Where Do You Draw the Line?
a sermon by J. Frederick Ball, OEF
Note: This sermon was first preached at Grace Presbyterian Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. The text is taken from a translation by biblical scholar Clarence Jordan:
One day a teacher of an adult Bible class got up and tested [Jesus] with this question: “Doctor, what does one do to be saved?”
Jesus replied, “What does the Bible say? How do you interpret it?”
The teacher answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your physical strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”
“That is correct,” answered Jesus. “Make a habit of this and you’ll be saved.”
But the Sunday school teacher, trying to save face, asked, “But…er…but…just who is my neighbor?”
Then Jesus laid into him and said, “A man was going from Atlanta to Albany and some gangsters held him up. When they had robbed him of his wallet and brand-new suit, they beat him up and drove off in his car, leaving him unconscious on the shoulder of the highway.
“Now it just so happened that a white preacher was going down that same highway. When he saw the fellow he stepped on the gas and went scooting by.
“Shortly afterwards a white Gospel song leader came down the road, and when he saw what had happened, he too stepped on the gas.
“Then a black man traveling that way came upon the fellow, and what he saw moved him to tears. He stopped and bound up his wounds as best he could, drew some water from his water-jug to wipe away the blood and then laid him on the back seat. He drove on into Albany and took him to the hospital and said to the nurse, ‘You all take good care of this white man I found on the highway. Here’s the only two dollars I got, but you all keep account of what he owes, and if he can’t pay it, I’ll settle up with you when I make a pay-day.’
“Now if you had been the man held up by the gangsters, which of these three-the white preacher, the white song leader, or the black man-would you consider to have been your neighbor?”
The teacher of the Bible class said, “Why, of course, the…I mean, er…the one who treated me kindly.”
Jesus said, “Well, then, you get going and start living like that!”
-Luke 10:25-37, The Cotton Patch Version of Luke and Acts: Jesus’ Doings and the Happenings, translated by Clarence Jordan. (New York: Association Press/A Koinonia Publication, 1969) Jordan also founded an interracial farm community in Georgia during the 1950s, called Koinonia Farms.
nybody could have spotted the Sunday School teacher in the crowd that day. With his dual-translation, genuine-cowhide study Bible under his arm, along with a copy of the church’s daily devotional booklet for the July/August/September quarter. Listening to Jesus with a mixture of agreement and suspicion, arguing with Jesus internally as he heard Jesus’ words, the man seems to be waiting for a break in the lesson so he can speak. Jesus senses it, too.
We Are Always Looking to Set Limits on the Responsibilities of Faith
When the Sunday School teacher asks his question, we’re amazed. It seems rehearsed: Doctor, what does one do to be saved? It is a basic doctrinal question. Jesus carefully words his response, knowing that the teacher is really eager to answer own question: What does the Bible say? The teacher answers. Jesus quickly says, That is correct. Make a habit of that and you’ll be saved. Perhaps caught off guard, teacher comes closer to his real question the second time around, Just who is my neighbor?
It is, in essence, a question about limits. How far does this go? Whom does this love include? Family? Members of the Sunday School? In typical debate style, he wants to argue about the terms, the words-what do we mean by neighbor?
Isn’t that our style as well, sometimes? We’re not so crass as to ask, Who is my neighbor? We’ve heard the story too many times to be caught in that one.