March 6, 2022
SCRIPTURE READING: Luke 10:25-37
Sometimes Jesus’ stories are complex and shrouded in a cloud. It’s like Jesus wants us to NOT get it immediately but wants us to ponder the matter and have it dawn on us later. Other times they are so clear and to the point that we get the sharp end of the point even when we try our best to avoid it. Today’s encounter is of the latter variety, it seems to me.
This “expert in the law” is a religious lawyer – not a lawyer who, by the way, is religious, but a lawyer whose field of expertise is religion!. Can you imagine it? A professional whose task it is to understand all of the volumes of religious laws / rules of the time and then make sure the people in the congregation follow them. That’s what we need! It seems to me that we have plenty of them already!
His first question seems totally driven by self-interest. How do I get to the place where my future is assured, my place with God is secure? “Master, what must I do to be sure of eternal life?”
By the way, you might be interested to know that “Eternal life” was not much of a concept in O.T. times. Now, a lot of Christians in our time are very concerned about whether or not they have eternal life. Jesus’ answer to the question of eternal life was that we should not be so self-centered. Jesus’ answer was actually another question: “How do you read the law? What do you think?”
That’s an easy one! The lawyer quotes directly from the Old Testament Law: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind’, and ‘your neighbor as yourself’,” he replied. Jesus said he was right on the mark!
The lawyer was no dummy. Annoying, maybe and a little too honest for his own comfort! He figured that his life occupation would cover him in the loving God part. But, I think he hadn’t counted on how the neighbor reference would impact him. He knew inside himself what his deep attitudes were toward certain people or groups of people. He knew where the rough spots were, the ragged edges were in his soul.. As do we all if we are honest.
He was a lawyer, however, and clever with an argument, so, he proceeded to divert the conversation before it became too uncomfortable. “Who is my neighbor?”
The story that Jesus told as his answer was brilliant! There were two protagonists in his story. The first: “A man (read “Jew” – someone just like both Jesus and the lawyer- one of us!) was on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho.” This man fell among bandits – unscrupulous thieves. Left for dead alongside the road. Totally helpless and vulnerable. Dependent on the good will of whomever might pass by.
So who do you suppose was the first to pass by? A Priest: the Spiritual leader of the Synagogue. A little like a modern day Pastor. He was too busy, too repulsed by his beat-up Jewish brother. Then, a Levite: maybe like a deacon. Priest’s right hand man. Again, he, too, was so busy trying to get into heaven, to earn eternal life that he had no time for that poor dying man lying in his pathway. Both of the “professional” God-people passed the wounded man by.
And then, of course, the Samaritan, one of the local despicable. A 1st Century reject. It is this Samaritan (who would be expected to ignore the wounded, dying Jew) who noticed and stopped to help. Going out of his way. Paying out of his own funds. The unexpected generosity. This generosity is such an amazing lesson, but there is another lesson:
That is this: the way to eternal life, says Jesus, is two-fold: 1) loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind and 2) loving your neighbor as yourself. According to Jesus – that is the way to eternal life.
What I hear Jesus saying is: your neighbor is a person who is in need and who is right in your path. Also, it doesn’t matter how the world judges that person – even how the religious people around you judge them. And I believe Jesus is saying that we are to do what is there to be done to whomever is in our pathway. We must do the generous, compassionate thing to the best of our ability with whatever we have been given to do it with. That is, use whatever is in our hands.
You see, the way to eternal life is to stop seeing eternal life as something in the future but see it as what has already begun. It is now! There is no question about living with God THEN if we live with God NOW. To love God now is to love those and that which God loves now. All the things that are dear to God – the people God has created, the earth God gave us, and all the creatures that inhabit the earth.
If you think that the person lying on the road in your path seems impossible to love, that is an illusion. They would not be there if YOU couldn’t love them. If they are there and if they are in need and if you have something in your hand to help, they are your neighbor and they become your opportunity to love God by loving them. If that neighbor is annoying (what neighbors aren’t from time to time, including your neighbor’s neighbor!) that is irrelevant to the assignment.
So, this is not all that complex. You don’t have to worry about your own standing with God! You don’t have to worry yourself about what the guy lying on the road will do with the gifts you bring him. You don’t have to worry about whether or not they are worthy of your goodness. You just have to tend to the neighbor in need in your path with whatever resource you have and leave all the rest to God.
You just have been asked to love God THAT MUCH! With all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.