“Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked places shall be made level, and the rough places smooth.”(Isa. 40:4, MKJV)
Isaiah’s proclamation has been a mainstay in my arsenal of uplifting scriptures which God uses to deliver me up from the valleys of adversity, lifting me to Mount Zion with Him. All of us go through the “cactus patches, knotholes, and divine combines” which God has prepared to rub off the chaff and grow us up into His glory. Those metaphors are my inventions, but Jesus’ story about the “man in the ditch” is the best metaphor yet, though the Spirit only recently revealed to me that nuance of meaning. Found in Luke 10:29-37, it is commonly known as the parable of the “Good Samaritan.” Most of us were exposed to this story in Sundayschool, or in sermons where we were admonished to “Go and do likewise.”
We were taught that to be pleasing to the Lord, we had to rescue people from their problems. Looking back, I can see that it was a scriptural reinforcement of the addiction plaguing most Christians, which is codependency. We are supposed to rush out and rescue anyone we see in need. Like the Pharisees of old, most of us have figured out how to do that without straining ourselves too much. Anyone who has been reading my writings for a while know that I do NOT mean we are not supposed to share God’s love with those in need. I DO mean that we are to follow Jesus’ example of asking our Father how and when we are to do our benevolent deeds.
Most of you are very familiar with the story, so I’ll just briefly hit the high points. A man was traveling down the winding, mountain road from Jerusalem to Jericho, a distance of 17 miles, when robbers fell upon him, taking everything he had, even his clothing, and leaving him beaten half to death. When my sister took us to Israel, we traveled that road by bus, and just visualizing either walking it or riding a donkey on it is intimidating. On the lower end, the road snakes through a barren, desert landscape with no visible vegetation, then climbs upward with high cliffs on one side and deep ravines on the other, ascending from about 800 feet below sea level in Jericho to about 2500 feet above sea level on the Jerusalem portion (NIV study note). It was the perfect place for thieves and robbers to hide, waiting to pounce on defenseless travelers.
Anyone who found himself in this traveler’s situation would need help, but with no cell phone, no weapon, no donkey and no clothes, he was at the mercy of whomever passed by, in this case, a priest and a Levite. Neither of these “holy” men even crossed the road to see if he was alive, or lift a finger to help him. Jesus’ listeners would rather have had a priest or a Levite rescue them, than the one who showed up in Jesus’ story, a despised Samaritan.
In that culture,“Jews viewed Samaritans as half-breeds (a mixed-blood race resulting from the intermarriage of Israelites left behind when the people of the northern kingdom were exiled and Gentiles brought into the land by the Assyrians.”(2 Kings 17:24) (NIV study note). They were hated both physically and spiritually. Apparently, the hostility ran both ways, but this kind and generous Samaritan, poured oil and wine on the man’s wounds, put him on his own donkey and took him to an inn where he cared for him. The next day, when the Samaritan had to leave, he gave the innkeeper 2 silver coins to provide whatever care the wounded man needed and promised to pay him whatever else was called for.
In Jesus’ day, the religious men, the priests and Levites were considered the “chosen ones,” the “elect,” the special recipients of God’s favor. Jesus was pointing out clearly, that neither occupations nor titles bring one closer to God, which was and still is accomplished solely by grace, according to His will.
As a brief comment here, God has always worked through the elect,“a remnant, chosen by grace”(Rom.11:5), according to Paul,and as Harry Fox has phrased it, “the elect are always chosen for the benefit of the non-elect, and ultimately, the whole world is God’s elect.” Abraham is a perfect example of God’s election. He was your garden variety pagan, in Ur of the Chaldees, when God appeared to Him and promised to bless the whole world through his descendants, of whom he had none at the time because Sarah was barren. Israel was God’s chosen people, through whom Christ’s human bloodlines came, and HE was chosen to be the Lamb of God by which the entire world was reconciled to God. His atonement was“for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”(I John 2:2)
Paul said about this remnant chosen by grace,“And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.”(Rom. 11:5) I’ve always been interested in the concept of the elect, and based on my studies of the subject over the years, I have concluded that being one of the elect is nothing to be puffed up about, because God chooses whom He wills, by His grace alone, not based on the person’s works, race, or gender. Clearly, this despised Samaritan was one of the elect, as was Rahab the harlot, who rescued Joshua and Gideon from being killed by the men of Jericho (Jos. 6:25).
What it boils down to then, is that being the elect means God drags you through the “cactus patches, knotholes, divine combines, and ditches” first, so that you may reach back and lend a hand to someone who is still struggling with the ordeal. If you need a scriptural reference as I always do, here it is:“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.”(II Cor. 1:4-5) It’s another way to say that“where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”(Rom. 5:20)
I’m grateful to Harry Fox for opening up this new view of the parable to me. When he said the man in the ditch was ready to hear the Gospel, the Spirit lit up his words like a neon sign. All these years, I have read the parable, and shuddered to think I would ever be like the priest and Levite, and wondered if I could be as compassionate and generous as the Samaritan, but until talking to Harry, I never saw that it is only when we are in the ditch, that we are opened up to our need for help. Dear reader, if you are currently “in the ditch,” take heart; don’t blame the devil; don’t pretend it isn’t happening, and don’t reject your rescuer because of race, creed, or gender. We’ve been there many times, and it is not pleasant, but God always provides a Samaritan, to lead us out when the lesson is over.
Self sufficient people who manage their lives and finances well, according to the world’s standards anyway, rarely think they need help. At the risk of being called “a flaming liberal,” these are the ones who think that the government should not help anyone because people need to help themselves. This is the “anti-codependent” attitude. It seems that some folks think, “I did this myself, and you can too if you just get off your lazy behind and get to work.”
This is why Jesus brought tears to those listening to His Sermon on the Mount. He blessed the poor; probably never since the beginning of the world had a “rock star” type of person like Christ blessed the poor. Mostly, the poor were, and still often are, tongue lashed by people admonishing them to do better, and shamed because they lack the wherewithal to get up, brush themselves off, and go get a job. By contrast, Jesus said,“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”(Matt. 5:3)No wonder the crowds adored Him and followed Him everywhere to hear these wonderful words of life. The poor have been consigned to the trash heaps of life in most cultures, shoved out of sight, disqualified for any good things available, and here, Jesus said that these poor wretches belonged to the kingdom of heaven. How wonderful is that?
Harry observed that only those who find themselves in the ditch are ready to accept the Gospel, God’s good news, because they are the ones who know they need help. The priest and the Levite thought they didn’t need it, forgetting that“the Gospel is the POWER of God for the salvation of EVERYone who believes, first for theJew (believer), then for the Gentile (unbeliever).” Many consider the Gospel only for those who are ready to work for it, but Paul went on to say,“For in the gospel, a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written, ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”(Rom. 1:16-17) The righteousness that any of us attain, comes from God. It is a GIFT, not a WORK.
Father we thank You for the “cactus patches, the knotholes, the divine combines, and the ditches” You lead us through, because in them, You bring glory to yourself and growth for us out of everything we experience. You have shown us over and over again, that You are faithful to bind up our wounds, and carry us to a place of rest; You have eternally and forever paid the price for our healing. You have provided all things necessary to conform us to the image and likeness of Christ. We may grumble and groan in the process, but eventually, we praise Your name, the name above all names, by which we are called. We give You blessings and honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.