From the Minister’s Desk, July 9th

A Reflection on Luke 10: 25-28

I would guess that most of us read these verses from the Gospel of Luke as simply the introductory framework to the Good Samaritan story that follows.  Similar to the “once upon a time” that leads us into stories of our childhood, we tend to skim over this exchange between Jesus and the lawyer in our eagerness to get to the really important and interesting stuff that we know is coming.  To do so, however, dilutes the teaching of the parable and risks unmooring its’ challenging message from relevance in our lives.  Let me explain.

Lawyers in biblical days were scholars of Torah, the sacred text of the Hebrew people.  They were revered and respected as educated and erudite.  They were accustomed to deference particularly in religious teaching and in prescribing ethical applications of that teaching.  So, I imagine that the lawyer who approached Jesus that day was more interested in demonstrating his academic acumen before the gathering crowd than in really learning anything new – looking forward to a kind of a first century, “Meet The Press” display of opinion.  Perhaps he was even feeling a touch competitive, wanting to see for himself if the word on the street was true — if Jesus really did know his stuff.

I can empathize with the lawyer as I am sure many of you can as well.  We are lovers of words and thought.  We value study.  We delight in the academic achievements of our children and draw joy from the well spoken word.  All of this is well and good.  In fact, Jesus commends the lawyer when the lawyer demonstrates his knowledge of the law (v. 26). 

But in his maddening way, Jesus does not let us rest where we are.  Jesus continually nudges us forward into continual growth as Gospel people, followers of Christ.  For the lawyer that means, not just knowing the word but putting the word into practice.  Jesus challenges the lawyer to take the words he knows by heart “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 (v.27) and to put them into action.  Jesus challenges the lawyer to not just believe and know, but also to act!  That is why Jesus tells the Good Samaritan story in that particular moment.  He tells of the man who ministered to those who others ignored because that is the story the lawyer needed to hear. 

I wonder what story Jesus would have told if it was an activist that approached him on the dusty road that day instead of a lawyer.  What if an activist who was working 24/7 traveling down every road in Judea looking for and caring for everyone that she could find came up to him?  What if she approached Jesus, confident in her kingdom building work, ready to receive the praise that Jesus would so surely give her?   I wonder what story Jesus would have told her? 

You see, for me, the power of this passage and the Good Samaritan story that follows is in understanding that Jesus challenges us to fullness of life in all dimensions.   Discipleship is a life-long process of growth.  It is a dynamic interplay between the trinity of self, other and God that calls us to continued reflection, action and inspiration.  As long as we are still breathing we can be sure that we have not yet arrived and that in the words of John Robinson, the Pastor of the Mayflower Pilgrims,  “the Lord hath more light and truth yet to break forth from His holy word.”[1]

So, I invite you to step into this Gospel passage – these words of Good news.  I invite you center down in prayer and in that quiet place to imagine yourself approaching Jesus and asking him the lawyers question “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  And then I invite you to listen with a still and open heart to the words of love and challenge that Jesus has for you.

 – Praise be to the one who is always there to receive and instruct us.  Amen.

[1] Elizabeth Nordbeck. “Theological Traditions of Congregationalism.” In Theology and Identity: traditions, movements and polity in the United Church of Christ. (United Church Press: Cleveland, Ohio. 1990).