Devotional Thoughts for Today
Acts 11:19-20 (NRSV)
Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they spoke the word to no one except Jews. 20 But among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists [Greeks] also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus.
“I think it is one of the tragedies of our nation, one of the shameful tragedies, that 11 o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated hour, in Christian Americas.” (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Meet the Press, April 17, 1960).
Nearly 60 years after they were first uttered, King’s words still ring true – Sunday morning is still a time when, if we look to our left and our right, we see people who look a lot like us.
The same was true in the early church. While the Jews had pretty good reason for keeping to themselves (the surrounding culture was often hostile and Jewish religious tradition was strict and exclusive), when Jesus stepped on the scene, He turned all of that upside down. His disciples often found Him drawing close to people who were very different from Himself. And when the Holy Spirit filled the hearts of believers in the book of Acts, they were led, albeit begrudgingly, to table fellowship and covenant relationship with those outside their community.
Why? Scripture tells us that when God first blessed Abraham and promised to build a great nation, God did so for the purpose of all the nations of the earth to be blessed through him (Genesis 12:3 & 22:18). God’s blessings were for sharing not for hoarding. But I think there is another reason. The power of the gospel can arguably be boiled down to one word: reconciliation (both with God and with one another). And God’s power to reconcile is often put most ostentatiously on display for an onlooking world in what I like to call, “only God” relationships. Those are the connections where it’s almost immediately obvious that ONLY GOD could have brought them together. And, as one who has partaken in an abnormally high number of “only God” relationships over the last ten years, I’d venture to say that they can also be, for the believer, some of the most rewarding.
Now, it is true that minoritized communities in the US have so few culturally safe spaces and, as a result, church often serves as one of the few we do have. And the unique idiosyncrasies of various cultures should be expressed in our corporate worship. (Remember, God celebrates differences!) But the mission of God hasn’t changed. We are still called to the nations to bear God’s glory. And how honored is God if we will go to nations all around the world, but refuse to welcome and engage the nations that God has gathered around us at home?
Prayer: Gracious God, thank You for the reconciliation You made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Help me to live into the fullness of all that reconciliation affords. Open my eyes to see the people You’ve placed in the community around me today, and help me begin to dream of what it would mean to enjoy deep and meaningful fellowship with them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Bible Reading for Today: John 16
Lunch Break Study
Read Luke 10:25-37 (NIV): On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[c]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 In reply 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. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 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. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[e] 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.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Questions to Consider
Because this is such a familiar passage, let’s “study” it a little differently. Before we answer each question below, read the passage and place yourself within the story as one of the characters.
- Read through Jesus’ story and imagine yourself as the priest, then as the Levite. What are some reasons each one may have crossed over to the other side? If Jesus were telling this story today, who would these characters be? What would it look like for them to “cross over to the other side” today?
- Read the story again and imagine yourself as the Samaritan. Why did he stop to help the man? What can we learn from this? Imagine Jesus telling this story today. What would it mean for someone to show this extent of kindness to a person in need?
- Finally, read this story one more time, imagining yourself as the wounded person. How would you have felt in his situation? How would you feel as both the priest and the Levite pass you by? What would it mean for you to be welcomed and cared for by the Samaritan after all you’d been through? Who are the people in your life who’ve been a good neighbor in your time of need?
- Who do you most identify with in this story? Remember the gospel – that we were wounded and needy when Jesus came to our aid – should help us to empathize and identify with the wounded traveler. How does remembering your need help to cultivate mercy in your heart toward others?
- The priest was the one responsible for mediating between God and the people of God. The priest was literally a professional care-giver and servant-leader for the people before God. If anyone should have helped, the priest should have. The Levite “was a less likely person to offer help since his duty, assuming he fulfilled it, involved just assisting the priests in the mundane affairs involved in worship.” (Constable) While not the priest, the Levite is the next best thing and certainly should have stopped to help the wounded victim.
- The Samaritan is the only person that helped. We don’t know where he is coming from or where he is going. We also don’t know much about his social status or family background or what kind of resources he had (other than the fact that he had two denarii). All we know is that he has resources of some kind, and he is willing to leverage them to help a person who needs it. And we can speculate about why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop, but the only reason Jesus says this man stopped was “because he had mercy” (not because he was rich, not because he was holy, not because it was the right thing to do).
- We know nothing about the person who was wounded. All we know is that this person was on a journey and violently attacked, wounded and robbed. We don’t know if he was a nice person, if he was responsible, if did anything to contribute to his scuffle with the bandits, etc. We just know he is hurting and in need.
- Personal reflection.
One of my favorite theologians, Dr. Willie Jennings, often says that in the book of Acts you always find the Holy Spirit leading believers to people they don’t desire and to places they don’t want to go. He also explains that one huge problem in the Christian imagination is that for hundreds of years we’ve forgotten that we are the ones God included. The Jews were the chosen people with their own community and the Gentiles were outsiders. But God cared enough about us to push the Jewish believers outside their comfort zones so that we could hear the Good News and be saved.
Spend time this evening reflecting on the sentiments above. What does it mean for you that you are a person who was included? Who are the people or people groups in your life and community who are “outsiders” (for you and/or your church community)? What would it look like for them to be included into your life? What would it mean for you to be a neighbor to them? What, if anything, is keeping you from living out the radical reconciliation of the gospel in these relationships?