You can tell it’s my last year at college, as I find myself spending more and more time looking out the window and ‘reflecting on my context.’ Four years that tree has been on the school grounds outside this classroom window, and I have never noticed how much that tree wants to be climbed – until now.
Seriously. It’s the perfect climbing tree. There’s no trunk. Its branches spring from the ground like a friend’s clasped hands waiting to give you a boost up. The bark is not too smooth – giving your feet something to grip – but also not too grown as to come off in clumps in your hand. As a kid, I spent many hours in the woods looking for a tree as perfect as this one. This is the perfect climbing tree.
So why not climb it? Too old. Might break something. Bad back. Adults don’t climb trees! I can think of a million reasons not to climb that tree.
However, I only have one reason to climb it. To be fully alive again. I spent most of my childhood summers about three foot off the ground. No exaggeration. And when I wasn’t in a tree, I was dreaming of a tree or designing the treehouse I would live in when I ‘grew up’. Trees were adventure. Trees were freedom. Trees were life.
What must I do to be fully alive, not just today but for always?
As I read Luke 10:25-37 (aka the parable of the Good Samaritan), I am thinking of this perfect climbing tree. Suddenly this conversation between Jesus and the fellow ‘who knew his scriptures’ gets an unexpected boost in the branches of this climbing tree.
The man was simply checking that Jesus was legit and not some false teacher. Does Jesus know what he is talking about? the man thought. Only one way to find out. So he asks Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25)
Jesus throws the question back at him, knowing the man knows his scriptures. “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” (Luke 10:26).
The guy responds with the two commandments. Maybe he’s heard Jesus preach on this before? Or maybe the author of Luke consulted some of the same sources as Mark? I don’t know. But Luke’s gospel tells us that Jesus commends the man’s ‘text book’ answer – love God, love people. “Do this, and you will live,” Jesus says. (Luke 10:28)
Here’s where the man goes a bit awry. The man needs to know exactly which people he is meant to love. He needs specifics. He needs boundaries. He may have real legitimate concerns. Safety issues. I mean, he is a Jew living under Roman occupation. The crucifixions weren’t just something reserved for Jesus. They happened a lot, as a way of reminding people that Rome was in charge. ‘Pax Romana’ – the Empire’s slogan. Their promise – the Roman Empire will give you peace even if it kills you. And there were other people too. People like the Samaritans. People who had different ways of seeing God, worshipping God in different places, saying different prayers. This man knew the scriptures. He knew what to watch out for, who to trust. He could spot false teaching a mile off. So what would this ‘teacher’ Jesus say? Exactly who is ‘neighbour’? What sort of people would Jesus tell him to love?
But instead of answering his question, Jesus tells the man a story about a man who was beaten and left for dead. A priest walks by, then a Levite. Neither help the beaten man. A Samaritan though stops and helps the man. A Samaritan takes the beaten man to a safe place where he is fed and can recover from his wounds. A Samaritan covers the costs for it all. At the end of the story, Jesus asks the man to “spot the neighbour”. Who was being neighbourly? Was it the priest or the Levite who just walked on by? Or was it the Samaritan who stopped and helped the man? Who acted like a neighbour to the beaten man? The apathetic religious leaders of his own faith and culture? Or the man who was from another faith, another culture – a person who he probably was taught to hate?
Who acted like a neighbour to the beaten man? Jesus’ question emphasises the action of being a neighbour over the clear-cut categories of ‘who to be neighbourly to’ that the man was seeking.
The man who knew his scriptures had to admit – regardless of faith, politics or culture – the neighbour was the one who helped, the one who showed mercy.
“Go and do likewise” Jesus said. (Luke 10:37)
Like me and my tree, this man could probably think of a million reasons not to love certain people. But only one reason to love regardless. To be fully alive again.
Scripture doesn’t tell us which he chose. But that only one choice brings ‘life’ (Luke 10:28).
Jesus never promised following Him would be easy. But He does promise to be with us as we do. He’s lowered the branches. All we gotta do is have the courage to climb.
To be fully alive again.