One day a man was walking the seventeen-mile long trail from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was brutally assaulted by rogue thieves. The man was beaten, stripped of his clothes, left half-dead as his attackers ran away. Sometime later, a priest was returning home from service in the temple and came upon the man, yet when he saw him lying there, he passed by on the other side. After this, another temple worker, a Levite encounters the victim but also does not stop to offer aid. Reading this begs the question, why would these temple leaders ignore a man in desperate need?
See in the Torah, there are 613 commandments which were consistently ranked by the leading rabbis of the day. One prominent rabbi 50 years before Jesus named Shammai, said that the two greatest commandments were to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength” and to “be holy as God is holy.” Holiness is a loaded word, isn’t it? It may be helpful to consider that at the time Jesus told the parable, holiness represented a purity code, which means that when someone was bleeding, they were considered unclean. So if a priest or Levite touched a bleeding person they would have to return back to the temple for a cleansing process that would keep them from serving at the temple for some time.
Let’s take this even farther. You, like me, may have been taught or assumed that the road to Jericho was a wide road. Turns out, it’s actually incredibly narrow. Imagine that for a moment. That implies that the two religious men who chose to remain pure for the temple rather than help a fellow man had to literally step over him, or at best maybe side-step past him. That changes things for me because it means they bore witness to his pain, saw his wounds, and still chose not to engage in a specific and meaningful way because of how they chose to rank the laws.
We all have the propensity to rank the laws differently than Jesus did. Sometimes we can even use language from the Bible to justify our actions, but it’s not actually loving our neighbor. Sadly our ranking of the laws often leads to us stepping over the abused, or side-stepping passed the racism directed towards the marginalized or choosing to stay silent when truth needs to be proclaimed from the mountaintops.
The Latin word for a priest is Pontifex, which fascinates me because “Pon” could be translated as a bridge and “fex” as a maker. Priests are supposed to be “bridge makers” to the abused, the oppressed, to the hurting, to those suffering, broken or wounded. Jesus says we are all a priesthood of believers, which means that we are all called to minister to, rather than step over, those who are victimized.
For the past six weeks, I’ve been off the grid traveling to various high school and family camps across the country. The WiFi hasn’t always been great and so this past week I’ve been catching up on what’s been happening in our world. My heart aches for what I missed. For how easy it is to step over, sidestep or simply stay silent on issues. Then ten days ago, my phone started buzzing as people told me about the last statement issued by the new elders of Willow.
I found the link and opened it with hope and expectation that truth would finally be spoken, but as I read it at the LAX airport between flights, my heart sank. Regardless of intention, the elders chose to step over and sidestep the women who had already been so victimized by the leadership of Willow. The truth wasn’t named, but reconciliation was advised again and again. Reconciliation is a beautiful word and so close to the heart of God, but scholars will tell you reconciliation isn’t possible if the truth is not named. To keep Jesus the main thing, you must embody the main thing, which is the fullness of grace and truth. Both are essential.
It’s taken me a while to make sense of this. My heart breaks for the women, for the congregation, for my own family who has faced much fallout in pursuit of the truth, and for the many who still are in the dark over what really happened. I know the truth has a way of always finding the light.
And like Jesus so beautifully does, he graciously points us back to the bigger story and gives us an example we would never expect. He reminds us of where “good” can come from. These good samaritans, or advocates of the marginalized, showcase what bridge making is all about by the way they break themselves open and pour themselves out. They are all around. Choosing the courageous path. These brave bridge makers truly resemble God’s heart. I don’t know about you, but I want to follow that better way and live fully into the truth. I pray the greater church can find the courage and grace to do so as well.
God, please raise up your holy bridge makers who choose not to look away but rather to fully see the powerless, the hurting, and the abused among us. And just like your son demonstrated, again and again, may we stand with them by speaking out and advocating on their behalf. May we own our sins and not be afraid to sit in the pain of admission of guilt, the sorrow of remorse, the humility of asking forgiveness. May we rediscover the power of your grace when we truly submit to it. By the light of the truth, may our church be set free.
Grace + Peace.