Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Asking the Wrong Question

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:25-37

"Like a good neighbor State Farm is there." Chances are (if you watch as much TV as I do) that you are not only familiar with this company's slogan but that you know the tune that it is sung to. State Farm has built their business on the idea that good neighbors help each other out when they are in need. They want to be viewed as one of those good neighbors. This of course stands in stark contrast to how insurance companies are normally viewed, as money hungry institutions that pay out the minimum that is required by your coverage. Generally speaking the question an insurance company asks itself when you call to file a claim is not "What would a good neighbor do?" but "What is the least I can do?"

That is the very same question we find a lawyer asking Christ in the above passage of Scripture. He has come to test Jesus regarding the law, but in wisdom Christ turns the question back on the lawyer who answers it correctly. The conversation would have ended there, with Jesus encouraging the lawyer to actually put his words into action, but the lawyer wanted to show himself to have already met the requirement so he asks Jesus a question. "And who is my neighbor?"

The more I think about this question the more I think that this lawyer thinks of his relationship with God in much the same way that we sometimes do. He thinks it is about rules and standards. He wants to know exactly what is required of him, and he wants to prove that he has already met that requirement. Jesus crafts His response to reveal to the lawyer and to us that the life He is calling us to is not about meeting the minimum but is about being so changed from within that good works overflow out of our lives. The lawyer is asking the wrong question! The question is not "What is the least I can do?" the question is "What does it mean for me to love?"

Now there is much more to say about this parable, but since this is a devotional, let me cut to the chase. The great surprise of this parable is that Christ chooses a Samaritan to hold out as the great example of love. Jews hated the Samaritans for a whole host of national, ethic, and religious reasons. A Jew in the first century would have taken it for granted that a Samaritan was far from God and certainly farther away from God than an expert in the religious law. But Christ does a surprising thing. He does not merely say that the lawyer should love the Samaritan; He casts the Samaritan as the hero of the story and tells the lawyer that he should love like the Samaritan. The lawyer is so sick he can't even bring himself to use the word Samaritan at the end of the parable. He refers to him as, "The one who had mercy."

It can be surprising and even painful when the true condition of our heart is revealed. Living the Christian life is not about conforming your outward behavior to some minimum requirement. It is about living a life that is totally at odds with this world. And the only way to do that is to be so transformed from within that these good works flow naturally out of your new heart. Ask the Lord to examine your heart today and surrender any nook or cranny where sin is found. Submit yourself to the Lord and ask the right question "What does it mean for me to love like Christ?" Ask the Lord to give you a new heart.

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