The Congregation of the Priest

“…Jesus said: ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’
The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’
Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
Luke 10:30-37

In the previous study we focused in particular on the first of the three examples that Jesus chose to place in the story – that of the priest who passed by the stricken man. We noted that most likely the first two examples were both of the tribe of Levi, and that the expert in the law who came to Jesus with his questions was also very likely from the tribe of Levi. And so it can be seen that Jesus was making this story personal.

I think from that last point, we can each of us take something personal from the message, learn from it, and apply it in practise in our lives. Those who are used to my teaching will know that I discourage personal messages from God being shared in the general sense as though you have received revelation of new doctrine. It is always important to make a clear distinction between what teaching is intended for the church as a whole, or the world as a whole, and the teaching that comes as a personal revelation to yourself during your time of quiet with God or as you are reading the scriptures for yourself.

Today we begin this study by looking more closely at the kind of person represented by the second example Jesus included in the parable.

If you remember, I explained before how the first two who saw the injured man were both of the tribe of Levi, and the expert in the law was also, quite likely, of that same tribe. This is the tribe that was charged with the service of the temple and tabernacle and all the religious duties. In the time of Jesus, that meant also the synagogues all around the country, and the many duties that can be associated with the religious life of Jews.

In reality, already by Jesus’ time, many Levites owned land, or had their own businesses, and the divisions were not strictly according to tribe as back in the days of Moses and Joshua. But many commentators have said, and to a degree I agree with this, that you could take the reference to Levites, as opposed to the rest of the Israelites, as an analogy of modern society and Christians who lie their lives in it. So, just on an analogous level (ie – don’t take this literally, folks!) it could be said that the Israelites represented the country as a whole, and the Levites represented the Christians in it. And the Priest, of course, represented the ministers, priests, vicars, bishops, and anyone officially ‘ordained’ in the church.

So in the previous study we looked in particular at the ordained representative. In my view, such a person has even more reason than the rest of Christians to represent Christ on the earth. I do not see, in my mind’s eye, Christ walking past on the other side. But I do see, in my mind’s eye, many ordained ministers that I have known doing exactly that. And then maybe coming to the next church meeting or interview on the radio and reporting what they had seen, and saying how disgusted he was by it – even laying blame on the poor unfortunate man who was laying there injured.

Sadly, this really is the state of many churches and their leaders today. Just look at the statements on the news and in the papers, especially looking at the kind of politics supported and what it means for the weakest and most vulnerable in society. I almost hang my head in shame just for being a Christian… except that I know that I carry the gospel, which is the best news that any living person can hear.

So if the Priest represented the ordained minister of the church, then the Levite represented the ordinary member of the congregation. You and me, folks, if you know the Lord and are also committed to a church.

This ordinary member of the congregation walked by on the other side. Strange. Why? Because if you truly know the Lord and are saved, then as the apostle Paul said, ‘As he was, so are we in the world.’ In other words, we are all Christ to the world. We should live and walk as Christ. And, as I said earlier, I do not imagine Christ walking by on the other side. Do you?

But there is another word here, based on this image, for the ordained ministers, and even the ‘lay’ pastors and elders and deacons. It is this: that the ordinary members, without a very clear vision of the nature of Christ himself, will follow the example of the minister – because they learn the nature of Christ through him, and are being taught by the example given.

Read that last sentence again and think about it. If you are an ordained person or a lay official in the church, read it a few times more and really think about it. Even if you disagree with it, I tell you it is true and it is what can be observed in every congregation if you have eyes to see and ears to hear.

The implications of this are tremendous. Just think, if that priest was the minister who regularly taught where that Levite worshipped, then it is no surprise at all that the Levite also passed by on the other side. Can you see here the great responsibility that there is on the officers of the church? They really need to humble themselves to walk as examples of Jesus, who had no problems talking with prostitutes and tax collectors and so was criticised in society for associating with sinners.

Yet this same criticism is what we are often taught to avoid in messages from the pulpit, such that if you were to be seen talking to a ‘non-approved’ person then you could face discipline or even excommunication. And that leaves me asking the question, how will the ‘non-approved’ person feel the love that is in Jesus and so have a hardened heart slowly opened to be able to hear the gospel?

It is, these days, not so much the tax collector, or even the prostitute, that will get you in trouble with the church authorities. It is much more likely if you happen to speak or show care for any of the gay, transvestite, transexual, or other such person. In these days, even to speak to such, let alone to show concern or care, can be interpreted by some Christians, even some in leadership, as ‘approving’ of the sin. How ridiculous!

As I said before, hatred and bigotry hardens the heart of the one who is hated and treated badly. It closes the heart of the person to the gospel. You really want to be responsible for closing the heart of anyone against the gospel? I think that there is a special judgement from God for people who are guilty of this sin…

But moving away from the responsibility of the leaders, this is also a message to the congregation. It is a wake-up call! Just because you see your leadership living in a certain way, or behaving in a certain way, does not automatically mean that you must do the same. You need to keep your own conscience clear before God. If the minister fails to love enemies or those unfortunate in society, you can read for yourself in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere the encouragement of Jesus. You can choose to do for yourself what is right from the scriptures.

You need to face the minister also, and demand an answer as to why he does not follow the instructions of Christ. If this causes problems, then, and only then, you may need to share your concerns with a trusted friend in the church. If you both agree, then return to the minister together. There is a pattern and a process – and this is for the sake of respect and for the sake of giving opportunities for repentance and change. And such is best done in the least public way possible.

And yet, despite that, it must be publicly said that the leadership of the church has been greatly failing the gospel and in its representation of the love of Jesus on the earth. And because of the leadership, the sheep who follow are guilty of the same thing. It is hard for an individual sheep to turn and go against the grain. You can feel alone and cut off. You can be accused of being a trouble-maker (don’t worry too much about that, you are in good company. Jesus was accused of the same thing).

A revival is needed in the present day. A revival of the church. But the Lord wants to bless those who follow Him, and not ‘respectability.’ We need a general repentance and turning of the church, which has become so worldly, with leaders speaking more like politicians, and encouraging bigotry and hatred.

The revival will come on those willing to show love the way Jesus did and taught. On those willing to love the enemy and to pray for them and to do good to them. On those willing to ignore the commands to hate, and who will visit the persecuted gay community. Who will be willing to put an arm around and hug the hurting souls there – you will not catch a ‘virus’ of homosexuality by doing that! Rather you will be showing the love of Jesus and slowly beginning to unlock the doors of hardened hearts. You are not showing approval of any sin by showing love!!

I will say that again: You are not showing approval of any sin by showing love!!

And Jesus was not about love in feelings – read his words! He was always about being practical. About making sure that the other is not hungry, thirsty or naked. That they have somewhere safe to sleep. That they are healthy, and protected. When was the last time you did this for your neighbour? Especially for the single mum neighbour who is forced to be a prostitute because, for some reason, she can’t get any handouts and is still called a ‘scrounger’ and somehow she must find the means to feed her kid?

And what about love for the gay person who was shown the ‘love of Jesus’ by a big ‘Christian’ guy and so now has a huge black eye, and has not been able to get a job for a year or more despite genuine hard efforts to do something about it?

You do not have to look far to find those who need Jesus.

And the gospel is not only about sin and its consequences. It is mostly about the love of the Lord and the way he found to reveal that love and free us from the consequence of sin all in one single magnificent act of passion.

It always comes back to love with Jesus. Amen!

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