Reading the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John reveals many striking things about our Lord that we routinely miss by having become familiar, all too familiar, with the stories and text. One thing I've noticed at the end of the old year, and at the beginning of this New Year today, is this: Jesus is insistent on the connection that exists between religion and everyday life. He will not allow you/me to compartmentalize my worship and private devotion from life. If I love God, as I wrote about yesterday, then I must love my neighbor.
I thought about this again as I read Luke 10:25-37 recently. This "expert in the Law" was quite sure of himself and his religion. He came to Jesus to ask about "eternal life." Don't miss this because of some theological presupposition you hold about what he "should have said" here. The man even provided the correct answer when Jesus pressed him about the heart of the Law. When Jesus asked which of the three men in the story/parable (priest, Levite and Samaritan) was a true "neighbor" he said it was the Samaritan, which would have been hard for him to admit. The man replied, J. B. Phillips New Testament says, "The man who gave him practical sympathy." The Message says, "The one who treated him kindly."
Don't miss this point. Love results in practical sympathy and real kindness. There is no room for a critical spirit, meanness even in religion. I should say, "Especially in religion." Yet this is often where we see it most justified by practitioners.
We are not told much about this "expert in the Law" who came to Jesus but he was most likely a "tidy-minded" (Phillips) guy who wanted "everything straight in his mind." He desired clear knowledge about just how far his religion should go? He wanted compartments that made things clear and obvious. I would have to guess that this story did not please him upon hearing it. He likely wanted what many of us want for 2012: a neat, clear list of things to do and not do. A kind of religious list of resolutions that we can keep, at least for a few weeks. But Jesus will not have it. He requires us to give ourselves to him at the cost of our own comfort and convenience. There is no place for safety with Jesus. If you follow him in 2012 you must die, again and again. You cannot compartmentalize things and take refuge in religion, even evangelical religion that links the whole of your existence to a point of conversion which has little or no bearing on what you actually are in your self. What you and I are called to in 2012 is a life of practice, outgoing, sacrificial love. That demands my life, my all. Nothing less works if we intend to follow Jesus.