One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking Him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”
The man answered, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'”
“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”
The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”
Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.
Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’
“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbour to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”Luke 10:25-37
This is an interesting passage. Note how it starts with a seemingly disconnected “One day” . . . Supposedly this doesn’t have a connection to what went before it. But I am not so sure about that and will point it out in the following Gem. But in the meantime let’s go about building our understanding of this passage and how it all fits together. I could easily have handled this in two segments. First there is the interaction with the expert in the law, follow by the story of the Good Samaritan. Note it is a story and not a parable. Luke doesn’t tell us it is the parable of the Good Samaritan, but rather, “Jesus replied with a story”. But you can see by introducing it in this way that the story is Jesus’ answer to the question the expert in the religious law asked.
Some translations have the word lawyer, which I guess technically he is. He is plainly an expert in the law. These days we would call those people a lawyer. But an expert in what kind of law? Jurisprudence? Property Tax Laws? An Immigration consultant? No, this man is an expert in the religious law. There is debate among the commentators as to whether he has been privy to the things Jesus has been saying before this related to the Kingdom of God. Whatever the case he was not part of the discussions of the “hidden things” because they were said to “the Twelve”. There has indeed been a break in proceedings. So why has this man asked the question concerning “eternal life”. Surely an expert in the Jewish law would know about “eternal life”. Maybe but not necessarily. It depends on what this man’s focus is. Technically speaking the subject of eternal life is not a matter handled by the minutiae of laws constructed by the Jews to cover every eventuality listed in the Talmud or the Mishnah to explain the Torah. Furthermore it reminds me of another man by the name of Nicodemus. Remember this?
“How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.
Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things?John 3:9-10
What were Jesus and Nicodemus talking about? Only matters of eternal life. Jesus cuts straight to point with Nicodemus and tells him he must be “born again”. It seems experts in the law are weak in things related to “eternal life”. Many commentators feel the man is setting a trap for Jesus. But not all, there is debate about this. There is one element in the text which indicates he trying to trap Jesus. All teachers of the law and experts in law tried to do so. Why should this one be any different? The word used “stood up to test” Jesus is the word [ekpeirazo] meaning to put to the test, to try or tempt. It seems this man is more intent on testing Jesus’ understanding in the field of the man’s own expertise. Finding out just what sort of a teacher Jesus was. How did Jesus read / interpret the Law? But it is possible he is more genuine than trickster or entrapper.
The way he phrases his first question is interesting. What he literally says is “Doing, what shall I inherit?” The emphasis is on the doing? It is almost like he saying, “I know as an expert in the law the answer to inheriting eternal life is in doing something. So what do you think we have to do? I know “the how”, it is to do or practice the law.” What’s your answer Jesus? The question implies that by the performance of one thing, eternal life can be obtained. “So Jesus, what do you see that one thing as being?” All the emphasis here is on “doing the law”. The expert in the law expected a listing of the minutiae of the law to explain the basis for inheriting the land, the earth which was the term the experts in the law used to sum up salvation and appropriating eternal life. What he expected was Jesus’ list of the detailed laws that were the standard of the righteousness needed to enter eternal life. What level of righteousness must I show in terms of the law which qualifies me to enter the Kingdom?
Notice Jesus answers the man by asking him a question based on his own expertise. What does the Torah say about this matter? Or more importantly how do you read it? In other words what is your interpretation of the law. That is the crux of this man’s understanding. What Rabbinic school has the man studied in or what Rabbi has he been following. What he learned in the House of Interpretation (Beth Talmud) will colour the way he interprets the Law. Thus Jesus asks “How do you read it (interpret it)?
The expert in the law goes straight to the basics and quotes the greatest commandment, the first and most important commandment and the one which sums up all the others. “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind. And, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’
He gives the broad sweep of the basic statement of the greatest commandment. What he expects now is that Jesus will list His priority details, then he can then nit pick or quibble on the letter of the law. That is what the experts in the law were expert in. Let’s debate the details. Because it is in the details that this “contract” has to be hammered out. So Jesus answers, simply “Do this and you will live.” Meaning DO this, follow and fulfill this law and you will live ETERNALLY. Note Luke’s element “the man wanted to justify his actions”. So he now has something he can get his teeth into. Even though it is the first level of discussion. So the man in typical lawyer mode focuses in on the fine print. Ah so how do you interpret “neighbour”. Let’s talk about it.
In that context Jesus answered with the story of the Good Samaritan. There is lots to focus on here. I will leave you to ponder it. Happy ponderings.
Don’t let the enemy convince you that your temporary conditions are a reflection of your eternal position in God.T D Jakes
Laws control the lesser man… Right conduct controls the greater one.Mark Twain
The 10 Commandments / the law is like a mirror. It tells you how dirty you are but it can’t wash you clean!Ian Vail
God does not patch up the old life, or make certain repairs on the old life; He gives a new life, through the new birth.Kathryn Kuhlman