People ask questions for all sorts of reasons. I’ve occasionally caught the end of Parliamentary Question Time on the ABC. It’s 2 to 3 pm in the afternoon. Just before “Bear in the Big Blue house”.
And the whole idea of Question Time seems to be for the Opposition to ask a Government Minister, or Senator, the TRICKIEST question they can think of. The question that’s really going to make him squirm. Expose a mistake, or a problem. And win you some political points.
And it seems to me that they’re questions the opposition already knows the answers to. Or at least has a fairly good idea. Otherwise they wouldn’t bother asking.
- Did the boat people REALLY throw children overboard?
- Did the government REALLY know there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?
- What WAS the cost of John Howard’s last overseas trip?
The purpose is to CATCH OUT. To UNSETTLE. To make themselves look good.
And it’s the same reason this lawyer asks Jesus the question. V25. To TEST him.
It’s the BIG question, isn’t it? A real beauty. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
People today ask the same question – they just put it differently. “How do you get to heaven? What happens when you die? How do I get in touch with my spiritual side? Where is God? What’s the meaning of life?
All basically asking the same question. “What’s the connection between THIS life and the NEXT? Between the PHYSICAL and the SPIRITUAL?”
If you have ANYTHING at ALL to do with non-Christians, it’s a question you’ve probably been asked more than once. Maybe even spent hours discussing over a bottle of port, or round a campfire.
And often/ because talking is EASY/ TALKING is as far as people want to go!
1. Talk about the truth
And that’s probably exactly what this guy wants to do. Just TALK about the truth. He’s put the ball in Jesus’ court. He wants a game of VERBAL tennis.
When Jesus gives his opinion, he’ll whack the ball back with some curly questions – “But what about… this verse.. or that verse? … Knock him down a few pegs.
Today people play verbal tennis with questions like, “Who made God?” What about the dinosaurs? Why do bad things happen? Doesn’t evolution disprove God? Who did Cain and Abel marry?
Questions that try to TRAP Christians. Confuse them. Because TALKING about the truth is easier than DOING something about it.
And MOST people who ask the questions/ aren’t really interested in the answers. They just use them as EXCUSES. Reasons to keep their distance. To avoid making a decision about Jesus. Because that might actually COST them something.
But Jesus isn’t interested in games. He knocks the ball back with another question, “What is written in the law? How do YOU read it?”
And just by-the-by, it’s probably not a bad technique when OUR friends ask US questions. Ask them what THEY think. What do YOU believe about God? What’s he like?
And that gives YOU an opportunity; you’ve earned the right, to say what YOU think. As long as you’re not judgmental or dismissive.
And a question about the LAW is how Jesus answers. Probably not what the guy was expecting. But he’s quite happy to oblige. Because THE LAW is this guy’s specialty! And so he quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 – recited by good Jews every day. Part of the SHEMA.
(Deut 6:5 NIV) Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
And then he adds Leviticus 19:8. ANOTHER common summary. “Love your neighbour as yourself”.
Love God. Love your neighbour. A good summary of the Ten Commandments. The first four are summarised by loving God. The last six/ by loving your neighbour.
And the Ten Commandments THEMSELVES are a summary of the whole law. The things God requires us to do.
2. Not just talk, but know
And so Jesus congratulates him. Well done! 100% “You’ve answered correctly!”
It’s important not to just TALK about the truth, but to KNOW the truth. To KNOW what you’re talking about.
And this guy certainly KNOWS it. Loving God with everything you are, and everything you have. In 100% of your life, you’re to love God above anything else. Nothing else should sway your affections from adoring, and honouring, and lifting up God. NOTHING is more important.
How does that describe YOU?
And when you understand God rightly. And understand YOURSELF rightly. Where you fit in. Then you’ll love your neighbour as yourself. Because you understand how much God values humans. And so YOU value them too.
3. Not just know, but do
But Jesus says, it’s not enough just to KNOW it, you must DO IT TOO. V28. “DO THIS and you will live!”
What must you DO to inherit eternal LIFE?
Do THIS and you’ll LIVE!
The words themselves were simple enough. Even the commands they DESCRIBED are simple enough. But as Jesus said the words “Do this and you will live!” I can imagine that the lawyer’s heart SANK.
Because his thoughts turned from the joys of intellectual banter. The to and fro of philosophical debate and religious discussion. All clean and precise and logical.
