I have recently been listening to a number of old episodes in the Phil Vischer podcast archives. Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales and What’s in the Bible?, is predictably quirky but surprisingly thoughtful. In one episode, he and co-hosts Christian Taylor and Skye Jethani were discussing Peter Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists, which Vischer had recently read. Boghossian, an avid, outspoken atheist, defines faith as believing something with no evidence. Vischer took exception to that definition. He detailed in the episode just how weak a definition that is and why it fails to support the author’s thesis.
He further critiqued the book in writing on his website, which led to written discussions with Boghossian and others before Boghossian agreed to appear on the podcast. There followed a civil and friendly discussion, modelling what discussion between disagreeing parties should look like. In the end, Boghossian agreed, if he was ever in Chicago, to accept a dinner invitation to Vischer’s house.
Some listeners expressed their disapproval that a Christian podcast would host an atheist guest. Most were happy to hear such friendly dialogue exemplified, but a small number expressed the same attitude of the lawyer whose question led to the parable of the Good Samaritan.
We all know the parable. In it, a Jewish man falls prey to a hijacking on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho and is left for dead. Soon, a priest and a Levite, travelling down the same road, see but ignore the injured man. Shortly thereafter, a Samaritan happens by. The Samaritan helps the injured man at some personal cost, proving to be a true neighbour.
We might draw a number of devotional principles from the parable, but one surely has to do with the Samaritan’s scandalous love. Jews and Samaritans hated each other. There was deep mutual prejudice and animosity. Jesus chose his characters carefully, illustrating that Christlike love crosses deeply prejudicial barriers.
If he told the parable to 21st-century evangelicals, he might substitute the Samaritan for an atheist. Or a Muslim. Or a gay or lesbian. His point would be the same: Christ-honouring love is sometimes scandalous in its prejudice-defying expression. Jesus frequently offended religious sensibilities in his deliberateness to be a friend to tax collectors and sinners. The parable of the Good Samaritan challenges us to do the same.
When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, he did not compromise orthodox theology. He stated plainly and unapologetically that Jewish theology was correct and Samaritan theology was faulty (John 4:22). But he did not shun her as other religious Jews did (John 4:9).
Christianity is rightly known for its opposition to godless beliefs and behaviour, but are we known, as Christ was known, for our love? What about that gay or lesbian colleague or family member? What about that Muslim neighbour? Are we known only for our (perceived) hate-filled opposition to their beliefs and behaviours, or are we seen to be good neighbours to them? Would we be characterised as friends of modern-day tax collectors and sinners—friends of gays and atheists and abortionists—or are we more Pharisaic in our approach to “those people”?
Jesus called the Samaritan woman to repentance. He called Zacchaeus to repentance. But he did do in the context of relationship. He did so in the context of —dare we say it?—friendship.
Jesus exhorted the lawyer to show the same scandalous love that he illustrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan. He calls us to do the same. As you consider this parable today, ask yourself, how can I show scandalous love to people in my orbit? Who has God brought across your path that most Christians would expect you to hate? Will you be a good Samaritan to them?