By Rev. Eric Brown
“But he, desiring to justify himself…”
He had asked a law question. He has asked what he had to do to inherit eternal life. It was a silly question: you don’t do much to inherit. Someone else dies and then they give you something; that’s not really you doing something. But since this lawyer asked a law question, Jesus pointed to a Law answer – love God and your neighbor.
But here’s the things with Law answers. They are always beyond us. To fully love God, to fully love the neighbor – sinful folks like us can’t do that perfectly or completely. So this fellow, desiring to justify himself as best he could, tries to dodge. “And who is my neighbor?” Who do I get to not love, Jesus? Whom can I look at and say, “this person doesn’t need my love and compassion.” Who are the people that I can safely and happily hate and still feel good about?
And it is then that Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. There’s a lot of fear and hate in this simple story that we overlook. We forget how scary the man beaten on the side of the road would be. If you saw some dude who had just been beaten by robbers, you’d want to hurry on by to safety too. And then the Samaritan – we are so used to saying “Good Samaritan” that we forget how hated the Samaritans were. If you want to impact, read the story again, but instead of Samaritan think of the sort of person you most dislike – a terrorist or a neo-nazi or antifa or some skin color or sexuality. That’s the impact of the story. Jesus plays upon every fear this lawyer has.
Of course He does. The law doesn’t give you an out. You don’t get to justify yourself by the Law. You don’t get to cut corners. And that lawyer failed, and we fail. We run in fear, we look down upon people with disdain. But Christ doesn’t. He calmly goes and cares for all. He doesn’t fear any robbers who might come; in fact He willingly takes up His cross and suffers, even as He is utterly disdained and reviled by those around Him.
Because while Jesus will give the Law answer on how you can try to inherit eternal life, that’s not really what He’s interested in. He’s interested in winning you eternal life with His death upon the Cross. Winning it for you and for your neighbor, whoever they might be, however you might fear them. That is the depth and perfection of Jesus’ love for God and for His neighbor. That is His love for you which will never fail you. That is what you inherited from Him when He had you joined to Him in baptism.
Rev. Eric Brown is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Herscher, Illinois and the co-host of the HT Gospeled Boldly Podcast.