Sunday, March 25, 2007

Doing Bad Theology

When I was a child, my grandmother use to scold me with “what you do, speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you are saying.” My grandmother’s teaching helped when I became a psychologist. Whenever I was confused about something someone said, I could watch actions. “Actions speak louder than words” she taught me.

For example, Jesus confused me when he told the story we call the Good Samaritan. He had just finished telling people to love their neighbor, when someone asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Obviously, they all knew who their neighbors were. For thousands of years, a neighbor was a fellow member of their tribe plus anyone who worshiped Yahweh. Everyone else was excluded. Typically, when people asked such obvious questions, they were baiting Jesus.

So did Jesus take the bait and scandalize them that day by making Samaritans their neighbor? If He did, then where was the reaction?

You want to see a reaction? One day Paul declared to the Jews that the Spirit ordered him: “Depart for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles.” At the word “Gentile,” the listeners went nuclear: “Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live!” They screamed. He barely got away with his life.

So how did Jesus get a pass that day if He said something similar? Why was there no riot?

Maybe the reason they did not react to Jesus’ story of the Samaritan was because they heard the story the way Jesus told it. Reading carefully, we see the neighbor in need of love was their fellow citizen in a mess. It took a hated Samaritan to remind them how to treat him.

The story is a very shaky foundation upon which to build an entire theology. Yet a lot of people who do not know their Bible well, do just that.