells you a story. Or he gives you an answer to a question you didn’t ask to begin with. Remember Jesus’ encounter with the religious expert in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)? Here is a part of that exchange:

Now an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you understand it?” The expert answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But the expert, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him up, and went off, leaving him half dead. (Luke 10:25-30 NET)

When the expert in the law asked “who is my neighbour” he was asking who was deserving of his love since to inherit eternal life one had to love one’s neighbour as well as to love God. If the expert in the law was a very strict Jew he could have limited “neighbour” to his immediate family. If he was more open he would consider everyone in his tribe a neighbour. If he was even more open he would have considered all Jews his neighbours. Perhaps he was one of those who considered all Jews his neighbours and qualified to receive his help. If that be the case he was hoping Jesus would teach this and he would be commended for already trying to do so.

But Jesus does not answer his question at all. Jesus tells a story where the “villains” are the religious establishment of the day and the “hero” is a Samaritan, hated by Jews as racially and spiritually impure. The expert in the law asked “who is my neighbour?(v.29)” Jesus asks and elicits the answer to a totally different question: “who is a neighbour to broken people? (v.36)”

The expert in the law had the right theology. Indeed he was already more enlightened than many off his peers. He knew that the one who inherited eternal life was one who was clear about the two primary relationships of life. The person who inherited eternal life was the one who loved God with all his life and who also loved his neighbour. But while right belief is important it is not enough. Right theology must transform and lead to right action. Jesus had made it clear that loving God and loving neighbour was something you do, not just something you know (v. 28).

In asking who was a neighbour, that is who were those who qualified to receive his love, the expert in the law showed that he did not understand the implications of what he believed. The point is not “who deserves my love.” The point is, “what kind of person am I?” If I am a person who truly loves God and neighbour, I will be neighbourly to all those who need help. Indeed, the implication is that whether you are Jew or Gentile, religious establishment or regular folk, you know that you will inherit eternal life if you show your love for God by showing mercy to people in need.

This past week I have had the privilege of being part of the Annual Conference of the Canadian Chinese Alliance Churches Association (CCACA) held in Calgary. My main duty was to speak to a symposium for the pastors of the English-speaking congregations in the CCACA. There was also time set apart for a dialogue between the pastors who ministered in English with those who ministered in Chinese. One of the questions raised was, in going forward, should churches aligned with the CCACA reach out primarily to Chinese folk or should they reach out to people irrespective of race?

Most churches in the CCACA functioned in Cantonese, Mandarin and English, or in some combination of the three languages. Language was a natural guide to whom the CCACA churches could reach. However while ministries in Cantonese and Mandarin usually meant that the target of ministries in those languages were Chinese, ministries in English could reach people from a wide variety of racial backgrounds. The question then was should churches in the CCACA reach out to non-Chinese? Answers ranged from those who believed that CCACA had a special calling to the Chinese irrespective of what languages they used (Cantonese, Mandarin, English), to those who believed that multi racial, multi cultural congregations was the way of the future.

Since I am from a different part of the world (Singapore-Malaysia) and ignorant of the nuances of the debate here in Canada, I didn’t feel qualified to really participate in the debate, one that had been going on long before my visit to Calgary and one which will continue after I have left. But somehow I found my mind turning to the Parable of the Good Samaritan as I heard my CCACA brethren discuss who should be the recipients of their ministry. If we truly believe that the Word of God is the final authority for our life and ministry (2 Timothy 3:16-17), I can’t help but feel that Jesus’ discussion with the expert on the law had lessons for all of us, whichever part of the globe we come from,

When I get back to Singapore-Malaysia at the end of the month, I will struggle afresh as to the degree the churches in my part of the world have fully understood the lessons from the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It seems that one of the signs that we truly belong to God’s community, is that we show mercy to all who need it whom the Lord puts in our way, irrespective of race or social status, indeed even to those who hate us. Before I even begin to comment on how others have heard the lessons of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, I must first look at my own heart.