To his OWN actions. He started thinking instead/ about the servant he’d yelled at this morning/ because his breakfast was cold. The leper he’d passed by in disgust. The failed business associate he’d refused to lend money to. The cousin he judged, and looked down, on because his marriage had failed.
All neighbours he probably SHOULD be loving like himself.
And so he had to ask another question. To JUSTIFY himself. To validate his own behaviour. To move the boundary fence JUST FAR ENOUGH to make sure he was standing on the right side – “Here’s what I’m doing. Now how can I define things/ so that what I’m doing is acceptable?”
Because a common view of the time was to define a neighbour as a FELLOW JEW. One of your own people. But certainly not a Gentile – a Roman, or a Syrian, or Egyptian, … or Samaritan.
V29. “And WHO is my neighbour?” Who am I expected to love? Show me the boundary? How far does my love need to stretch?
4. Not just Do, but DO COMPLETELY
But once more, Jesus refuses to play the game. Instead of a straight answer, instead of an easy out, he tells a story. And the point of the story is that we’re not just to DO, but DO COMPLETELY.
Look at the story. V30. Most of us know it well. “A man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.”
But on the way he’s attacked by robbers. He’s beaten up, stripped , and left for in a ditch by the side of the road. It doesn’t even say they stole anything!
Pretty soon, a priest passes by. Probably on HIS way home from the temple, too. And his thoughts are filled with his work. The smells of the incense and sacrifices. The sounds of the music and singing. He’s thinking about the reading from the law he’d heard. About how good it is to be one of God’s children.
When he notices the man. . Covered in .
The lawyer hears this, and thinks to himself, “Surely HE’LL stop and help. He’ll be a neighbour.”
But the priest SEES him. And immediately thinks of half a dozen reasons why this guy’s NOT a neighbour.
- He’s in a hurry to get home to his family. They’re his priority. His REAL neighbours.
- And he might DEFILE himself. The guy might be . What use is a priest who’s defiled? Wouldn’t be much use to my real neighbours THEN!
- And it’s not really his ministry. Not his spiritual gift. That’s what he’s got LEVITES for.
- Maybe he even said a prayer about how grateful he is to God that this didn’t happen TO HIM.
And so he moves to the other side of the road. Pretends he doesn’t SEE. And quickly walks by.
And the lawyer hangs his head a little lower.
And it’s just what WE do EVERYDAY. We CHOOSE not to SEE. Because once you NOTICE someone. Really SEE them. See them as made in God’s image. See them as victims of sin. That’s when COMPASSION might take over. And you’d have to DO SOMETHING.
So we change the channel. Or keep our eyes on the road ahead. Or toss someone a of coins to ease our conscience. Or offer to pray for them.
Helmut Thielicke was a German theologian. And he preached a sermon on this parable in the 1950’s in West Germany. And listen to how he put his congregation into the shoes of the priest. And the importance of SEEING.
“It is so easy to make the detour and SEE NOTHING. So easy to slide over the statistics of misery in the press. And turn off the radio when appeals are made for help. Why is it that back there (WW2) so few of us heard or knew anything about the concentration camps and the Jewish programs? Perhaps because we did not want to listen, because we were afraid of what would happen to our world view and our peace of mind.
You and I will be judged by our EYES. There are certain things and certain people I do not WANT to SEE. But it may be my Saviour whom I have failed to see.”
What things are WE overlooking as Christians –maybe things like the German Christians overlooked in the war? Things we need to hang our heads in shame at.
Jesus continues. Then a LEVITE passed by. Not quite a priest. But still an important, and godly, part of the temple community. Surely HE’LL help.
But he too, notices the man. He SEES him, but he chooses NOT to SEE him. Puts his fingers in his ears, and closes his eyes. Whistles his favourite hymn, and quickly crosses to the other side of the road. And goes on his way.
But then a THIRD man comes along. And everyone expects that HE’LL stop and help. It’s always the third man, isn’t it? Even the lawyer probably guesses it. Surely THIS GUY will be a neighbour.
But here’s the sting in the tail. He’s a Samaritan. A half-caste. Almost as bad as a Gentile. The LAST person you’d expect to be a neighbour.
There’s been bad between Jews and Samaritans for centuries. There’s no way this guy will stop. Unless it’s to put the boot in as well.
