One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:25-29 (NLT)
The parable of The Good Samaritan was spawned by this question; the lawyer (or Pharisee) cross-examining Jesus wanted clarification on the Great Commandment’s twin brother, loving your neighbor as yourself.
The Pharisee wanted Jesus to declare just how far we are to go with that; so the story is born with good guys behaving badly, and the supposed bad guy doing the good stuff. Many a ministry has been founded upon this tenet of self-sacrificial service to the beaten and bruised members of society who’ve been left by the wayside.
And rightly so.
But we shouldn’t forget the catalyst for the story Jesus told. When the Pharisee asked the question, and who is my neighbor, he was getting ready in his heart to justify the way he lived.
What the Pharisee was demanding was comparison – a form of relativism. He was looking forward to Jesus saying you must do this, this, that, and don’t forget this too. And then the lawyer could say I live like that, better than that; I’m a really good person. He was getting ready for a pat on the back.
That’s the way he expected the conversation to go because Pharisees led a strong moral lifestyle, keeping the law. It was a full-time job when you consider they had taken the ten commands of Exodus and built a whole system of stuff NOT to do in your daily life; there were over 600 supplements to the original ten. It had to be exhausting just keeping track of what NOT to do in life.
But Jesus wasn’t necessarily interested in hearing what the Pharisee didn’t do…or what he did do….he was interested in holding the lawyer’s heart up to the light to see if there was any compassion in there.
What surprised the Pharisee so much about Jesus’ story was that the heathen Samaritan (heathen according to residents of Jerusalem who hated their Samaritan neighbors) was the hero, and the religious leaders of Jerusalem (Pharisees, Priests, Sadducees), were the bad guys…and that made our Pharisee who asked the question the villain.
This put our lawyer right in the center of crunch time. His heart was resentful and crooked and Jesus had just put that heart to the test.
And so the Pharisee’s question was parried by Jesus’ sword that always calls for a response of commitment to God’s compelling question; in this case God’s question is:
Are you willing to change your heart?
Are you willing to be like Jesus, like your Samaritan enemy?
Are you willing to begin…..right now?
What else can we say with a question that turns our whole day upside down?
But isn’t that the question we always need to ask at the beginning of a day?