The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
July 31, 2022
Wrong Question— Right Answer!
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered: “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, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ Which one of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Have you ever known a lawyer? I’m not talking about knowing a lawyer because they helped you write a will or set up a trust or close a business transaction. Have you ever known a lawyer on a personal level— as a friend? I have only known one lawyer on a personal level. He was a member of my very first congregation. One thing I learned very quickly is that a lawyer (at least this lawyer) not only likes to ask questions, but they are very good at asking a question in such a way that they get their answer in the way the want. It’s like they are striving to “prove their case.”
That is the situation that we find here in our text for today. As we study this very familiar portion of Scripture let’s see how this lawyer, how this “expert in the law,” is a very good example of: Wrong Question— Right Answer!
The man who is described here as “an expert in the law” belonged to a class of Jews who devoted themselves to studying the Old Testament Scriptures with a special emphasis on the books of Moses, the Law. These men were considered to be the authority when it came to interpreting and teaching the Law of Moses. Unfortunately, they were so focused on the Law that they had lost sight of the fact that the books of Moses also contain and proclaim the Gospel! From their perspective Moses taught that salvation comes from doing what the Law requires.
Knowing who this man is, knowing how this man viewed salvation gives us a keen insight into the opening portion of our text. Luke writes, “On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘What is written in the Law?’ he replied. ‘How do you read it?’ He answered, ‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied, ‘Do this and you will live.’”
Note very carefully that the purpose of this lawyer’s question was to “test” Jesus. He addresses Jesus as “Teacher” because he wants to see if Jesus was as “qualified” as many people were claiming Him to be. As far as this lawyer was concerned he already knew the answer to his question. As far as he was concerned the only way to “inherit eternal life” was to “do” something! He just wanted to see how Jesus’ answer compared to what he already knew the correct answer to be!
Since Jesus was speaking to an “expert in the law,” Jesus turned the question around and asked the lawyer, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” How did the “expert in the law” respond? Even though he had asked the wrong question, he gave the right answer! Love God with your entire being and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus agrees with the lawyer and then tells him, “Do this and you will live.”
This lawyer, this “expert in the law” is a perfect example of the default setting of every human being— including you and me! “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Follow God’s Law! Keep the Ten Commandments! Live a good life! To all of this Jesus says, “Do this and you will live.” The problem, however, is that we can’t do this! Nobody can do this! As James reminds us, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). Picture God’s Law as a huge plate glass window. God says to us, “Do not break My window!” But we have broken God’s window haven’t we. It doesn’t make any difference if we throw a big rock through God’s window or a small rock. The window is broken. We have sinned. For that reason we do not deserve to “inherit eternal life.”
This lawyer, this “expert in the law” could not see his complete inability to keep God’s Law. He refused to admit that he had not met the demands of God’s Law. That comes out very clearly when Luke tells us, “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” How many times have we done something like that, my friends? How many times have we tried to set limits on God’s Law in the hope that we appear to be “righteous”— even according to God’s Law? How many times have we tried to convince ourselves that there are “exceptions” to God’s Commandments? How many times have we tried to deceive ourselves by saying, “I’m not really all that bad!” or, “At least I’m not as bad as so-and-so!” or, “It’s not my fault! So-and-so made me do it!”
How does the “Teacher” reveal the shortcomings of the “expert in the law”? He tells him what we all know as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Since we all know this parable so very well, let’s just highlight a few key points. One might think that a “priest” and a “Levite,” men who were the religious leaders among God’s Chosen People, would automatically be moved to help a fellow Jew who had been beaten and robbed and left in the road half dead, but no. Did they conclude that they were not “obligated” to help this man— since he was not a relative or a friend of theirs? Jesus never tells us why the priest and the Levite “passed by on the other side” of the road, but it’s obvious that they did not consider this man a “neighbor” who came under the command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Who did see this man as his “neighbor”? A Samaritan— someone whom the Jews considered to be unworthy in every single way! Since the Samaritans were a mixture of Jewish blood and Gentile blood and since the Samaritans only accepted the Books of Moses as being the inspired Word of God, the Jews considered them to be heathens— people who were outside the grace and the favor of God’s covenant with the descendants of Abraham.
