A story is told of John Wesley that as the church of England grew more and more dissatisfied with the new things he was doing–such radical things as preaching outdoors to large crowds and helping bring theology to the coal mines through popular hymns–that the established church like Jesus’ opponents of old, began looking for reasons to discredit this fiery upstart young evangelist. Like Jesus, Wesley was reaching out to the poor, adapting the church methodology to engage the regular folk. Wesley had experienced a turn around in his “strangely warmed” heart, and he wanted other people to experience the same sort of dynamic relationship with God he had found.
Anyway, the story goes that Wesley was given an invitation to come preach at the most prestigious venue in England, before a great crowd, many of whom were extremely educated and critical of what Wesley was up to. Wesley had good reason to suspect that they wanted him to preach before them to strain what he would say through a fine toothed come and find something “wrong” with his theology so they could denounce him and get things back on track with the status quo.
Wesley took the invitation, despite the many warnings of his closest family and friends. As he mounted the pulpit he openly told the crowd that they were about to hear the greatest sermon anyone had ever preached. “How arrogant!” thought his hearers, thinking they were seeing evidence of the “pride that comes before the fall.” But rather than preaching in his typical evangelist style a sermon of both great length and theological depth, geared toward persuading people to put their trust fully in the Lord, Wesley opened up his Bible and read verbatim Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It took less than ten minutes, and when he was finished he closed his bible and sat down. Wesley’s opponents knew that they were going to miss an opportunity to find fault that day. Criticizing what he was preaching would be to criticize the ethical teachings of Jesus himself!
We have been focusing on the story of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10:25-37 and God’s ethic of mercy exemplified by this seemingly dubious ne’er do well. The ethic of mercy taught in this parable is the same as one might find in the beatitudes, it is a thread that runs through the bulk of Jesus’ teachings, and not in subtle ways either: Jesus calls his followers to love even their enemies, to stamp out even the roots of hatred hiding in one’s heart.
Instructions for Fasting:
Fast one meal and spend the time you would normally be eating reading Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew chapters 5-7. Let your hunger or even boredom be reasons to connect with rather than disconnect with God. As you read these radical teachings about the mercy and justice we are to strive for as Christ’s followers, consider the broad movement of Jesus’ message: Jesus starts with virtues, not prohibitions, but at the end he calls those who would follow after Him to literally build their lives on his teachings. Consider the thread of mercy found throughout, and then reread Luke’s parable on the good Samaritan. How does the example set by the Samaritan connect with what Jesus teaches about mercy in the Sermon on the Mount? How is this contrasted with the man asking Jesus “but who is my neighbor?”