Monday, 4 April 2016

A Challenge to Religious Leaders

Jesus once told a story that we have come to know as the parable of the "Good Samaritan". In it he describes the response of two religious leaders when they came across a man lying by the side of the road, naked and half dead, after being beaten and robbed by a bunch of thugs.

Both the priest and the Levite saw this man in pain and need and chose to ignore him. They gathered their skirts around them, crossed to the other side of the road, and walked on as if fearing they would be contaminated by the man's need.

Don't stop. Don't help. God forbid we should get involved!

These religious leaders were far too busy doing important things for God to stop and help a brother in pain. Their celebrated religious work took priority over the distress of this unimportant nobody.

And anyway, it was probably his own fault that he was in such dire straits in the first place. In all likelihood, he'd brought his misfortune on himself!

Finally, down that same road came another 'nobody'. Wrong country. Wrong religion. Not important!

And it was this man who displayed human decency. The one who stopped; who cared; who showed mercy; who acted on behalf of the one suffering; who brought comfort and healing.

He was the one who demonstrated love!

Sadly, it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Because the religious leaders are still leaving people bleeding on the side of the road. They are still ignoring the pleas for help and support from those lying bleeding by the roadside. They are still too busy congratulating themselves on their important work to take a stand for what is right and just.

What's even worse, they are often the ones inflicting the wounds. And none of their fellow leaders seem to see anything wrong in that!

So it is still the nobodies - those from the wrong group, with the wrong spirituality - who are the ones patching up the wounded, bringing comfort and healing to those the religious leaders have left for dead.

And so I offer a challenge to those who see themselves as leaders of the faith: Will you "go and do likewise" as Jesus instructed - will you actually love your neighbour and not just talk about it?

Or will you continue to draw your skirts around you, keep busy with your important religious duties and refuse to meet the need?


  1. Just throwing it out there, but something that I have been considering recently, I think that a lot of us assume a certain amount of perfection in the actions of leaders in the early church, and we keep building on that same foundation. Your words up above about the religious leaders being more concerned about religious duties than actual care makes me think that one of the very first things that the apostles did was appoint people (deacons) to do the menial acts of caring for people, so that they could dedicate themselves to their more important religious duties.

    We can insert some symbolism into the words, but I still find it significant that the specific instructions that Jesus gave to Peter are to feed his sheep, and the first recorded complaint that arose in the early church was that certain people are literally not being fed. Rather than have the words of Jesus ring in his ears, and call him to service, Peter took the opportunity to delegate, and be about more important business.

    Again, haven't come to a final decision on what to do with this, but certainly another perspective to consider.

    1. Thanks Dallas, I appreciate the input :) My issue is not so much with the day-to-day arrangement of a particular group of christians (which I feel is what the delegation of function was about). It's that too many of those running religious institutions place a higher priority on the institution itself rather than the people it is intended to serve.

      And too many seem to think that their 'religious duties' exempt them from acting with common human decency towards others.

      I've seen and experienced it firsthand on more than one occasion. It's an attitude that says, "I am far too busy doing important work for God to help you in your time of need."

      But as Paul said, "What if I could speak all languages of humans and of angels? If I did not love others, I would be nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal."

      And in James we read, "Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?"

      I don't think any amount of religious performance matters to God when the well-being of others has been sacrificed for it. In fact Jesus chastised the Pharisees for doing exactly that. In Matthew 15 he said, "Because of your traditions you have destroyed the authority of God’s word. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

      ‘These people honor me with their lips,
      but their hearts are far from me.
      Their worship of me is pointless,
      because their teachings are rules made by humans.’

    2. I agree with what you are saying. I brought up what I did because I think that it may show that there was an almost immediate impulse within the early church to make the care of the needy a secondary issue. Something that those in leadership shouldn't have to deal with. Considering that, as you pointed out, this was one of the overriding criticisms of Jesus toward the religious leaders during his ministry, I think that it gives us insight into our own twisted motives.

      I think that it's easy enough to use a passage like that to justify yourself in leaving a beaten man on the side of the road.

      It's not even just leaders anymore, it seems that we are all encouraged to delegate "caring" to someone else. The communicated role of the majority in the church is to give money, so that a trained "minister" can do your caring for you. We can do easily be separated from the needy, that we might never even walk down a road where we might find someone in need.

      It is not good for our hearts to be separated like this, and I think that you could argue that many of those in leadership are more separated than most. I've read more than one article that encouraged pastors to avoid making friends within their congregations. That seems like lunacy, it allows leaders to only care in the abstract. It's no wonder that it's so easy to write off, ignore, and abuse these theoretical people.

    3. Oh, thanks for clarifying that Dallas! Your observation about us being so separated from the need that we never see it is a wake-up call to us all.

      When I was in leadership this is exactly the way we were encouraged to think. For example, one of the board members tried to assure us that if people didn't turn up on a Sunday (due to sickness etc), it was their responsibility to get in touch with us if they needed help. We had more important things to focus on... :(