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The love which Jesus taught is as undiscriminating as the sun. It's very nature is to shine on all whether friend or foe, good or evil.
A certain lawyer stood up and tested Jesus, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?"
So he answered, "'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 'love your neighbor as yourself.'" Jesus said to him, "You have answered rightly; do this and you will live."
But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus said: "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
"By chance a certain priest came down that road. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side.
"But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.'
"Which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?" And he said, "He who showed mercy on him." Then Jesus said, "Go and do likewise."
Luke 10:25-37 NKJV, condensed
What Must I Do?
The questioner was called a lawyer, but his profession had nothing to do with the legal courts and everything to do with religious law and the books of Moses which today we know as the first five books of the Bible. This man was an expert. He interpreted those time-honored laws and taught people how to obey and observe them.
This scholar of ancient writings must have been listening to Jesus for awhile and noticed something new and radical in his words. So he asked Jesus a clear and precise question, hoping for a clear and precise answer. "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit the eternal life of which you speak?" What thing shall I do? What am I missing?
In the writings of Moses, the word "everlasting" was used to describe God and the covenant God made with his people. The Law was everlasting, as were the priesthood, the surrounding hills and Israel's possession of the land. It was Moses who wrote, "The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms." But Moses made no mention of eternal life.
We are told up front the lawyer was testing Jesus, which could make his motives suspect. Perhaps as an academic he was eager to scrutinize this popular traveling preacher. After all, what is religion without a good debate! That's a common attitude which keeps the faith external, way out there, at arm's length.
Jesus asked him what the Law said? Like, you're the expert; you tell me! To which the lawyer responded flawlessly--to love God above all else, with heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus approved enthusiastically, "Right, do this and you will live!" When love of God and love for neighbor becomes your normal practice, you will have eternal life.
The lawyer squirmed a little bit because it all came out so simply, as though he had asked an unnecessary question. So to relieve his embarrassment, he asked a second question, "Then who is my neighbor?" What are the limits, the boundaries to the concept of neighborliness? Who must I love? Who may I hate?
That is the buildup for the most widely known teaching of Jesus, the parable of the Good Samaritan. It's a story that cannot be held at a distance because it socks us in the eye, tears right into our heart and blows away every pretense of self-righteousness. The characters are a traveler who was mugged and left for dead; a priest who walked by and did nothing; a temple worker who looked at the injured man before walking away; and a despised Samaritan whose mercy and kindness went far beyond what the situation required.
At the end of the parable, Jesus asked the lawyer which player was the neighborly one? Once more, he gave the correct answer. There could be no doubt, and no deliberation; the hero was none other than the hated foreigner. Clearly this give and take had not ended up the way the lawyer anticipated. What was he to do with a bastard Samaritan sitting on his lap!
The implications of the story would have shocked everyone into silence. Which meant there was no excuse for not hearing the bottom line, "Go and do likewise." The kingdom of heaven is not something to be debated and discussed. You do not learn about eternal life by endless reflection. Loving God and neighbor requires continuous deeds of kindness and mercy.
How do we inherit eternal life? What must we do to claim and possess it? The kingdom of heaven which Jesus talked about is everlasting, and Jesus invites us to enter here and now. Even today! How? By following the example of the compassionate Samaritan. Tear down the walls of separation; we are all bound together and connected within the love of God. Anyone who needs a hand to lift, help or hold--that is my neighbor. If I love them, I will live.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: If you could ask Jesus any question you wanted to, what would it be?
The lawyer tested Jesus with a question. What have you tested lately? Why do people test things? What conclusion do you think the lawyer reached after talking with Jesus?
The most familiar part of Jewish law is the Ten Commandments (Exodus. 20:1-17). What are they about? How do you read them?The man in our text summed up the ancient Scriptures in terms of love. Is that how you think of the Old Testament? Is it about love?
Are you comfortable with the command to love God? Does loving God seem natural or unnatural to you? How likely is it that people are able to love what they have never seen or physically interacted with? When/If you love God, what exactly is the object of your love? Is it a person, a spirit, an idea or an ideal, or what? Explain any distinctions between loving God and loving the laws of God.
How does someone generate love for God? What is required on our part to fulfill our desire to love God and make it happen (or let it happen)? What is the evidence or the fruit which indicates that we love God?
How are love of God and love of neighbor related? Does one comes first before the other? Can you have one without the other?What is required on our part if we are going to "love our neighbor"?
Do you like the way Jesus answered the lawyer's question about how to receive eternal life? What are some common ways we hear that same question answered? Which is more important--correct theological interpretation or deeds of love and mercy? Why would Jesus use "the despicable unbeliever next door" as a model of Christian compassion!
Is it possible to know the right answer, but not get it right? Give an example from your life when you knew the right answer, but did the wrong thing. What do you need to do as a result of hearing this parable?