Are You Impressed?

  I was in the congregation when the pastor of a Baptist church in Florida made a startling confession. "My message today is on the parable of the Good Samaritan," the pastor announced. "Let me start with an illustration. "Do you remember last year when the Browns came forward to join the church?" Everyone nodded. The Browns were an attractive, middle-class family, friendly, outgoing, influential in the community. Sure, everyone knew the Browns. Suddenly the pastor switched gears. "Well, the same morning a young man came forward," he said. "He gave his life to Christ that day." Surprised murmurs rippled through the sanctuary. No one remembered the young man. The pastor picked up his story. "Well, after that day we worked with the Browns, got them involved in the church, signed them onto committees. "But the young man . . . ," the pastor paused. "Well, we could tell he needed help. We gave him counseling, but then lost track of him. "That is, until yesterday." Here the pastor held up a newspaper. "As I was preparing my message, I picked up this paper. And here was a photo of the young man. He was charged with killing an elderly woman." A hush fell over the congregation as the pastor continued: "I never followed up on that young man. And now I realize that I am the priest in the story of the Good Samaritan-the man who saw someone in trouble and crossed to the other side of the road. "I am a hypocrite." In the silence that followed, we realized we were all guilty. We had acted exactly the way God warns against in the second chapter of James: We had welcomed the rich man and snubbed the poor man. How easy it is for Christians to adopt the world's standards, judging people by how rich and powerful they are. How easy to think, If only we can bag this one or that one, we'll have a real catch for the kingdom. But the church is true to its calling only when we radically reverse the values of the outside world. This was a lesson I had to learn in prison. One day I was reading the book of Hebrews in my cell, and I came across the passage that says for our sake Jesus was willing to become a human being just like us--that He calls us His brothers and sisters. That struck me hard: The God of the universe calls me His brother. And suddenly I realized I had to do the same: Sitting in that cell, I had felt I was better than the people around me--car thieves, drug dealers, murderers. Now I realized God had placed me in that prison in order to teach me I must call even prisoners my brothers. This is the meaning of the parable of the Good Samaritan: It deflates our worldly sense of self-righteousness and teaches us that the poor, the down-and-out, and, yes, even the prisoner is our neighbor. When the church takes this truth to heart, it demonstrates to the world a different standard: one that doesn't cater to the great and powerful, one that offers service and compassion to those Jesus called "the least of these, my brethren." When we can call all true Christians our brothers and sisters, then the church will become a foretaste of the coming kingdom of God.


Chuck Colson


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