I read recently in the book, Gospel Justice, about the parable of the good Samaritan. The book focused on the priest who failed to cross the road to help an injured man. Bruce Strom offers a few possibilities about where the priest was going and why he was in too big of a hurry to help the injured man.
As I reflect back on what Bruce wrote, I can imagine God asking the question to the priest that hangs in the air: where are you going?
Where are you going?
God might ask that question not because He doesn’t know. God knows our every move and the words we are about to speak even before we say them. God might ask that question because He wants us to stop and think about it.
Where are you going?
Most people would have an answer of course. My 20-year-old might say that she is going to take a semester off of college to work, not knowing what college will look like in the fall with the virus outbreak still ongoing. My 25-year-old might say he is taking a year off before starting grad school. My 27-year-old might say that he is working, saving enough money for a security deposit, and the first and last months of rent for an apartment that he will need if he gets the job as a grad assistant that he has applied for.
My 30-year-old might say he is going into his second year of seminary. My 33-year-old might say he is going to keep mulching and working from home until the stay-at-home order is lifted and he can go back to work. My 34-year-old might say that he is going to patent a UV light that kills the coronavirus.
We might have longer term answers, too. I joke that I am going to work until I am 80 to pay off the college debt I incurred for my kids. I think about the possibility of retirement, as remote as it seems.
The priest in the parable might have been going home or going to church or going to visit a friend. He might have even being going to help someone in need. The priest might have had a good destination in mind, but the parable is clearly meant to contrast the priest to the “Good Samaritan”.
Of course, “good” and “Samaritan” were two words that Jews in first century Judea would not have put together. Samaritans were heretics and second-class citizens in the Jewish world at that time.
And of course, Jesus chose a Samaritan to drive home the point that the Good Samaritan, not the priest, did the “right” thing in that parable. He did the better thing. He stopped to help the injured man on the side of the road.
It didn’t matter where the priest was going, ultimately; he passed up the divine opportunity to help the man right in front of him.
If God was asking the priest, “Where are you going?” I don’t think he would be looking for the immediate answer. If the priest said he was going to the temple to perform his priestly duties, I think God might have asked him again, “Where are you going?”
We all have places to go, things to do, people to see. We all have goals and aspirations. I imagine God asking this question, not about the destinations, goals and aspirations we have planned, but about the journey: what direction are you moving in?
When two of my sons were wrestling, I would sometimes say to them (and myself): “It’s not about the winning and losing; it’s about the journey.”
The ultimate question about the journey of life is this: Who are you becoming?
When I was young, I couldn’t always answer the question about where I was going. Maybe that’s because I thought the question was about a destination.
I was fond of the adage: a ship at anchor can not be steered. That adage motivated me to keep moving in some direction, but the destination aspect of the question always loomed larger than the direction I was going. We tend to focus on destinations.
Having a destination, an end goal, is certainly not a bad thing. In fact, it’s important. If we have nothing as a goal, we are certain to hit it every time.
On the other hand, if we shoot for the stars, we might have to settle for hitting the moon, but we might never have hit the moon without shooting for the stars.
Goals and aspirations aren’t bad things, but the goals we have, and the direction we are heading needs to be considered in light of who we are becoming.
Who we are becoming is ultimately wrapped up in God’s purpose for our lives.
We often think about God’s purpose in terms of what we do – determining and reaching certain goals and aspirations. We might even think of God’s purpose in terms of the direction we are heading, but I think that maybe God’s purpose for our lives is more about who we are becoming.
Ultimately, God desires us to become His children.
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God….” (John 1:12)
Have you ever stopped to think about the fact that those who receive Him, those who believe in His name, He gives “the right to become children of God”? The right to become….
We don’t reach the ultimate destination when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. That’s only the beginning of the journey. Jesus calls us to pick up our crosses and follow him. (Luke 9:23). Where you are going, if you are a follower of Jesus, is following after him, and the journey involves becoming a child of God. (Phil. 2:14)
We do this by working out our salvation as God works within us to will and act according to His good purpose (Phil. 2:12-13); and the ultimate goal is being conformed to image of Jesus, the firstborn among the children of God. (Rom. 8:29)
When God asks, “Where are you going?”, what, then, is your answer?
Paul said to the Galatians, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Gal. 5:6) Jesus said it this way: the greatest commandment (the greatest destination) is to love God, and the second greatest is to love your neighbor. (Matt. 22:36-40)
This is how we follow Jesus. This is how we become children of God and are conformed to His image.
Paul was saying to the Galatians, it isn’t about circumcision. It isn’t about religious rituals. For the priest that passed up the injured man on the road, we might say it isn’t about going to the temple.
Ultimately, it isn’t about our destinations – our goals and aspirations – at all; it’s about the purpose of God. The purpose of God is that we become like Him so much that he calls us His children. This is both something that we do and something that God does in us to will and to act according to His good purpose.
“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:15-17)
Clearly, the moral of the story of the Good Samaritan is that nowhere the priest was going was more important than helping the injured on the road right in front of him. That story prompts us to consider where it is that we are going in similar fashion.
Where we are going needs to be considered in the context of God’s ultimate purpose if it is going to have any lasting meaning for us. In some sense, it doesn’t matter where we are going at the present moment, where we are going with our goals and aspirations and even the direction we are going in. The thing that matters most is where we are going, as in who we are becoming!