Reading ourselves into everything
We have a habit, when reading the Bible, to try to be a superhero in the story. Whether it’s being David slaying giants, being as faithful as Noah, being as brave as Daniel entering a den of lions, or being as strong as Nehemiah building a “big vision” for his people to build a giant wall. In parables we have a tendency to find ourselves in the heroes boots also. Why do we do this? Because we love to think really, really highly of ourselves, especially in the light of how great we’ve done on a particular day helping people, or treating everyone well.
We try to find the absolute greatest character in the scriptures, and make them exactly like us. Even if the character is a type of Christ – like David, and Samson, and Daniel, and Noah… and every other character in scripture! We are obsessed with how great we are. And have been taught by evangelicals for years and years and years that as kids we need to aspire to be like Samson, Jonah, Esther, Mary, Joseph, Paul and Peter… yet Jesus makes it so plainly clear that in every Bible story there is a marker that points an arrow right to Jesus – regardless of the fact that we might think we are as great as Paul or Peter.
This interpretation of scripture that occurs time and again in the seeker sensitive movement and Pentecostalism is called Narcissistic Eisegesis – where we read ourselves into every passage somehow, as if scripture was written to be a testimony about principles to help us as westerners live a more exciting, fulfilling, dreamy, cruisy, drama-free life. Scripture testifies of Jesus. The entire book screams redemption right from Adam and Eve eating of the forbidden fruit to Noah’s escape of the flood to the 2 criminals dying next to Christ on the cross – scripture points to a saviour coming who defeats sin and death by dying as our substitute, making us children of God by washing us in His blood clean. It’s not a tale of a brave, focused, determined and resourceful people rightly following God and pulling up their bootstraps doing God’s will and fulfilling dreams – its way, way more of the opposite! In fact, the Holy Spirit’s job, once we as sinners become adopted by repentance and faith – is to point us to Jesus! We continually preach, teach and write about 7 principles to get this, 5 steps to make this happen, 20 reasons why we aren’t blessed enough, when we should have been preaching Christ and Him crucified for our sins on our behalf! We are obsessed with ourselves. Like one enormous selfie that’s plastered worldwide we want our pockets lined by God, our dreams fulfilled, our sex lives perfect, our wives to perfectly fit our ideals and our own egos to remain intact whilst we attend church – yet scripture continuously points out our need for redemption.
We should, in every Bible passage, find the Christ-centred approach. This means doing some re-wiring of our theology if we’ve been brought up on a steady diet of fad evangelism, Jabez prayers, Purpose-driven theology and word faith practices. It takes courage to break free from that devillish talk and bow under the reality of God’s word as it is – a book solely about Christ and Him alone! This approach has been used for millennia by church fathers, pastors, preachers and missionaries, yet the modern seeker sensitive church has hijacked scripture and turned it into a manual on how to have everything we’ve ever dreamed of in our carnal minds right now. This is a grave mistake, and only reading scripture, repenting of the false theology and interpretation and seeking Jesus in the Bible can assist in this area. Doctrinal error begins with a faulty Christology (study of Jesus) a false anthropology (sinfulness of man etc) or a false eschatology (that we are fully redeemed in heaven, not here). If any of these are defective, start digging into the scriptures and be free!
Good Samaritan – us or Jesus?
Jesus actually tells us the interpretation of His own parables, but we’ve forgotten this. In the Good Samaritan parable in Luke 10v 30-37 Jesus is approached by a teacher of the Mosaic law wanting to gain eternal life, and the answer is in fact a scathing rebuke of his inept ability to keep this law perfectly, like the good Samaritan does. There are striking similarities between the Samaritan man and Jesus, including where he walks from (Jerusalem to Jericho) to get to the bleeding civilian, his treatment of the man in binding his wounds and even extending further grace for recovery from his own bank account, and his outcast hero in the story totally being a rejected class of person as Jesus was on this earth – forsaken and crucified by His own. This parable takes some getting used to if we are to interpret it through a deeper, Christ-centred lens, but the beautiful picture of the utter helplessness of the man being assisted, the heroic, self-sacrificial love of the Samaritan, the tender care and the complete foolishness of the Samaritan assisting the stranger even without fully getting to know his secrets, sins and self-righteousness first. It all points to Jesus Christ – the rejected Saviour of the world who came to die for people who have outright rejected Him from birth, who are totally incapable of renewing themselves and becoming sinless. This is all done by Christ on the cross. Our salvation is a total work of the rescuer, and nothing at all is accomplished or able to be boasted in by the bloodied, beaten sinner in the gutter.
