“When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem.” The journey continues and today marks the 3rd stop on the way to the cross.
Along the way so far we have witnessed the way people respond to Jesus Christ. Some receive Him gladly and some gladly reject Him. Some receive His messengers into their homes and hear His name and His word proclaimed, and some shut the door and say, ‘go away.’
We watched the 72 return from their first missionary adventure all excited that “even the demons are subject us in your name,” only to hear Jesus respond with, “do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Now on this 3rd stop on the journey, we meet a man who wants to know HOW he might be sure that HIS NAME will be one of those that are “written in heaven.”
“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test…” This is the kind of thing that LAWYERS love to do. “Lawyers” are experts in the “LAW.” They know it inside and out and they know how to apply it to specific situations. So, what if you’re chopping wood and the head of your axe comes flying off the handle and strikes another person and kills them? Are you guilty of murder or not? Are you as guilty as if you used the same axe to INTENTIONALLY hit and kill the same person? What does the LAW say?
Why do you want to know? Is this a real dilemma or are you just ‘testing’ this lawyer to see if he’s any good? Maybe you’re looking for a good lawyer to handle your case and you want to know if this one will represent you well.
Of course all of this is perfectly legitimate if you’re looking for a good lawyer, but not if you’re looking for a good God. “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Luke 4:12). God has submitted all the EVIDENCE that is needed to sufficiently demonstrate that He is a very good God, in fact the only good God there is. Our job is to simply believe and follow in faith that is based on the evidence.
But of course this lawyer hasn’t seen all of the evidence yet. He hasn’t seen the evidence that you and I have seen – the most convincing piece of evidence there could ever be – the Son of God breathes His last and dies on a cross – and the Son of God is raised from the dead on the 3rd day and lives and reigns to all eternity. Once you’ve seen that piece of evidence, all the ‘testing’ needs to stop. “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Stop all of your doubting and just believe that He is a good God.
But this lawyer hasn’t seen all the evidence yet. And so the Son of God is incredibly patient with him.
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
This lawyer has put this itinerant Rabbi on the stand, not realizing that he has just put AUTHOR OF THE LAW on the stand.
It’s an odd way to put the question. “What must I DO to inherit eternal life?” He clearly understands that ‘eternal life’ is something that is inherited. What he seems to be asking is, what must I DO to be sure that I will be in the WILL so that when GOD DIES and His WILL is opened and read, I will be one of the heirs.
But of course, he’s probably not thinking in terms of GOD DYING. That would be absurd. Any ‘lawyer’ worth his paycheck knows that GOD DOESN’T DIE. And maybe that’s why Luke tells us that this was really just a ‘test.’
Right away, Jesus shows just how skillful with HIS OWN LAW He is. He puts this lawyer on the stand and puts his to the ‘test.’ “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” Literally, how do you ‘recite’ it? How do you recite it every Sabbath day in the Synagogue like we recite the Creed every Sabbath day in worship.
And so the ‘lawyer’ recites, “You shall over the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
And Jesus replies, ‘there you go. You’ve answered your own question.’ “Do this and you will live.”
And now the ‘lawyer’ realizes that this trial is NOT moving in the direction that he had intended. He is smart enough to understand that if that’s WHAT HE MUST DO TO INHERIT ETERNAL LIFE – LOVE God and LOVE my neighbor, it’s impossible.
It’s impossible because as long as he is ‘loving’ God and ‘loving’ his neighbor SO THAT he might inherit eternal life – it’s all about what’s in it for ME. And that’s not LOVE. It’s only LOVE WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND SOUL AND STRENGTH AND MIND when it’s all about GOD and my NEIGHBOR and if I go to hell I go to hell, but I’m doing what is good and right for my God and my neighbor because it’s the good and right thing to do.
The lawyer understands that it’s impossible to keep the law to LOVE as long as the motive is for personal gain. But rather than quit the TESTING and REPENT and become the STUDENT, he moves for a mistrial based on a technicality. “Who is my neighbor?”
