A Genius At Work
Have you ever faced a difficult crowd of bigotted opponents hurling fiercely difficult questions, and wished that you could not only provide some sort of answer to your own satisfaction, but could also give an answer that left them admitting they were wrong? I have done so at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, London - and I know what it is like to be left feeling flat and thinking - ‘if only I could have found a way to convince them they were wrong’.
I do know someone who had this ability. He was approached one day by a religious teacher, who, unknown to himself, was filled with religious bigotry and a closed mind. The man would not have described himself in that way. He would have said that he was an honest seeker after truth. But underneath he had already set barriers as to how far he was willing to bend.
His question was a simple one. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
The man he had approached looked at him gently. “What does the Bible say?” he asked. The religious teacher, not to be caught out, replied. “It tells me that I must love God with my whole being, and that I must love my neighbour as myself” “Yes.” said the man. “ Do this and you will find life.”
The man accepted this. He was quite happy that his love for God was satisfactory but he wanted to satisfy himself that he was also doing well on the neighbour front. So his next question was, how far he was expected to take this. Surely there must be some limit to what was expected? Some of his neighbours were not very pleasant people. Who was he to look on and treat as a neighbour.
He was, of course, thinking of his own people. If anyone had suggested to him that this love should embrace the despised, heretical half-breeds over the border he would have smiled somewhat pityingly and assumed you were just a little simple.
The man he had approached looked at him again. “There was once a man,” he said, “who went on a journey and passed through a very dangerous area. As a result he was mugged by a local gang who robbed him and left him for dead. Now, as it happened a priest came on the scene who was of the same race and religion, and when he saw the groaning body at a distance he was afraid that the muggers might still be about, and crossed the road to the other side, and hurried from the district. Then a churchworker came along, and he was a little braver, and went up to the body and looked at it. But apprehension, and revulsion at the man’s state, took hold of him, and he too hurried off, looking fearfully around. Then along came a man who the dying man had always treated as an immigrant half-breed and religious upstart. When he saw the man lying there he knew that it was someone who thoroughly despised him, but he felt sorry for him, and forgetting his own danger he went over and tended the man’s wounds, and bandaged them up as well as he could. Then he picked up the man and carried him to a local clinic, where he helped to clean him up. Once he was satisfied that there was nothing further he could do, he took out his wallet and gave some money to the nurse in charge and said, “Look after him well, and give him whatever he needs. And if the bill comes to more than this, I promise you that I will be coming back, and I will cover the cost of any treatment.”
Then Jesus looked at his questioner. “Tell me,” he said, “who was the neighbour of the man who was mugged?” The questioner was a Jew, and he knew that Jesus was speaking about a Samaritan, who the Jews despised and rejected as religious upstarts and racial half-breeds.
He knew, too, that he would never have given one the time of day, never mind looking on him as a neighbour. But what was he to say?
The words choked in his throat. He could not bring himself to say “the Samaritan”, so he muttered, “The one who showed pity on him.”
Jesus smiled gently. “Then go and do the same,” he said.
Have you noticed the miracle? Without argument Jesus got the Jew to admit that the Samaritan was his neighbour. No argument would have achieved this. The man would have argued back and been convinced that Jesus just did not understand the position. But now he could not do this. He had himself admitted that the Samaritan was the Jew’s neighbour, and he had reluctantly got the point, that this also applied to his own dealings with Samaritans. Whether he carried it out into practise we will never know.
Some scholars have said that the story did not really deal with the question, that the application is not quite right. What folly! Jesus was not using an illustration. He was getting the man to admit in his own words the utter wrongness of his prejudice. And he was completely successful.
This was the genius of Jesus.