July 14, 2019 onboard the MS Amsterdam
Deuteronomy 30, 10-14 + Psalm 69 + Colossians 1, 15-20 + Luke 10, 2-37
Luke, among the four Evangelists is the great dramatist. All of his stories can ignite the imagination, and we can really see the drama being played out. The risk with this style is that all of the characters are life-like, and we could spend a lot of time reflecting on them all. They all have something to teach us. Yet the center of this episode is the lawyer, and he is really the focus for Jesus with the most to teach us. The dialogue between them is what this is all about. The scene with the others on the road and at the inn is just background illustration.
Luke tells us that this Lawyer has come up to Jesus to test him, but Jesus ends up asking the test questions, and a simple look at the lawyer’s answers might suggest that he passed with flying colors. But, it’s not that simple. First of all, that lawyer may know a lot about the law, but he doesn’t seem to know and appreciate the purpose of the law. His knowledge is superficial. He thinks it is a way to justify himself, and he’s looking through the law for a way to do the minimum. We do that all the time. There is written into the code of law how much tax we must pay, and we resort to all manner of schemes looking for loop holes to find out just how little we must pay. Does anyone here every pay more than is required? This lawyer wants to figure out just how little he has to do and still keep the law. He is a minimalist who thinks he can justify himself by doing nothing more than what is required. That does not work with Jesus Christ.
Never mind that the whole purpose of the Law for Israel was to draw people closer together, to build a community in covenant with God. If we can draw any conclusion from the Songs Israel sang, which we call the Psalms, the Law gave them Joy, because it brought them together in love and led them to God. This Lawyer has no clue about the real purpose of the Law. He knows just enough to excuse himself or figure out just how little he has to do.
Jesus is on to him, and he is not impressed by the Lawyer’s ability to quote the Law. With that little story by way of example, Jesus reveals how far off the mark the lawyer is with his justifications and the narrow limits he puts on himself by using the law to set up minimal limits. The Priest and the Levite kept the law very nicely, and the other man stayed in the ditch. The lawyer just wants to do the minimum, and so he comes up with that question: Who is my neighbor” so that he can exclude those he doesn’t like. He thinks it is someone who lives nearby, speaks his language, looks like him, and thinks like him, but Jesus who is always pushing the limits we like to set up blasts that narrow definition of the neighbor by insisting that a neighbor is anyone in need. This is why in the story the man on the side of the road has no clothing and no identity. He can’t be identified in the narrow definition as a “neighbor.” He’s just someone in need.
In an age when Somalis and Palestinians, Hondurans and Guatemalans come into our living rooms night after night on the evening news, beaten and abandoned by the human traffickers who take what little they have with promises of safety and freedom, we are at verge of being overwhelmed and can easily decide that the problem is bigger than we are, and that alone we can do nothing to make a difference. After all, those people are not our “neighbors”, or are they? That’s the issue Jesus puts before us today with one command: “Go and do likewise.”