Joseph Tkach of Grace Community International has a concise, brilliant take on this story, and comments on the way this story unfolds for the teacher of the law in this way:
“How could anyone be expected to live up to the standard of the Samaritan in this story? If that is what God expects, even the meticulous lawyer was doomed. Jesus was showing that humans cannot meet the perfect requirements of the law. Even those who dedicate themselves to it fall short. Jesus is the only one to fulfil the law in its deepest intent. Jesus is the Good Samaritan.”
Our typical take on this story is to pour the burden of helping our neighbours perfectly onto the reader – making them guilty for not paying the full price for every persons medical care we see injured, or helping out every accident victim we coma across, or our ghastly inability to even assist someone in a less serious situation at work. All of this creates a legalistic burden that we as sinners are totally incapable of holding, yet time and again this sermon is preached anew in church as a consistent reminder that we fall short – which is actually the point of the story – but should be taken a step further – that Jesus is the one who never leaves anyone utterly helpless in sin alone to die eternally if they realise their plight. That Christ renders salvation to those who identify as a bleeding, helpless, completely dead sinner with no hope but someone who is able to show mercy through their own will to save and redeem and pay the price. This is what Jesus Christ did on the cross, yet we as preachers, teachers and writers have missed this vital second ingredient in the story, neglecting the context in full and shoving Christ into a corner that He simply isn’t in as the finger-pointer who wants us to “treat everyone better or else.”
What a mistake
What to do next?
S. Michael Houdmann of gotquestions.org presents a good case for the full meaning of the story in that it’s a 3 fold event:
“Jesus is telling us to follow the Samaritan’s example in our own conduct; i.e., we are to show compassion and love for those we encounter in our everyday activities. We are to love others (vs. 27) regardless of their race or religion; the criterion is need. If they need and we have the supply, then we are to give generously and freely, without expectation of return. This is an impossible obligation for the lawyer, and for us. We cannot always keep the law because of our human condition; our heart and desires are mostly of self and selfishness. When left to our own, we do the wrong thing, failing to meet the law. We can hope that the lawyer saw this and came to the realisation that there was nothing he could do to justify himself, that he needed a personal saviour to atone for his lack of ability to save himself from his sins. Thus, the lessons of the Parable of the Good Samaritan are three-fold: (1) we are to set aside our prejudice and show love and compassion for others. (2) Our neighbour is anyone we encounter; we are all creatures of the creator and we are to love all of mankind as Jesus has taught. (3) Keeping the law in its entirety with the intent to save ourselves is an impossible task; we need a saviour, and this is Jesus.”
There certainly are lessons in the story about treating others well, but to then throw the weighty lump of legalism onto a congregation that they’re not living up to God’s best if they fail to love their neighbour this way is hurtful – because everybody falls short every day. That’s why they’re to lean completely on the everlasting arms of Jesus and daily trust His perfect love to be shown through us where we can, and to rest in that.
This eisogesis plays havoc when we apply the same exact interpretation of this parable – that we’re the perfectly loving, self-sacrificing Samaritan, into every other hero Bible story such as Jonah, Noah, Joseph, David and Gideon. We are doing ourselves a legalistic disservice and ripping Jesus from the pages of the scriptures one story at a time when He’s meant to be the focus of the entire book! Without Christ in these stories in His right location, we literally have a book of 66 books all written about how great we are as people at keeping God’s law, obeying perfectly and keeping all of His commandments right up until Jesus returns to find that everything was fine all along. That’s a real tragedy.