Humanly speaking the Samaritan could have looked at this man who was beaten, robbed and left half dead in the road and said, “I am not going to help him! If the situation were reversed this man would not even think of helping me— so why should I help him?” But as we know, that’s not what happened! This Samaritan was filled with pity and compassion for someone who desperately needed help. In fact, this Samaritan was filled with so much pity and so much compassion that he not only personally took care of him, but he was willing to pay the innkeeper to look after the injured man. He even gave the innkeeper “two silver coins” which amounted to about two days’ worth of wages!
The “Teacher” then had the lawyer, the “expert in the law” answer his own wrong question— “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus did this by very simply asking him, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Unwilling to give credit to a Samaritan, the lawyer answered, “The one who had mercy on him.” To this Jesus replied, “Go and do likewise.”
Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan revealed to this “expert in the law,” this lawyer who wanted to know, “What must I do to inherit eternal life” that eternal life does not depend on what we do! Eternal life is based on what is in a person’s heart. If a person’s heart is not filled with love and compassion and pity for others they will never be able to “inherit eternal life”— no matter what they do!
Now if we were to end on that note, if we were to simply say that the Parable of the Good Samaritan is designed to teach us that if we want to “inherit eternal life” we need to make sure that our heart is filled with love and compassion, mercy and pity for others, then we would go home with a complete misunderstanding of what Jesus is teaching us here!
Yes, Jesus wants us to be careful that we do not follow the example of the priest and the Levite and simply “pass by on the other side of the road” when we see someone who needs our help. Yes, Jesus wants us to follow the example of the Good Samaritan and do whatever we can to help others— even if it means using our own resources to do so. But most importantly we are to see the Parable of the Good Samaritan as a picture of what Jesus has done for us!
With that perspective in mind, let’s recognize that we are the person who was traveling down the road of life and was overpowered by “robbers.” We are the ones who were knocked down, beat up and ripped off— by the devil, by the world and by our own sins. We are the ones who were by nature spiritually dead and awaiting eternal death. We were the ones that nobody wanted to help, the ones nobody could help. Then like the ultimate Good Samaritan Jesus came to help us!
I did a little research on the word that is translated here in our text as “he took pity on him.” This verb is found only in the Gospel accounts. It is used twelve times. The most literal translation of this word is found in the account of the widow at Nain. There we are told that when Jesus saw the widow preparing to bury her only son, “His heart went out to her” (Luke 7:13). This word is used in the account of the father who came to Jesus begging Him to “take pity on us and help us” (Mark 9:22) because his son had been possessed by an evil spirit. This word is used in three parables that express the unbounded mercy God shows to us— the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18) and the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Every other time this word is used it emphasizes Jesus’ compassion for us!
How does this help us to understand and apply the Parable of the Good Samaritan? It pictures for us what the Son of God was willing to do for us! Since there was nothing we could do to “inherit eternal life,” since we were by nature robbed, beaten up and left bleeding on the side of the road of life by the devil, by the world and by our own sinful flesh, Jesus’ “heart went out to us.” Jesus revealed His unbounded mercy and compassion for us— right there on the cross of Calvary’s hill! (Pointing to the cross)
Does Jesus now want us to reach out and help others? Yes, He does! Does Jesus want us to have mercy and show compassion for others? Yes, He does! But He wants us to do this because we know the right answer to the wrong questions that too many people are still asking right down to this very day! The wrong question is, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The right question is, “What has Jesus done for me (Pointing to the cross) so that I might inherit eternal life?” The wrong question is, “Who is my neighbor?” The right question is, “To whom can I be a neighbor?”
May God grant that unlike the lawyer, unlike the “expert in the law” here in our text, we will always be focused on the right questions— questions that are based on the right answers!
To God be the glory!