When the expert in the law, the lawyer, came to Jesus in Luke 10 the text says clearly that he came to test Jesus--possibly trap him. Though he asks a question that is close to the heart of Jesus--how does a person obtain eternal life--Jesus does not give him the quick answer. Jesus responds with a question--what does the law say? Being an expert in the law this was easy street. Every lawyer knew that the first commandment was the greatest--to love The Lord God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. And, the expert smarty-pants, figured he would do Jesus one better. He gave him the second commandment also--to love your neighbor as yourself. With his own arrogance he has taken the bait. The one being tested now is not Jesus! Jesus responds that he has answered correctly and then sets the hook--do this (love God with everything and your neighbor as yourself) and you will live.
Ok. Now the lawyer has a problem. Jesus has turned the tables and now it is the lawyer who is being tested. His belief system said that if he kept all the law he would inherit eternal life. His own answer now has raised an important question if he is to keep all the law--who is the neighbor that he is to love, to "do this" with. As the text says, he really is not interested in the question. He already thinks he has eternal life. He started out testing Jesus and now by Jesus' testing he has been moved to a place to need to justify himself. After all, it is very hard to determine just who your neighbor is. So he asks, who is my neighbor?
Again, Jesus does not answer the question with a quick answer. He decides not to argue law with this lawyer but to tell him a story. Instead of getting to the destination immediately--the answer to the question--Jesus takes his hand and walks him through some everyday life that will allow him to not only know the answer but the chance to experience it so he might actually gain eternal life, not just know how to. Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan--sort of the opposite kind of person from this expert in the law of Israel. And in the story, an unnamed man beaten and close to death is the central figure--the neighbor. And, in the story a priest and a Levite do not treat him like a neighbor. It is the Samaritan, the despised and unclean half-breed, who acts neighborly toward the beaten and dying man. This is a slam-dunk for Jesus. All he has to do is reel him in. If he says he does not know the answer he is admitting his own lack of understanding the law. As soon as he identifies the Samaritan as the who who acts like a neighbor he has admitted a great contradiction to his own understanding of the law. How can a person who does not know the law and who by their very way of life violates much of the law, how can they obtain eternal life? And the even more serious implication, the one who knows the law, indeed is an expert in the law (a priest, a Levite, a lawyer) could walk away from this without eternal life!
This text in Luke is worth examining in detail for the powerful example of how to teach. But that will be another blog sometime in the future--maybe. Today studying this with my Malawian friends we came to realize that in this story the "bad guy" is us! All of us believers, and all of us working in ministry in some way or another, we know the Bible a lot better than the average person. With it we are pointing people to eternal life. In our context WE are the experts! Is it possible that we are as blind as the lawyer to the fact that our very expertise is what is in the way? Could our expert knowledge of the bible, the right way of doing ministry, the way we have learned it, the way we know it and are experts in it be getting in the way of living it? The Priest and the Levite did not pass the test. The despised and unclean Samaritan did.
In our day and time, for those of us at San Clemente and for those in Lilongwe, the great risk of being "experts" is that we may be as blind as this lawyer was. Even giving the lawyer the benefit of the doubt and saying that he really believed he was doing what was right by being concerned about keeping all the laws only makes our predicament the more serious. Often our justification for what we do or don't do is based on some tradition or custom of "how things should be" or "being right." And in the process we may be avoiding and walking right by people or circumstances that are opportunities to "do this"--love God and neighbor.
As we worked through the passage together, and came to this conclusion, you could feel it in the room--the "bad guy" in the story is us. The one trying to test Jesus, and to self-justify is us! I am hoping that the willingness of my Malawian friends to explore and expose this in their part of the world will help me do the same in mine. Boot camp continues and I am sweating a lot more.