Luke 10,25-37 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love 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 he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.
Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, `Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise.”
Reflection A lawyer who is interested in protecting the conventions of Hebrew law, not to mention his personal elite status, stands up to test Jesus asking, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, being a wise rabbi, responds to the lawyer with another question, “Well, you are a lawyer, what does the law say?”
Without missing a beat the lawyer quotes two texts from the Torah. "You shall love 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.” Jesus replies, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live." Ten points for the lawyer. He knows the letter of the law.
But Jesus does not reply, “Congratulations you have rightly quoted the summary of the law and the prophets as written in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Jesus says, “DO this and you will live.” It seems the pharisaic lawyer is deaf to Jesus’ message and decides to argue a fine point, “Who is my neighbor?” No one would blame Jesus for shaking his head and walking away muttering, “What’s the use?” But, Jesus is merciful, does not give up on the self-satisfied lawyer and offers him a teaching tale.
A man is destitute, on the verge of death, desperately in need of help on a lonely stretch of desert. The situation seems utterly hopeless until a priest comes by and for a moment we breath a sigh of hope. But wait. The priest, who protects the orthodoxy of the Hebrew scripture crosses to the other side of the road and shows no mercy. At this very moment we take a collective breath and proclaim, “Isn’t that awful? Surely we would never do that.” Let us not be so quick to judge. There are Hebrew prohibitions against touching a corpse, the priest was merely being cautious. If the destitute man dies and the priest touches his corpse, the priest would be unclean.
Once again our hope for the destitute man rises when a Levite whose job is to assist the priests in worship in the temple but alas and alack, this presumptive holy Levite also crosses to the other side of the road and shows no mercy to the destitute man. Now our ire is really piqued. “How heartless? No doubt this pious Levite considers himself a righteous man. How could he be so callous?”
Are we beginning to sound a bit smug and sanctimonious? Is it time for us to pause and be honest with ourselves lest we don the mantle of self righteousness displayed by the lawyer, the priest and the Levite? How often do we cross the road, look the other way, drive by, change the channel, turn the page, silence the radio or ignore the opportunity to DO mercy? Let’s be honest. The way to live rightly is to "do mercy" which puts us in right relationship with God and with our neighbors. Whom have we passed by?
Here is the thing. Jesus does not commend us to go, study the law and the prophets like the lawyer. He does not charge us to enforce the orthodoxy of the faith like the priest nor does he direct us to master the traditions of worship like the Levite. No. Jesus commands us to “do mercy” by caring for whomever shows up along our way. “Do mercy” here and now because the Kingdom of Heaven is here, now, and we are intended to be the purveyors of God’s mercy.
Jesus teaches that it is more important to pay attention to this life than be concerned about an afterlife. When Jesus says to the lawyer, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live,” he does not say, do this and you will have a happily ever afterlife. Jesus says, “Do this, and you will live…” in right relationship with God, right here, right now, on earth.
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