I turn thirty in exactly one month and I still have a thing or two on my “30 before 30” list. On my 29th birthday Ben asked me what I wanted to accomplish before I turned 30. While there were a series of little things the one big, lingering item was to have a completed manuscript ready to send to publishers by early December. Three decades of artful procrastination have been preparing me for this very moment.
Long story short, I have learned a thing or two about this publishing world and what it takes to get a book published. Consequently, I’ve noticed a shift within myself that I don’t particularly care for. I now spend the vast majority of my time at home, alone, writing. It feels like I barely have time go see people because I’m busy writing. My hope in writing is to point people to Jesus that we might model our lives after his. But in doing this I sit at home, or at a coffee shop, with headphones on, alone, writing to the blog and book readers of the world (both of which are done, for the most part, in isolation). I’m studying the life of the Christ who was seldom if ever alone, who got his hands dirty with the people right in front of him, and welcomed interruptions from the randos of society. Have you picked up on the irony in this yet?
I’m afraid that I’m missing the opportunities right in front of me because I’m too busy chasing the opportunities I want.
Sure, what I’m doing is seeking first the kingdom of God, but I fear that I’ve become so transfixed with one structure in the kingdom that perhaps I’ve overlooked others right in front of me. Basically, I’m afraid I’ve become too busy with other Christian stuff for people online to be like Jesus, face to face, with the people I brush shoulders with every day.
I want to look at an old passage from a slightly different angle:
“And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10: 29-37).
The irony in the text is implied simply due to the titles, “priest” and “Levite”. It’s ironic that it wasn’t the two holy brothers that stopped to tend to the needs of the hurting, but rather the Samaritan, the racial and ethnic pariah, who stopped. Our neighbor is not just our countrymen; it’s every man.
Typically this passage is taught in conjunction with stereotypes and generosity, presuming that the priest and the Levite were actively, intentionally, and selfishly negligent. I’m not saying that they weren’t, but I do want to consider why they did not help. Where were they going? What were they on their way to do? Both priests and Levites are associated with religious leadership and repute. Basically, the upper echelon of religious folk. So why didn’t they help?
Maybe they were afraid or maybe they lacked any semblance of compassion whatsoever. Or maybe they were too busy. Sure, the parable is fictitious, but let’s say we had an opportunity to interview said priest and Levite after the fact. What reasons would they give for not stopping to help? Probably not, “we saw him and couldn’t have cared less.”
I’m going to go out on a few speculative limbs here. These two were likely going to or coming from Jerusalem, which they would have most likely been visiting for some sort of religious purpose. Consider that perhaps they were too preoccupied with the next task at hand or too busy to stop and be bothered. They had religious duties to attend to, people to shepherd, truth to speak, right?
Perhaps they were so fixated on what they wanted their ministry to look like, or were so comfortable with what their ministry did look like, that they missed the opportunity God had set right before them. The passage says, “Now by chance…” that the priest and Levite were going down the very same road as the one left for dead. By chance my foot. That’s a divine intersection if you’ve ever seen one. Perhaps they missed the opportunity right before them because they were in a hurry to get to their other religious duties.
I’m no priest or Levite, but I am all kinds too busy doing stuff for Jesus and consequently missing opportunities to show people Jesus. I have a clear picture of how I want to serve God, and when my eyes are only fixed on that, I fear I miss opportunities set before me.
If we want to seek first his kingdom, we have to ask ourselves if we are seeking all of his kingdom, or just the areas that we vibe well with?
Are we willing to minister to anyone God puts on our plates, or just the people we click with best?
Are we willing to allow the system of our ministries to be interrupted by the opportunities that arise everyday?
And do we even have time to notice those opportunities or are we too fixated on how we want to serve God?
With the busyness of the season ahead, let’s ask God to open our eyes to see who our neighbors are and how to love them well.