Daily Office

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 fell into the hands of 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, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins 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.”

I know, before I make a single stroke on my laptop keyboard that this post will not be well received. I apologize in advance to those of you who will find my struggle with this passage offensive and immature. I do not intend to offend, but I think I will.

Fact is, and I don’t think anyone will disagree with this: the lawyer asks Jesus a theological question with eschatological implications. He asks Jesus this question: What must I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus does not tell the man this is the wrong question to ask. No. In fact, the very fact that Jesus answers this question is enough demonstration that this is a valid question to ask and, to be sure, that Jesus is the right person to ask it of. Ultimately, the answers that Jesus gives all work their way back to the man’s original question: What must I do to inherit eternal life?

The theological, eschatological and practical answer that Jesus gives is simple: Love God, love people. Easy, breezy. This is something Jesus had said another time (Matthew 7:11-12). Even later on in the letters, Paul will say that love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:9-11). I think, at this juncture, we are probably all in agreement. Love is the fulfillment of the law; love sums up the Law and Prophets; love is what we must do to inherit eternal life. Love God; love our neighbors. Love. Seems a simple task, and easy requirement.

My problem is that this parable is often taught as simply a matter of defining who is a neighbor and that the Samaritan is the neighbor we must strive to be: loving those who hate us, tending those who despise us, helping those who hurt us. But this parable is not primarily about who is and is not a neighbor. This parable is spoken in the context of a theological, eschatological, question of salvation: What must I do to inherit eternal life?

When the conversation and the parable are done, Jesus simply says: Go and do likewise.

The problem I have is that Matthew or whoever wrote this Gospel, this book, wrote this story, this encounter, and this parable down after the cross even though the story happened, the conversation took place, and the parable was spoken before the cross.

Go and do likewise. To my knowledge Jesus never rescinded this command: neither to the lawyer in the story nor, since it was written down after the cross, to us.

All the commentaries I read, and have ever read, narrow this story down to this basest point: who is my neighbor? But none seem to wrestle with the real question that this particular passage of Scripture is itself wrestling with: what must I do to inherit eternal life? When Jesus said “go and do likewise” he was “this is what you must do to inherit eternal life: love God, and love like your Samaritan neighbor.” (William Willimon interprets this from the point of view of the man in the ditch, but I’m still not sure that is correct either. It doesn’t wrestle enough with how this parable answers the man’s original and secondary question.)

Please don’t be angry because I want to understand this passage of Scripture, why Jesus said it, and why Matthew preserved it. I want to understand how to better interpret this story and how to better teach it. There doesn’t seem to be, despite the exegetical gymnastics that the commentators engage in, an emphasis so much on being neighborly as much as there is an emphasis on what someone must do in order to inherit eternal life.

It’s tricky. I wrestle and struggle here greatly. I’m not trying to be contrary or difficult, but with all the emphasis we put on issues of grace and mercy and forgiveness and the cross and the resurrection, nothing seemed to change after the cross: Paul said love your neighbor; Matthew records Jesus telling us to do the same thing. Whatever else I might say, or confound, or struggle with here, one thing is certainly true. You can love your neighbor quite apart from loving God, but you cannot love God without loving your neighbor. Jesus does not define how to love God, but spends a lot of time defining how to love your neighbor. Hmm…

I don’t think we, as Christians, have struggled enough with this passage of Scripture and how it relates to the inheritance of eternal life—regardless of who are neighbor is or is not. The so-called Good Samaritan is not just someone who happens to do good deeds while he or she is on the way to McDonald’s to get a burger—as if the fact that he was a Samaritan is the main point of emphasis here. The Good Samaritan is, in some mysterious way, an example of what we must do if we want to inherit eternal life—since the emphasis in this passage is on what the Samaritan did.

Jesus didn’t say: Go and be (a Samaritan) likewise. Jesus said: Go and do likewise. Too many people are content to be mere Samaritans without any regard for how what the Samaritan did relates to his/her eternal inheritance. We should talk about what it means to do what the Samaritan did more.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 26th, 2010 at 1:22 am and is filed under Christian Living, Devotional, Theology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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18 Comments(+Add)

1   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
October 26th, 2010 at 6:48 am

The “party line” on parables like that (and verses like those to the rich young ruler) is that Jesus was exposing the Jews for their hollow exhibitions of parts of the law while ignoring weightier matters. There is a fine but unmistakable line between faith and works, but too often we downplay works so as to avoid being perceived as a salavation by works theology.

And as I have said before to little applause, without the Pauline epistles a case can be made for salavtion by works, especially in some of the teachings of Jesus. Having said that, the evangelical world stands without excuse for their casual and many times indifferent attitude toward humanitarian works along with our contentment with a less than Christlike exhibitions of life.

