We Are the Guy in the Ditch   4 comments

Pastor Gary Cox is a great theologian, in that he seriously thinks about what he’s preaching about. I sometimes marvel at what he gets out of Bible passages simply by applying the evangelical mindset of “God is in control and we are almost never the subject of what Jesus is talking about.”

It provides a whole new perspective on standard Bible passages that we all know too well. The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) takes on a whole different light when you view it through that lens. When I put myself in the Samaritan’s shoes, I either feel really good about my efforts to live up to God’s love or I feel really bad about myself for failing to live up to God’s love.

Most Westerners know this story so well that even the Biblically-challenged can tell you the gist of it. Gary asked our Chinese congregation for their interpretation of it. They were unfamiliar. Apparently, Chinese Christians don’t spend much time on the story and it’s hard to have Vacation Bible School when the Red Army is looking to arrest you just for what you believe. But these brilliant University of Alaska scientists, researchers and graduate students put their minds to the story from their understanding of evangelical Christianity and came up exactly where Gary thought they should.

The Good Samaritan is not us. We’re the guy in the ditch. Jesus is the Good Samaritan. And that makes all the difference in the world.

Many of Jesus’ parables were told as a means to answer the trick question of the Pharisees, priests and scribes. He would then explain them to His followers in the after-session. This story is one such — a law professor asked Him what he needed to inherit eternal life. The Pharisees (about one-fifth of the Jewish population of Judea at the time) believed you needed to live an exemplary life to inherit eternal life. Jesus knew differently. He had come to make certain people understood that eternal life came through Him and Him only, by faith, not works. He’s encountered plenty of trick questions and this was no doubt one of them. He turned it back on the professor. “You’re the expert. How do you read it?” He asked.

The law professor quotes the Shema. “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5) and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19.18). Jesus commended his answer, but the lawyer wanted to justify his own lack of love, so he asked “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus already had a reputation of hanging out with prostitutes and tax-collectors and He’d not been unkind of Gentiles. Whenever a trick question was put to Jesus, almost without variation, He would answer with a parable.

Parables can be taken multiple ways, which is rather the point. The law professor took it to mean what most of the Western world takes it to mean — go be nice to your neighbors, feed the hungry and clothe the homeless.  There’s nothing wrong with these activities, but they won’t buy you eternal life, because you are not the Good Samaritan.

You’re the guy in the ditch.

The guy in the ditch took a dangerous route and paid the consequences. He was beaten and left for dead. First a priest came by and avoided him. The priest clearly represents religion. Religion sometimes walks through the dangerous places of this world too, but it doesn’t really have anything salvic to offer us. It looks good, but it’s powerless. Next, a Levite comes by. Think of the Levites as legalists. There are all sorts of people in this world who think that if you just follow the rules (you can pick them) you’ll be fine and if you end up in the ditch, well, you must have broken the rules. These people also have nothing to offer the broken and contrite sinner.

But along came a Samaritan. Samaritans were rejected by the Jews because they were half-breeds and didn’t exactly worship God exactly how they were supposed to. Kind of like Jesus, Who didn’t fit the Jews idea of a Messiah. The Samaritan stopped, took care of the man, transported him to a place of safety, spent the night tending to him, provided for his care during his recovery and promised to pay any future expenses. The guy in the ditch did nothing to deserve this great treatment. The Samaritan went out of His way to provide it. He then provided for the beaten man’s future. You can bet that the man was grateful and perhaps motivated to “pay it forward.”

Jesus left heaven to step down into our messy existence to sacrifice Himself for us.  He saves our souls, He binds our wounds, He provides us with a place of sanctuary, and He promises that He’ll take care of us in the future. In this story, the innkeeper is the church, by the way. We are the guy in the ditch, helpless to do anything for ourselves.

“Go and do likewise,” Jesus told the law professor. Doesn’t that mean that we should be picking people up out of the ditch? Yes, but remember also that Jesus said “the poor will always be with you” as His feet were being washed with expensive perfume. The Christians primary ministry on earth is not to care for the poor, feed the hungry, or provide housing for the homeless. It is to spread the gospel. That is what gets sinners out of the ditch. While those other things are worthy activities, they should not ever be the primary focus of the churches because feeding a body while the soul misses heaven is — well, nothing to do with eternal life.

4 responses to “We Are the Guy in the Ditch

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  1. Pingback: We Are the Guy in the Ditch | That Mr. G Guy's Blog

  2. A very right on and needful post. I would also hasten to add this: The church is not a denomination or organizational construct. Truly, the Church is the totality of believers in Christ Jesus. WE are the Church, not an artificial construct no matter how ‘legal’ and ancient. The spiritual children of the Sanhedrin and Pharisees are all about us, derailing and deceiving many.

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    • Totally agree. Different congregations and different denominations do not, for the most part, reflect divergent christianities, but diverse ways of worship and disagreements over secondary (but not necessarily unimportant) issues. If you believe Jesus is God, that He died for your sins, and that salvation is by faith and not by works, you are a Christian and an automatic member of the catholic (little “c” intentional) church. If you believe otherwise, you may claim the label of Christian, but you are not truly in line with Biblical Christianity. Churches (multiple) were the New Testament model — hometown congregations that stood alone, but were connected by the apostles and occasionally sought guidance first from Jerusalem, then from Ephesus. I think there was considerable diversity of worsihp in the early church with unity on the central issue of who Jesus is and how we are saved.

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