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Do Good

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Luke 10:25–37  

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 was attacked by 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, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii 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 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.”

Consider This

Before we begin with today’s text, I want to share the answer to yesterday’s pop quiz. How many distinct prayers do we have recorded from the mouth of Jesus? Answer: nine.

Now to today’s text, which demonstrates the sheer brilliance of Jesus.

The expert in the law comes to test one he calls the teacher. He sees in Jesus a peer of sorts. He is about to get schooled.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Note how Jesus immediately turns the test around by asking the expert in the law about his own subject matter. Jesus refuses to play defense. It’s a good lesson for his followers.

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He takes the bait—hook, line, and sinker. Eager to get it right, he responds, “‘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.’”

Jesus gives him an A with a short teacher’s note to the effect of, “It’s not enough to get the answer right. You have to actually do it.” He seems prepared to leave it at that.

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

As far as Jesus is concerned, it’s class dismissed. The expert, however, can’t leave it alone. Remember, he’s trying to test the “Teacher.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Here’s what I think he was asking: Who is not my neighbor? These first-century lawyer types wanted to determine who they didn’t have to love. Just like with the Sabbath, and their focus on the meaning of the word work, this time it was the word neighbor. They wanted to prove their perfect compliance with the demands of the Law (i.e., to justify themselves).

In my peripheral vision I can see the disciples off to the side turning to one another with wincing looks of, “He just said the wrong thing!” “The expert is about to get it handed to him.”

Rather than a frontal smackdown assault, Jesus lays a story trap. He will lead this expert down a path where he will be confronted with the absurdity of his own outlook.

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.”

A man is all we get. Attacked, robbed, stripped, beaten, and left for 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.”

The expert’s notion of the Law is under scrutiny now. Of course, the priest and the Levite couldn’t get near this guy. It would make them ceremonially unclean, which would prevent them from performing their religious responsibilities in the temple (heaven forbid!). The Law, meant to illuminate all of life, had through their misguided interpretation become the source of their blindness. The priest and the Levite saw the bleeding man. The trouble was they didn’t have eyes to see him.

At the same time, the expert is confronted with the urgency of the life-and-death situation at hand. Somebody needs to help this poor soul. He’s probably asking himself W.W.M.D.? (What would Moses do?). Jesus, the Master Storyteller, artfully dances with the expert like a prize fighter. Jab. Jab. Jab.

“But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.”

BOOM! Right hook! But a Samaritan . . . Really?! The expert’s jaw drops, but Jesus doesn’t indict him just yet with the neighbor question. What fascinates me is what Jesus doesn’t do here. If I were telling the story, I might just leave it at, “he took pity on him,” and moved on quickly to the gotcha part. Instead, Jesus goes for the love part. He proceeds to reveal the extravagance of divine love in ordinary human form. I want you to see this. I’m going to enumerate and list for effect.

(1) He went to him and bandaged his wounds, (2) pouring on oil and wine. (3) Then he put the man on his own donkey, (4) brought him to an inn, and (5) took care of him. (6) The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. (7) “Look after him,” he said, “and (8) when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.”

All this time I’m thinking the neighbor is the guy who got beat up and left for dead. Jesus completely flips it.

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

This is not a question of who is my neighbor. The big question is, How can I be a neighbor? In a stroke of divine irony, this story shows us that the natural heirs of the kingdom of God least resemble the righteousness of God, and the avowed enemies of the heirs of the kingdom are lifted up as the exemplars of God’s righteousness.

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus, 1. Expert, 0.

And just when Jesus could really excoriate the guy (like he did a couple of days ago with his rant against Chorazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum), he has mercy on him with a word of grace. Listen to him . . .

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

It’s not a question of who is or is not my neighbor. The question is, What kind of neighbor will I be?

Do good, and always remember that goodness is as goodness does.

The Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a son/daughter.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a saint.

The Question

On a scale of 1–10 (10 is highest), where do you rate yourself on needing to justify yourself before others? Are you a person who needs to be right most of the time—in a conflict or argument?