May 08, 2013

Confounded by Complexity

So many choices seem easy, until I think about them.

Do I intervene in my child's disagreement with that kid on the playground? Yes!
But... I don't want to handicap him.
But the adversary is an older kid, so my kid might not be heard unless I'm present.
But I want him to learn to fight his own battles.
And on and on and on, until I'm stuck in so many 'good reasons' that picking either option seems like I'm ignoring the good points of the other option.

I've been told that the devil loves complexity. Christianity is simple, as in, "Love your neighbor." -Not easy, mind you, but simple. The truth so often sounds like the speaker is being a child, and the deepest answers sound like they deserve a "no duh" response. It's when we start thinking and analyzing, over-thinking and over-analyzing, that we become stuck. Good intention dwindles in fear or indecision.

I re-read the parable of the Good Samaritan recently, in Kenneth Bailey's book Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes. Bailey lived and taught in the Middle East for 60 years, and I appreciate learning the cultural threads that add such depth and richness.

In the Good Samaritan, I used to think the priest and the Levite just couldn't be bothered by the inconvenience. This conclusion is too blunt. The priest was headed downhill from Jerusalem to Jericho, likely after serving two weeks at the temple. Jewish law required that he help a fellow Jew who was injured. Since the man was beaten (Bailey says bandits in the Middle East usually only beat a victim if the victim resists, so the man was likely unconscious), the priest didn't know if he was dead. Since the man was stripped, the priest didn't know if the man was Jewish, Greek, Syrian, or some other foreigner. If the priest touched a dead body or a foreigner, he would be unclean. He would receive no payment in tithes (nor would his family) until his cleansing was completed. If the priest tried to serve and was suspected of being unclean, it had happened before that a priest was dragged outside the temple and stoned. If the priest got this wrong, he faced the possibility of death. Rather than open a can of worms, the priest pretended not to see the victim and walked on.

The Levites were servants to the priests, kind of like assistants. Bailey says it's likely the Levite would have known the priest was ahead of him on the road, and may even have been that particular priest's assistant. What does the Levite do? He knows the priest walked past without helping. If the Levite helps, he is criticizing the priest's understanding of the law. The Levite is then elevating his understanding above the priest's--a huge insult. The Levite, too, decides to walk past.

We see complexity and foresee difficulties or hardship, so we do nothing. The Samaritan came down the same road and chose to help, despite complexity he faced, too. In today's terms, it's as if an undocumented immigrant saw an injured border patrol guard and carried the guard to a hospital for care. After staying all night with the injured patient, the Samaritan gives the innkeeper enough cash to cover several days, then pledges himself for any other expenses, too. Despite all that might have happened to the Samaritan, he helped. He saw a need, knew he was able to meet that need, and did so.

So often I'm confounded by what I think is complexity, when in fact I'm caught up in my convenience.

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