25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He 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.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus 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. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He 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. 35The 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.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Grace to you and peace, beloved of God, in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
“A lawyer stood up to test Jesus.” I don’t know about you, but I get a little prickly at those words when I first read them. It makes me feel a little uneasy. Maybe it’s because many times when we hear those words it means that someone is verbally attacking Jesus, maybe it’s because we already know what Jesus is going to say, or maybe it’s because I really hate taking tests. Either way, it seems that most of the time when we read these words, we already have our mind made up – the lawyer is obviously a know-it-all trying to find a loophole to cover up his bad behavior and Jesus is obviously telling this well-known parable to correct and confront this lawyer’s world view.
But, in the honor of fairness, I want to take a closer look at this lawyer today and how the Good Samaritan’s story intersects with his. First of all, the lawyer has a great opportunity here. He gets to ask a question directly to the Son of God. Whether or not he knows it yet, he’s asking a question to the man who would eventually die to take away his sin and rise to grant him salvation. This lawyer is a smart man, having studied the Hebrew scriptures most of his life, and he asks Jesus a pretty basic question – “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The word inherit here is important. He’s not asking what he has to do to get to heaven when he dies. He’s not looking for a to-do list to accomplish to prove his faith. An inheritance is something for the living, not the dead. An inheritance is something that is enjoyed here and now, not after you die. “What must I do to enjoy eternal life now?” might be a good translation for this question.
Of course, asking a question like this to Jesus is a bit like lobbing a slow pitch softball to Kris Bryant. (By the way, I don’t watch a lot of baseball, so I had to look up who has the most homeruns this season and, as of July 6th, that person is Kris Bryant). Of course, Jesus knocks this question out of the park by asking him what he thinks. The lawyer, who has studied the Hebrew scriptures his whole life, quite possibly memorizing it word for word, replies, “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.” But, like so many of us often do, the lawyer tries to find a way to separate himself from his “neighbor”. Really, who can blame him? If I tell you to love your neighbor as yourself, it means that you have to change the way you live a bit. It means that you have to bear burdens of people and work to change their lives for the better. It means that when one, single person suffers, the rest of humanity suffers with it. It means that we can’t be comfortable with innocent civilians and police officers being killed. It means that inheriting eternal life, enjoying eternal life in the here-and-now, isn’t a solidary, isolated thing that we can enjoy all by ourselves, but something that includes and involves people we may or may not know and may or may not like. So, the lawyer asks a harder question – “Who is my neighbor?”
Jesus, though, manages to turn the question around. Because, as it turns out, “neighbor” isn’t a noun, “neighbor” is also a verb to Jesus. It is not up to the people in our communities to prove that they are a neighbor to you or me. It is up to us to be a neighbor. Being a neighbor is active and humbling. Being a neighbor brings you into contact with people you don’t know, with people who don’t look like you, talk like you, think like you, or vote like you. It means helping when you may not get anything out of it, other than knowing that you showed God’s love to that person. It means realizing that Jesus died for that other person just as much as he died for you and it means understanding that each and every person you see, whether on the news or on the street, is bearing the image of God.
This brings us back to the lawyer’s original question – “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” What must I do to enjoy eternal life here and now? Jesus’ answer essentially says this – love God because God loves you, love your fellow image bearer of God because God loves him and her too. Inheriting eternal life is something only God can grant, but, it seems, God isn’t playing favorites here. God grants salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus and God grants glimpses of eternal life in the here and now, life made whole by the presence of God, to all through God’s people. But enjoying that life isn’t something that you can do alone. We were made for community, to help and be helped. We can’t enjoy this eternal life alone, because it was made to be shared and shown through love.
And so, brothers and sisters in Christ, I hope that you are experiencing eternal life, that you are inheriting eternal life in the here and now, and that you find yourself being a neighbor. Break down old walls. Build up new growth. Find a need and fill it. And know that God love you and is with you every step of the way. You have been shown such love and have given such gifts. Go and do likewise. Amen.