Have you ever seen someone so hardened to the rules that they would rather follow the rules than do what is right?
The other day I was reading about the story of the Good Samaritan (if you don't know it, you can read it in Luke 10:30-37). It's used all the time in churches, the priest wouldn't help the injured man, the Temple assistant (Levite) wouldn't help the injured man, only the Samaritan who should have hated this Jew rescued him. Great story. And for my entire life I've heard it told how these people saw themselves as too high up or important to lower themselves and help someone. But that may not be true. The story may have been about following the rules too closely.
In the Old Testament there are 613 laws that the people must uphold. That's a lot to keep track of, and some of them are kind of fuzzy. So over the centuries the Jewish leaders added other laws to help protect people from breaking the actual law. Here's an example many friends of mine had. I grew up on Lake Huron, a great place in the summer with beaches as far as the eye can see. There were people in my church who wanted to do their best to follow God (good for them) and to do so one of the rules they wanted to follow was for Sunday to be a Sabbath, a day of rest. They believed you shouldn't work on Sunday. But it went further than that. For many of them, living a couple hundred yards from the sandy beaches, they were not allowed to swim on Sunday. It was a family rule the created to make sure they didn't break the "real" rule. Swimming is tiring, it's hare work, and since we can't work on the Sabbath, no swimming on Sunday. To protect the rule of resting on the Sabbath they made a whole new rule, no swimming on the Sabbath. My family were heathens who interpreted rest differently, we didn't follow that made up rule and swam all the time...
What does this have to do with the parable of the Good Samaritan? There's a telling little phrase in the story Jesus told. The two men were coming down from Jerusalem, they had been there and were heading home. If these two men worked at the Temple (which is in Jerusalem) and they are coming from Jerusalem it is likely they were coming from performing their holy duties in the Temple. And to make sure that they were holy while performing those holy duties there were all sorts of rules to help keep them pure, and rules compounded on top of the originals just to make sure you didn't break any of the rules and become impure. Some of these rules lasted all day. Rules like, say, touching a half-dead man on the side of the road.
It's a very interesting thought. Instead of reading it as two pompous wind-bags that were too good to help out someone in need it may have been the opposite. Maybe they wanted to help, their hearts hurt for the man on the side of the road. But there was problem. To keep their purity laws they felt they were not allowed to help. As much as it tore them up inside they let an injured man continue to die because they didn't want to break any rules.
The bigger question is do we still do this today? Do we have unwritten rules that we've made up to try and keep our purity? Are there people we don't help or associate with because we don't want to make ourselves impure, wrestling with the same issues these two Jewish men did in Jesus' story? Are we willing to let compassion and love be more important to us than our perceived purity and made up rules?
In a few weeks we are going to be talking a lot about Social Justice here at Fishers UMC. The United Methodist Women are holding a forum on human trafficking. The pastors are focusing on Justice Issues for the entire period of Lent complete with a sermon on the topic every Sunday between Ash Wednesday and Easter. And as these issues are discussed and dealt with I challenge you not to hold to your own internal false purity laws. Even as some of these topics get uncomfortable, put down your holy guard and cross over to the other side of the road to help the injured, the broken, the wounded. Love as Jesus did.
After all, when did Jesus ever place purity laws above compassion and love...?
Director of Sr. High Student Ministries and Modern Worship