“If Jesus had come today instead of 2,000 years ago, Christian pastors and bishops would also have killed him.”
A man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho was attacked by armed-robbers, stripped of his belongings and left lying on the road half-dead. God’s providence ensured that first a priest, and then a Levite, passed by. But instead of helping the dying man; both of them quickly moved to the other side and went away…
Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan is very deliberate. It is incredible how, as Christians, we still fail to understand its full implications. The first mistake we make is in the identity of the Good Samaritan. When we situate the story in the contemporary setting (as we should with all scripture), we assume that the Good Samaritan is a Christian. However, Jesus deliberately excludes that possibility by providing two characters clearly representative of the Christians of today. The priest is easily identifiable as today’s pastor, while the Levite is easily today’s Christian layman.
Who then is the Good Samaritan? Let me repeat this for emphasis: the Good Samaritan cannot be a Christian. The Christian is already adequately represented. The Good Samaritan is Jesus himself. Jesus’ story eloquently sets forth the goodness and kindness of Christ our Saviour towards sinful, miserable and defenceless humanity. The thief came to steal, kill and destroy, but Christ came to give life and to give it abundantly. (John 10:10).
But there is the rub. If Jesus is the Good Samaritan then Jesus is not a Jew; for Samaritans were not accepted as Jews. If Jesus is the Good Samaritan, then Jesus is a Samaritan. If Jesus is not a Jew but a Samaritan, then Jesus cannot be a Christian, for it is the Jew who represents the Christian of today.
By the time some Jews observed Jesus, they assumed he was not a Jew. In the first place, he refused to be a disciple of Moses but claimed instead to have come to fulfil the law. He did not obey the letter of Jewish laws but claimed to comply with its spirit. He insisted pharisaic religious tradition was old wine which could not be put into the new bottles he provided for the new wine of the New Testament. (Matthew9:17). He prefaced a lot of his sermons with the statement: “You have heard that it was said to those of old… but I say.” (Matthew 5:27-28).
Therefore, some Jews insisted Jesus was not Jewish. As a matter of fact, their position was that he was a closet Samaritan: “Then the Jews answered and said to him, “Do we not say rightly that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon; but I honour my Father, and you dishonour me.” (John 8:48-49). Note that Jesus did not contest the charge that he was a Samaritan. But he took great exception to the allegation that he had a demon.
But if Jesus identified with the Samaritans and not with the Jews, then it becomes clear he would not identify with most of the Christians of today. In fact, let me be so bold as to say that if Jesus were in the flesh today he would not be a Christian. If Jesus had come today instead of 2,000 years ago, Christian pastors and bishops would also have killed him. Like he did our forefathers, Jesus would also have exposed our ungodliness to public ridicule.
So if Jesus would not have been a Christian, what would he have been? He would have simply been Jesus without any specific religious affiliation. Today, Jesus has been replaced by theology, but the real Jesus was not religious. Jesus established no religious institution when he was on earth.
Indeed, if Jesus were to show up physically on earth today, most Christians would not recognise him even as the Jews did not. If he came as a woman, we would not recognise him. If he smoked cigarettes, we would not recognise him. If he drank whisky, we would not recognise him. If he wore earrings and a nose ring, we would not recognise him. If he spoke Pidgin English, we would not recognise him. Since he did not wear trousers, we would be contemptuous of him. We would disqualify him by religious irrelevancies instead of identifying him by his fruits.
When Jesus asked the lawyer to identify the neighbour of the man who fell among thieves, the man wisely did not say it was the Samaritan. If he had said that, he would have been wrong. Instead, he correctly defined him by his fruit. He said: “He who showed mercy on him.” He who showed mercy on him could be anybody, Christian or non-Christian, as long as he believed in Jesus and produced the fruits of his righteousness.
What then does the story of the Good Samaritan mean if, indeed, the priest and the Levite represent today’s Christians? It means that, prophetically, it is the Christians of today who have no mercy. We despise unbelievers, certain they are going to hell. We speak disparagingly of them. We condemn sinners on grounds they are ungodly. We stone them because they are caught in adultery. We fail to appreciate that they are hapless travellers on the road of life who have been attacked by spiritual armed-robbers and left for dead. We conveniently forget that we used to be in the same position until we were rescued by the grace of God.
Therefore, “God is not a Christian,” declared Reverend Desmond Tutu. “We are supposed to proclaim the God of love, but we have been guilty as Christians of sowing hatred and suspicion; we commend the one whom we call the Prince of Peace, and yet as Christians we have fought more wars than we care to remember. We have claimed to be a fellowship of compassion and caring and sharing, but as Christians we often sanctify sociopolitical systems that belie this, where the rich grow ever richer and the poor grow ever poorer.”
One thing is certain. Both the offending priest and the Levite must have had “compelling” reasons for not attending to the man dying on the roadside. They probably could not stop because they were in a hurry to attend a bible study. The priest decided that the best thing to do was to pray for the man when he got to church. The Levite was hurrying to get to a meeting of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria and could not afford to be late.
Jesus’ parable “kills” the self-righteous believer who thinks he is justified by calling himself a Christian and by going regularly to church. He alerts us to the danger of assuming we are heaven-bound because of our observance of certain religious rites. True Christianity is not legalistic. The love of our neighbour is the emblem of our being Christ’s disciples.
“Dear friends, let us practice loving each other, for love comes from God and those who are loving and kind show that they are the children of God.” (1 John 4:7).