Conversations with Christ – 2. The Lawyer Who Wanted a Loophole
Christ Speaks to the Problem of Religious Hypocrisy Luke 10: 25 - 37
Laws are good and necessary but they cannot change the human heart. If we say, “I don’t want to get involved,” no law can make us act differently. We are always free to pass by on the other side if we want to. The Parable of the Good Samaritan is a wonderful story and we know it well. Every day we are on the “road to Jericho” and every day we cross paths with wounded travellers by the road. Will we pass by on the other side? Will we say, “I don’t want to get involved?” Let’s turn to a lawyer who asked Jesus a question trying to trick him. Here is a conversation with Jesus that didn’t turn out the way the man expected.
1. The Question v. 25 - 29
In Jesus’ day a lawyer was someone who knew the OT, was trained in theology and was gifted in public debate. The religious leaders probably sent him in order to trap Jesus into saying something foolish. He asked a very important question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He wanted to know how to go to heaven. This is the ultimate question of the human heart. All religions offer some kind of answer to that question. What will Jesus say? To the lawyer’s dismay, he answers a question with a question: “You know the Bible backwards and forwards. What does it say?” The lawyer gave the right answer. If you want to go to heaven, you’ve got to love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind. And while you’re at it, you’ve got to love your neighbour as yourself. Jesus compliments the man: “That’s good.” Then Jesus threw him a curved ball, “Do this and you will live.” Was Jesus teaching salvation by works? Not at all. He was pointing out that if you could truly love God and love others perfectly, you would have eternal life. God demands perfection. That means loving God always, every second of every day, with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, never deviating from that from the moment you are born until your final breath. That also means loving other people perfectly all the time. That’s God’s standard. It’s perfection or nothing. Jesus is telling the man, “You want to go to heaven? Great! Be perfect and you’ll make it.” But no one can do that. We’re all sinners. That’s why we need the gospel. Now the lawyer is starting to sweat. I’m sure he regrets ever saying anything. It’s like raising your hand to ask a question in class and then having the teacher make you look like a fool. Jesus had painted him into a corner and now he wants out. He knew he loved God. But what about the loving-my-neighbour part? So he asks one further question: “Who is my neighbour?” I don’t think he’s really sincere. The lawyer already had his own answer to this question. He read the command this way: “Love your Jewish neighbour as yourself.” His definition excluded Samaritans and Gentiles. He would be a neighbour to other Jews and no one else. He wants a definition so he’ll know who he has to help and who he can ignore. He wants Jesus to draw a circle. He’ll gladly love everyone in the circle but he doesn’t want to be bothered with anyone outside the circle. So Jesus draws him a circle—and it’s a lot bigger than he bargained for. When we say, “Tell me who I have to love” - really saying -“Tell me who I don’t have to love.” This lawyer wanted a loophole, a legal limit on who he had to love. Jesus is about to explode his loophole and blow his mind at the same time. Jesus doesn’t directly answer the question. He simply tells a story.
2. The Parable v. 30 - 35
Even though we call this a parable, I tend to think it was based on a true story. There is nothing in the details that could not have happened in real life. It begins with a “certain man” who journeyed from Jerusalem to Jericho. He is probably a Jew but it doesn’t matter. He was a human being in trouble and that was enough. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was called “The Bloody Way” because of robbers who found hiding places from which they could attack unsuspecting travellers. It was a thieves’ paradise, and this “certain man,” travelling alone, fell victim to their evil designs. Evidently they waited until he came in view, then jumped him, beat him, stripped him, robbed him and left him for dead. Unfortunately the robbers forgot to hang a sign around his neck that read “Neighbour.” Or maybe they stole that too!
Eventually a priest came by who was on his way home to Jericho after fulfilling his duties at the temple in Jerusalem. We can imagine that he was in a hurry to see his family. Jesus says that the priest saw the beaten man lying by the side of the road—looking more dead than alive—and seeing him, he deliberately passed by on the other side. I imagine that he felt sorry for the man but whatever sorrow he felt must have been overcome by a sense of caution and perhaps revulsion. So he continued on his journey without stopping to help.
Soon a second man came by. He was a Levite - like lay priests who helped in the temple service. He was both better and worse than the priest. When he saw this poor fellow lying by the road, beaten half to death, he went over to have a closer look. That was the better part. Perhaps he decided there was nothing he could do. So he too went to the other side of the road and continued on his way. That was the worse part. Priests and Levites were highly respected men - they knew the Law of God and were able to teach it to the people. They were the true religious leaders of their day, yet they both passed by. The story doesn’t tell us why they didn’t stop and help this man. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. After all, we all have our excuses when we don’t want to do something. Here are some seemingly legitimate excuses these men might have offered for passing by on the other side: I’m too busy to stop. I’m late already. I don’t know him. It may be a trap of some kind. I’m not a doctor. He’s probably already dead. Someone else will come along who can help him better than I can. I’ve been serving God all week and I’m tired. I tried to help someone like this before and it blew up in my face. There could be a court case and I don’t want to get involved. The family is expecting me. I can’t be late. I’ve got a prayer meeting tonight. I’m wearing my temple garments. I can’t get them dirty. I don’t have enough money to help him. I’m too busy worshipping God. When I get to Jericho, I’ll call 911 and have them send help. The priest walked on - “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” The Levite walked on -“Our God is an Awesome God.” Here is the irony of the story. Both men are truly and deeply religious. If you asked them, “Do you love God?” they would answer, “Of course we do.” And they would have meant it. They were men who spent their days worshipping God and leading others to worship God. It is against that background that their failure seems so great. They both have come from God’s presence but somehow God’s presence never got through to them. And now comes the hero of the story—the Samaritan. The Jews and Samaritans hated each other. The Jews thought the Samaritans were half-breed heretics. The Samaritans thought the Jews were arrogant know-it-alls. If the poor man by the side of the road had been a Samaritan, the priest and Levite would have said, “He got what he deserved.” The Samaritan has no more reason to stop than the priest or the Levite. He was probably on his way home too. I’m sure he was busy and tired and eager to see his family. All the excuses the other 2 might have made, he might have made as well. But he didn’t. The Bible says that when he saw the man, he had pity on him - idea of being deeply moved. The Samaritan had compassion. Compassion is “your hurt in my heart.” It is emotion plus motion! We remember this Samaritan for one reason: He did something! The others passed on by, but he stopped and helped the man. Jesus doesn’t say that the others didn’t feel compassion. Maybe they did, but they didn’t do anything about it. Compassion means nothing unless it moves us to action. So he bandaged his wounds and poured on oil and wine, which was a form of simple first aid. He put the man on his own donkey. He took him to an inn for travellers, paid for a room, spent the night there, and gave the innkeeper 2 silver coins. That represented 2 days’ wages. He even promised to come back and take care of any extra expenses. We can summarize what he did this way. His help was prompt, thorough, generous, self-denying, to his own discomfort and at his own expense. In him we see the attentive look, the compassionate heart, the helpful hand, the willing foot, and the open purse. Here is the sore point: The two men who should have shown compassion—didn’t! The one who wouldn’t have been expected to—did! The religious leaders knew the truth and did nothing. The Samaritan was an outcast, but he knew the truth and his compassion moved him to action. So Jesus turns the tables.
