Reading: Luke 10:25-42
The man was a lawyer. So he should have known. After all, he was the expert. But he came to the teacher with a question. And the question was so basic. Did he really need to ask that? But, addressing Jesus with an appropriate title of respect, he asked, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (v.25)
It probably wasn’t an honest question after all. Luke mentions that he was, in fact, testing him. (v.25) It could have been the relatively harmless kind of verbal sparring that is common in all college classrooms and dorm rooms—wherever students and scholars tend to gather. It’s a kind of academic game, designed simply for each participant to discover what the other knows about any given subject. Or it could have been something more sinister. Increasingly, the questions seemed to be more agenda driven. And the agenda was to gather information to use against Jesus at a future trial. Whatever. It was a question the lawyer should have known the answer to—and Jesus quickly turned it back around upon him.
“What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” (v.26) Suddenly, the man was looking down the barrel of his own loaded gun. The teacher was very much in control of the classroom.
The law expert’s thoughtful response indicated that he had managed to connect some very important dots while he studied. He didn’t talk about the many prohibitions that had become so much a part of Jewish tradition by that time. He didn’t suggest any of the elaborate sacrifices that were at the center of daily Temple worship. He didn’t mention any of the things most of us point to whenever we want to assure ourselves, or others, of our eternal place in the heavenly home. In fact, he chose what most would consider the least demonstrable item on the entire heavenly check list. He said, in effect, that all we need is love. (With apologies to the Beatles)
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart . . . and your neighbor as yourself.” (v.27)
The teacher must have smiled as he voiced his approval. Good answer. I can see you’ve done your homework. Now, if you can only do this—you will live.
There must have been something about the gaze of the teacher that made the lawyer uncomfortable. So he did what he did most naturally. He immediately began looking for an artful dodge. He might have actually appeared smug as he responded, “And who is my neighbor?”
But for Jesus, the time for cute intellectual games was past. He immediately brought the philosophical discussion back to practical choices. He always does. And as he often did, he told a story. ((v.30-37)
The point of the story was that, rather than argue the technicalities about exactly who I am and am not responsible for; let’s just make a life decision to do good for people who need it. Whenever we can. Wherever we can. However we can. “Which of these three proved to be a neighbor to the man? . . . Go and do the same.” (v. 30-37) The thing that separated the Samaritan from the religious professionals was his ability to feel compassion (v.33) and show mercy (v.37) in a practical way. For him, love was not just a warm fuzzy feeling toward the whole wide world. It came down to a choice to get involved—even get dirty—on behalf of someone who really needed it. And it cost him something. This is the kind of real love that gets the attention of heaven. We make the decision to love—or not to love—day by day . . . case by case . . . one needy person at a time. In a real sense, we can’t possibly love everybody. But we can love that one person we’re looking at right now. Do this and live.
But what about the loving God part? The very next story addresses that question. Jesus stopped to visit his friends, Mary and Martha. This was the time that Martha got so caught up in the busyness of preparing the meal—and realized that she was doing it alone. Her frustration was understandable. I mean, there was Mary—just sitting there doing nothing.
Martha has received a lot of bad press about this through the years. We should be fair enough to recognize that she was probably just a servant by nature—and she was doing what she did most easily. Somebody has to cook the meal and sweep the floor and set the table. Servants understand that. But if they’re not careful, they can become easily exhausted—and then frustrated with everyone who doesn’t seem to understand that there’s work to be done. At that point, their greatest strength may become their undoing.
But let’s not lose sight of the main point. We’re talking about the practical daily choices that demonstrate whether we do, in fact, love the Lord with all our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, Often, our love for the Lord is indeed demonstrated by our work—our faithful service in his kingdom. In another context, Jesus stressed that our service for others was really an expression of our service for him. (Mt. 25:40) But there’s an ever present danger of burnout—unless we learn the secret of renewing our strength—drawing upon the strength God provides. (cf. I Pet. 4:8-11) And this is found as we make the daily choice to quiet ourselves—and sit at the feet of Jesus.
Soon enough, even Mary will be expected to get up and serve in whatever practical way might present itself. But for now, her love for the Lord was best demonstrated by her choice to quiet herself before him—and hear his words. We face the same choice every day.
So, when you think about it—love really is all you need. That is, of course, if our love is genuine—demonstrated in practical ways by our daily choices—as we continue to walk together on the road to Jerusalem.