Read Luke 10:25-37.

You may have heard the story of the Good Samaritan many times, but at least in my case there has never been much sympathy for the priest and the Levite. Yet their passing on the other side of the road is an attempt to obey God’s law. They are required by that law to keep themselves ceremonially clean, and if the man who was robbed and left for dead on the side of the road were in fact dead, it would be a sin for them to approach. They are trying to obey the rules, trying to avoid any situation that leads to uncleanness. So what’s the problem? Isn’t that what they should do?

If you know Christ’s call, you know that it is all-encompassing. Your whole life must be amended. With God’s help, you simplify and integrate your life, removing what is not helping you, replacing it with something helpful, pressing on toward the goal. Reading a novel, attending a sporting event, watching a movie, going out to eat, shopping, listening to the news: if you find that these things are coming between you and the one you love, implacable love may lead you to replace these things with better things. Does this include avoiding going into dark places, spending time with ’sinners’?

Today there is little sympathy for a spirituality that flees the world—that avoids negative influences, occasions that could lead to sin, distractions and diversions from love of God. The notion of ‘worldly entertainment’ is itself now quaintly entertaining. Yet Paul says “if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Jesus says, “if your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” Guarding your heart is an essential part of the spiritual life.

What then was wrong with the priest and the Levite? Their desire to obey the rules and to protect their purity led to a profound lack of concern for the man who was robbed. Their desire to be law-abiding, to be pure, was greater than their love. In the end, they showed that their actions were motivated by a desire to follow the law that was self-centered rather than by a desire to love God above all and love neighbor as self, which is self-sacrificing. Religion that is not motivated by love is the religion of the servant. It leads to legalism, to factions, to self-centered and self-righteous behavior.

Giving yourself to God is good. Giving yourself to the whole world, as Jesus did, is better.

Categories: Meditation

Harry Plantinga

Harry Plantinga is a professor of computer science at Calvin College and the director of ccel.org and hymnary.org.