He wanted Jesus to untangle that confusing complex of variables such as bloodline and race and nationality and liberal or conservative, democrat or republican, pro-life or pro-choice, believer or unbeliever and on and on and on until it becomes IMPOSSIBLE TO DETERMINE just “who is my neighbor.”
In reply, Jesus gives this lawyer “a man…” with no variables whatsoever. Just “a man…” We don’t know his race, nationality, political affiliation, whether he’s married or single, has children, a steady job, gay or straight, a Red Sox or a Yankees fan? We don’t know if this ‘man’ is a ‘good’ man or a ‘bad’ man.
And so Jesus redirects the lawyer’s question. This is not about If it’s all about LOVE, then it’s not about who qualifies as ‘my neighbor’ and who doesn’t. Its all about ‘being a neighbor.’
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.”
The question is, ‘who will be a neighbor to him?’ Not the Priest or the Levite. They SEE this man, but immediately disqualify him as being ‘my neighbor,’ and pass by on the other side of the road. They had their reasons for doing so I’m sure. “I’ve got responsibilities and others are depending on me to be somewhere to do something. It would actually be irresponsible of me to stop to help this man because I would not fulfill my responsibilities.’ Or something like that.
“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.”
A Samaritan was on a ‘journey’ just like we are. And when his journey took him to ‘a man,’ he allows his journey to be interrupted. He had “compassion.” ‘Splagnidzo.’ His ‘guts’ ached for this man. That’s what LOVE feels like.
No qualifying questions asked, he binds up his wounds, and spends his precious wine and oil on the man. He puts him on his donkey while he walks. He takes him to an inn where he can rest and recover and pays for everything. And then he promises to come back again.
And then Jesus asks the closing question. “Which of these three, do you think, proved to BE A NEIGHBOR to the man who fell among the robbers?” “He said, ‘the one who showed him mercy.” “And Jesus said, ‘go and do likewise.’”
I want to be sure that we see what Jesus has done here. The lawyer asked Jesus, “what MUST I DO to inherit eternal life.” And maybe we good Lutherans expected Jesus to say, ‘my good man, you’ve got it all wrong. It’s not about ‘doing’ is only about ‘believing.’ You don’t have to ‘do’ anything. Just believe.’
But that’s not what Jesus does here. “GO AND DO likewise.” All the right faith in the world without works is dead. We can RECITE all the right things in worship every Sabbath day so that we can RECITE them right back again when we need to, but if we never actually DO anything with it, it’s just words. All the right faith in the world without works, and the man is still lying in the road, and where’s the LOVE in that?
But it’s not just about DOING either. The fact is, we cannot GO AND DO LIKEWISE apart from faith and faith comes first. First, we believe in Jesus Christ and that He has written our names in heaven and GOD’S LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT HAS BEEN SEALED WITH HIS BLOOD.
By faith alone, we KNOW that we shall inherit eternal life. Now we can stop trying to earn it. We can stop worrying about ourselves and watching out for ourselves. Which sets us free to actually SEE our neighbor and have COMPASSION for HIM and allow our JOURNEY to be interrupted to love our neighbor as ourselves.
For the One who is merciful is the One who is telling this story. Jesus is the One who “loves the Lord God with all of his heart and soul and strength and mind and loves His neighbor as himself.” He is the One who ‘sees’ men and women, boys and girls, robbed, beaten, half dead, helpless to save themselves, WHO HAS COMPASSION and comes to us and pours out His oil and wine onto our wounds and carry us to His Church that we may be cared for and have His rest while He feeds us His Word and His Supper. And He is the One who promises to come again and settle the account, once and for all.
Unfortunately, Jesus leaves the outcome of this parable open. What became of that ‘man’ after he was saved by his neighbor? And Luke doesn’t tell us how the lawyer responded either. It would have been nice to know.
What could be a more tragic ending to the parable than for the man who was rescued by the Samaritan, as he leaves the Inn and returns to his home, to come by a man lying in the road, beaten, robbed and half dead, and pass by on the other side of the road?
What could be a more tragic outcome for the lawyer than for him to reject Jesus and join that chorus of lawyers all shouting, “crucify Him, crucify Him.”
I suppose the best we can do is decide how this story will go for us.