It never ceases to amaze me how easy it is for a preacher to reach inaccurate conclusions when he approaches the biblical text with bad theology. I heard a sermon last week on the Good Samaritan. The preacher read the parable from Luke 10. The parable in his Bible was the same as the parable in my Bible; but at the end of the sermon, I felt like I was in some sort of Star Trek episode where there are multiple realities and where no one knows which reality is the real one.
We all know the parable. A man is walking down the street and is robbed and beaten nearly to death, and the man is left bleeding and dying on the side of the rode. A priest comes by and ignores him. Shortly after, a Levite comes walking down the road and also ignores the bleeding and dying man. Then, a Samaritan comes and tends to the man’s needs. Jesus says that the Samaritan is the one who behaves like a neighbor and who fulfills the law to love your neighbor as yourself.
At this point, the preacher and I were in agreement. Then, he started to apply this text to the lives of the people in the congregation. He claimed that the doctrine that should be derived from this parable is that people in the church should go about looking for people outside the church for whom they can do nice things. People in the church should give food and money to people outside the church who don’t have as much food and money as they have. Church members should spend their days actively looking for unbelievers who have some kind of material need that can be met, and then they should meet that need. This is where I started to get confused. The preacher read the same parable that was in front of me, but he reached a wildly different conclusion.
Maybe I missed something. Maybe there is something in the parable about the Samaritan going around looking for people to whom he could give his money, so I read the parable again. Nope, the Samaritan just happened to be walking down the street, and he wasn’t handing out money and food to people who simply did not have as much money and food as he did. He was walking down the street and happened to come across a man who had been beaten nearly to death. The man was in need of medical attention. His life was in danger, and the Samaritan gave him the attention he needed. That’s it. How can anyone read this parable and conclude that the church needs to give money to poor people? The parable clearly teaches that caring for the immediate needs of a man who has been beaten by thieves is a fulfillment of the command to love your neighbor as yourself. It says nothing about handing out goods and services to poor people.
This is what happens when preachers approach a text with bad theology. Having already determined (based upon what, I have no idea) that the main function of the church is to pass out goods and services to poor people, preachers begin to see things in the text that are not actually there. They have a preconceived notion in their heads, and they insert that preconceived notion between the lines in the text. It is a delusional practice, but it happens all the time. It’s a sad day when preachers begin to put words in God’s mouth. It’s supposed to be the other way around. Preachers should be speaking God’s words, not trying to make God speak their words.
If you have ever been told that it is your Christian duty to give money and food to people outside the church who have less money and food than you, I urge you to read the parable of the Good Samaritan and do what he does. If you come across a man who has been robbed, beaten, and left for dead on your way home from work, stop and tend to his needs. In doing this, you will be loving your neighbor as yourself. If, however, you pass by someone ringing a bell outside the grocery store at Christmas time and feel a tug in your heart to give, feel free to ignore that tug. Whether you put a dollar in the jar or not has nothing to do with loving your neighbor.