In 2004, Jerry Bruckheimer produced the movie National Treasure, a story of an intrepid treasure hunter deciphering complex and complicated clues which led to another clue until, at the end of the movie, they find the treasure (and if I just ruined the movie for you, sorry). There are several scenes in the movie where treasure hunter Benjamin Frankiln Gates (played by Nicolas Cage) finds a pair of special bifocals whose lenses are used to read the back of the Declaration of Independence for a certain clue. The bifocals reveal one clue with a certain combination of the lenses and another clue in another combination and still a third clue in yet another combination.
In Luke 10.25ff, we have Jesus confronting an expert in the law with a parable about three men who view life through a combination of lenses. Based upon their view, they each make a decision about how they will treat a man suffering on the side of the road. More importantly, Jesus is pointing the expert in the law (and indeed us) toward the true “Good Samaritan,” in whom is life and light and love.
An expert in the law (or Lawyer, NRSV) was, well, just that – an expert in the law. In the Greek, didaskale, from which we get our word “didactic.” He was a teacher, an interpretator of the law for Israel. Certainly, if anyone knew the answer to this question, it was he. He stands up to test Jesus. As one commentator put it, “in no hostile spirit, yet with no tender anxiety for light on that question of questions.” The KJV says he “tempted Jesus,” but the better translation would be that he tested Jesus. Really, he was setting a trap in this question for the Master, but it is will ultimately be the Master who springs the trap on this expert. The question is simple and is one many continue to ask today of the Lord: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” In one sense, the answer is nothing; there is nothing we can do that would make us worthy or deserving of the glories stored up for us in heaven. But in another sense, there are something we must do. As the lawyer points out, we must love God a certain way. Without love for God, one cannot inherit eternal life.
Jesus answers his question with another question: knowing this expert in the law would undoubtedly know the answer (or at least have formulated some kind of response to the question he has in mind), Jesus asks him what his interpretation of the Scriptures are. I like the way the KJV words it: “How readest thou?” “How do you read it” (NIV)? In other words, what has God already commanded from you. If you don’t have your head in the Scripture, there is no way you can know what the Lord’s will is for your life. The lawyer answers in v.27 – Love God, love your neighbor. Very simple. And Jesus says he nailed it, dead on. “Do this and you will live.” Inplied in the question, this statement by Jesus, and the next verse is the fact that this man was not doing this. He not only wanted to justify himself, he needed to justify himself. I mean, c’mon, he isamong the elites in Israel. How would it look if he failed to do this?
I think today, too many Christians are not so much concerned with what God’s word says as they are with how others see them, probably like this expert in the law. Oh, they have a loose interpretation of Scripture; yes, they know they aren’t supposed to kill anyone, lie, cheat, steal. They avoid the big ones…until suddenly they or their family member is rocked with scandal. A daughter/sister gets pregnant out of wedlock, obviously guilty of some sin be it public or secret (now no longer secret). And instead of the spiritual consequences tied to this event, the first question that pops into their heads are “How is this going to look to (fill in the blank)?” Am I going to lose face in some area of my life? How is my status going to be affected? And that is when we, like this lawyer, seek to justify ourself instead throwing ourself on the mercy of God and being justified by him. We are all guilty of this. And that is when the questions come: “Well, was this sin really a sin?” “Where in the bible does it say not to engage in this activity?” These are defense maneuvers by us to save face, to avoid humiliation. The “lawyer” in us comes out and says, “I know that is what Scripture says, but what about this?” The lawyer asked Jesus “Who is my neighbor?” And Jesus gives him a response.
There are usually lots of details in parables, but they are not always intended to have a specific meaning. Every detail does not have meaning, but every detail is leads us to the meaning of the parable. And so Jerusalem: some have made a big deal out of this. What had he done in Jerusalem? Sacrifice? Maybe. What business has this man in Jericho? We don’t know. But some have interpreted this to mean that he is leaving the presence of God in order to go into the world and the world chewed him up and spit him out (this is the robber’s attack).
But I think there is significance in Jesus using a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan. Each views this poor, pitiful pilgrim through a certain lens. The priest looks through the lens of death. That is, he had just enough love to pass on the other side and not show any love for this brother. The apostle John talks about this lack of love in 1 John 3.14: without love, one abides in death. His combination of lens produced death. The Levite looked through the lens of selfishness. He had enough love to come a little closer, it would seem, and “looked” upon him (see NJKV). The idea is that he studied him, implying a very “cool and calculating selfishness.” Do I have the resources to take care fo this man? No…sorry pal, but you are on your own. He “counted the cost” and the cost was too high. But there was one man who had the proper lens combination, who saw all the clues perfectly and followed them to the proper conclusion. A Samaritan stops and looks with the lens of compassion. He has “pity” (NIV) on the man and puts him on his own donkey, walks him to town and puts him up for as many days are as necessary.
Jesus, having told the parable, drops the bombshell with yet another question: “Who was a neighbor to the man?” And the answer, for the lawyer and for us, is obvious. Of course it is the one who had mercy, the Samaritan. There was no love in the other two, the priest and the Levite. Oly that dirty half-breed had love. And then Jesus makes one of the most profound conclusions in all his teaching. He sees this man has the head knowledge, knows what he should, therefore “Go and do likewise.” The question is how? How is he supposed to go and go likewise? The answer is standing before him. Notice, the Samaritan was the neighbor. The command was to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Hence, in accepting the Samaritans help, the wounded man is showing love. Imagine the audacity and arrogance of this man if he had refused the help: “No, thank you. Just give me a few minutes and I’ll be ok.” He would have died (after all, he was left for dead). There is no life outside of the invitation of the Samaritan. And indeed, there is no life for this wounded lawyer outside of the Great Physician who, like the Samaritan in the parable, offers to take him into town, pay all his medical bills, and nurse him back to health. Like the man in the parable, we have been attacked by “robbers” from the devil and left to die. Either we demonstrate love by accepting the gracious offer of the Savior or we arrogant and obstinately refuse it, abiding in death.
The abrupt ending of this account leaves us to wonder whether this self-righteous lawyer swallowed his pride, fell before the Master in humility, and received life. I would like to think that he at least went away reevaluating his current position. However, we don’t know. What we do know is that the kind and generous hand of the Savior has been extended to us. Have we taken hold of it? Have we found life eternal in Jesus? Have we demonstrated our love for Him? Or do we continue to wallow is self-righteous death? The Scripture is plain. How readest thou?
Acknowledgements: Thanks to my good friend Justin White for your input and thoughts concerning this parable.