But he DOES stop. He SEES him, and has COMPASSION. PITY. MERCY. He doesn’t see scum. Or . Or pain. Scratches, or bruises, or broken bones. He sees another human being. Made in the image of God. Who could just as easily be him.
And his compassion makes him STOP, and bandage the guy’s wounds. And dress them with oil and wine. And put him on his donkey. And take him to an inn. And keep caring for him. And then paying the innkeeper EXTRA. And then agreeing to meet any MORE expenses.
How much further could he go?
The lawyer wants to know how far his love is expected to go. How much should he DO.
And Jesus answer is to DO COMPLETELY. Love COMPLETELY. There IS no fence. No limit to who your neighbour is. To how far love stretches. Even as far as this Samaritan!
And so Jesus asks another question. The third one to the lawyer. V36. “Which of these three was a neighbour to the man?”
And the answer’s obvious. The one who had MERCY. He doesn’t even CALL him a Samaritan. The one who had MERCY. love. Endless compassion. That defines a neighbour.
And Jesus concludes, “Go and do likewise” Don’t just DO, but DO COMPLETELY.
5. Not just DO COMPLETELY, but BE
But if that was the end of the lesson. We’d all be pretty depressed. We’d either shrug our shoulders, and give up – because no-one can measure up to THAT standard.
Or we’d be tempted to try to impress God by what we DO. Try that little bit harder, because that’s what to DO. To inherit eternal life. Do COMPLETELY.
But the problem is/ we’ve forgotten something. I don’t believe the lesson for us is MORE guilt-tripped legalism. That’s the very thing Jesus was arguing AGAINST.
Because this whole story is only about the SECOND greatest commandment. We’ve forgotten THE GREATEST? What is it? Love the LORD YOUR GOD. That comes first. Priority One.
Doing the second/ is worth NOTHING/ unless you’re doing the FIRST.
Loving God gives us the PERSPECTIVE, and the MOTIVATION, and the GOAL/ so that we can love our neighbour
In fact, you can only truly love YOUR NEIGHBOUR/ when you love GOD FIRST. And it’s what the lawyer forgot.
And it’s what the next few verses remind us. Jesus is invited to dinner at Mary and Martha’s house. And the two sisters show us two different approaches to Jesus.
They both KNOW him. As far as we can tell, they both LOVE him. But they SHOW it differently.
Martha showed how important Jesus was to her/ by DOING. Everything had to be perfect. The house, the food, the decorations, the fresh flowers. And that’s not wrong in itself.
But she was so BUSY getting things right. Doing. That she FORGOT all about Jesus. That’s where she went wrong. Everything was centred on HER. Look at what she says in v40.
“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left ME to the work BY MYSELF? Tell her to HELP ME!”
But what’s Mary’s response. BEING is more important than DOING. Even doing COMPLETELY.
SHE SAT AT HIS FEET, LISTENING TO WHAT HE SAID.
Just what the Father said from the mountain at the transfiguration. This is my Son. LISTEN to him.
The highest call of all. Is not to DO COMPLETELY, but to BE. To be with Jesus. To love him. Be like him.
TO love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind.
Not to trick him. Or test him. Or impress him. That’s the lawyer’s mistake. “What must I DO?” But LOVE him. Waste time with him. Learn from him. Talk to him. Listen to him.
And even though the second command is to love our neighbour as ourself. And to do that COMPLETELY. It’s not the goal. Or the end. It’s simply the path we tread when we FOLLOW Jesus. When we sit at his feet. And listen to him. THEN we love and serve our neighbour. Because that’s what Jesus did. And we’re just following him.
What was Martha’s mistake? She was so busy with the ACTIONS. So DISTRACTED. That she forgot about Jesus. And became focussed on HERSELF. And the THINGS she was DOING.
And Jesus says, v41. “Martha, you are worried and upset about many things. But only one thing is needed. Mary’s got it right. I’m the focus. Follow me. Listen to me. And the DEEDS will take care of themselves. You are WHO-YOU-ARE only in relation to ME. You are important only because you are IN ME.
The FIRST commandment “‘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 the SECOND, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
KNOW it. But don’t just KNOW it. Do it. But don’t just DO it, do it completely. But don’t just do it completely. BE it. Be a follower of Jesus. A listener of Jesus. A lover of Jesus.