3. The Application v. 36 - 37
In the beginning the lawyer had asked, “Who is my neighbour?” He wanted a definition and a limitation - Jesus changes the question. Not “Who is my neighbour?” But “Whose neighbour am I?” - world of difference.. To ask “Who is my neighbour?” is to focus on what claim others have on my time and energy and resources. To ask “Whose neighbour am I?” is to focus on what I owe to the suffering people all around me. When true love sees a need, it meets a need. It does not wait to be commanded nor wait to see how far it must go before taking the first step. True love says, “All the world is my neighbourhood and all the hurting are my neighbours. I will do what I can to help whoever I can whenever I can by whatever means are available to me, with God’s help.” Notice how the lawyer answers Jesus. The true neighbour was “the one who had mercy on him.” He’s so prejudiced that he won’t even use the word Samaritan. Jesus’ application is simple and to the point: “Go and do likewise.” Let’s go back to the lawyer’s question: Who is my neighbour? In light of this story, we can answer the question this way: My neighbour is anyone in need whose path I cross whose need I am able to meet. In that light you never know when you’ll run into a neighbour. You will find neighbours everywhere you go. John Wesley - “The world is my parish.” With this story Jesus is teaching us to say: “The world is my neighbourhood.” Do not say, I will do more when I know more. No! We know too much already. Act on what you know and God will bless you. Do not say, If I am ever going down a lonely road and happen to see a dying man, I will stop and help him. No, that man is all around us. He is young, old, male, female, rich, poor, black, white, Asian, a beggar, a divorcee, a cancer victim, an AIDS patient, an out-of-work engineer, a single parent, a lonely widow, a new arrival from another country. He doesn’t look or act or sound like you but he is there anyway and God has put him in your path. You can’t avoid him. What will do you? Will you walk on by? Start with the need that is near you and God will give you grace. Your religion is empty if it does not compel you to reach out to those who are hurting whose path you cross. We have plenty of priests and a truckload of Levites. Where are the Good Samaritans? This week all of us will walk the Jericho road. Sooner or later we are bound to meet someone in need. Do not ask, “Who is that man and how did he get there?” Do not ask, “Is this friend or foe?” Do not ask, “Do I know this person?” Do not ask, “What did he do to deserve this?” Do not ask, “Is he of my religion?” Is he of my colour? Is he of my family, my tribe, my background, my language, my people? If he is in need and you can help him, he is your neighbour. Will you be his neighbour? Once upon a time a man fell into a pit and couldn’t get himself out. A sensitive person came along and said, “I feel for you down there.” A practical person came along and said, “I knew you were going to fall in sooner or later.” A Pharisee said, “Only bad people fall into a pit.” A mathematician calculated how he far he fell. A news reporter wanted an exclusive story on his pit. A self-pitying person said, “You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen my pit.” A mystic said, “Just imagine that you’re not in a pit.” An optimist said, “Things could be worse.” A pessimist said, “Things will get worse.” Jesus, seeing the man, took him by the hand and lifted him out of the pit! Jesus, the Good Samaritan In this story we see the gospel of Jesus Christ. Ever since Eden, the human race has been on a journey. We’ve been going down, down, down into the valley. We were attacked by Satan and left for dead. He robbed us of our dignity and stripped us of our righteousness. Along came the Good Samaritan himself—the Lord Jesus Christ. He bound our wounds, he carried us to safety, he paid our debt, and he guaranteed our future. He has shown mercy to us when we were left for dead by the side of the road. Jesus is the Good Samaritan. Here is a message for those who are still lying by the road, wounded and bleeding, forgotten and abandoned. This is for those who feel hopeless and helpless. This is for those who have been destroyed by sin. Jesus comes to help you. Will you not give him your heart? Will you not love him and trust him and serve him? Will you not believe in him? The Good Samaritan comes to save you. Will you not come to him and trust him as Lord and Saviour? I close with this word to those he has rescued: Look to your Master and remember what he did for you. Fix your eyes on Jesus who left heaven for you. Remember that when everyone else passed by, Jesus stopped to save you. Then in his name and in his power and with his strength and for his glory, Go and do likewise, and the Lord will be with you. Amen.