You are correct, Jerry, it is so easy to exegete that parable with context and racism and other things while being blind to the practical manifestations of authentic spirituality.

2   Mike    
October 26th, 2010 at 9:41 am

I think also some of the parable’s interpretation comes from the audience. He was an “expert in the law”. That means he was an expert in the ritual of the Torah, knew “jots and tiddles” and kept them (at least publicly).

I think Jesus was trying to get this guy to realize that salvation wasn’t about rituals, it was about being real. People being beat up by robbers was something that happened. It was real. Being presented with a chance to help someone you really despise and being given a choice of how to respond, could really happen. Notice that the traditional followers of ritual left their neighbor to die, but the real neighbor stopped to help.

I think Jesus was trying to get the expert to step outside his comfortable ritual existence (which would not save) and realize that Christ wanted him to live out the phrase:

‘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.’

Just my two cents…

3   Phil Miller    http://pmwords.blogspot.com
October 26th, 2010 at 9:50 am

I wonder if we read too much back into the phrase “inherit eternal life”. What did the expert in the law have in mind when he said that? It wasn’t the same as saying, “what must I do to go to heaven when I die?” He’s really asking how does one partake of God’s Kingdom when it comes. That might seem like an overly detailed parsing, but I find it useful.

For one thing, I think it’s possible for us to be part of God’s family but still miss the Kingdom. Heck, I probably miss the Kingdom on a regular basis. That doesn’t mean God disowns me. The Jews missed the Kingdom as well, but He did not disown them. In Romans, Paul makes it clear that God was never unfaithful to the covenant, it was the Jews who were unfaithful. Even so, they are not beyond hope.

So perhaps the question the parable asks isn’t so much about how do I ensure my final destination as much as how do I live like a Kingdom person? The answer is, “go and do likewise.”

4   Nathanael    http://www.borrowedbreath.com/
October 26th, 2010 at 10:11 am

It’s interesting that what the emerging church is criticized for most by the ultra-reformed camp is the concept that this world will not be utterly destroyed (an interpretation of 2 Peter 3:10) and that the saints will not be literally snatched from this earth “some glad morning” leaving their cars and planes to be unmanned missiles (an interpretation of 1 Thes. 4:17), but that instead, Jesus is restoring all thing, including this earth. And yet the words of Christ consistently reveal that He is very concerned with a holistic redemption, not just making sure I don’t go to hell when I die.

This parable, as Phil suggests, could be revealing that those who are in Christ and living in His kingdom and who will inherit eternal life exhibit a love and compassion that actually reveals the kingdom of God in the here and now, not just in the hereafter.

These are good things with which to wrestle, Jerry. Thanks for starting the conversation.

5   Nathanael    http://www.borrowedbreath.com/
October 26th, 2010 at 10:21 am

It is also worth considering that when I try to “go and do likewise” in my own strength, or in order to try to “inherit eternal life,” I find that I fail miserably. So then I must find the strength to do so elsewhere, in Christ. Could the instructions “go and do likewise” be to frustrate my self-effort and cause me to rely on Christ instead?

6   Jerry    http://www.jerryhillyer.com
October 26th, 2010 at 10:59 am

Rick,

What about those who never had access to or read or even heard of Paul’s letters? And surely there were some.

jerry

7   Jerry    http://www.jerryhillyer.com
October 26th, 2010 at 11:05 am

Phil,

I just don’t know if I can reduce ‘zoen aiovion’ to ‘kingdom living. That sounds good on the surface because it does draw out the important practical side of being saved that I mentioned in the post.

But no matter how much we may want to avoid it, this story does have eschatological implications. Salvation isn’t just about ‘getting out of hell free’, but it certainly contains that element in part.

I’m not prepared yet, because I haven’t seen enough evidence, to regard ‘eternal life’ as a mere metaphor for kingdom living. Again, I think that’s certainly a part of it, but reduces it’s implications too much.

jerry

PS–as far as ‘what did the Lawyer have in mind’ when he said that, well, you and I both know it is somewhat impossible to know for certain what he had in mind. However, I will say that either of our interpretations carries weight precisely because we do not know. And I think there are elements of both ideas in his question, mine and yours.

8   Nathanael    http://www.borrowedbreath.com/
October 26th, 2010 at 11:10 am

We do know what the expert in the law had in mind. The text tells us that “…he wanted to justify himself…”

9   Phil Miller    http://pmwords.blogspot.com
October 26th, 2010 at 11:40 am

I just don’t know if I can reduce ‘zoen aiovion’ to ‘kingdom living. That sounds good on the surface because it does draw out the important practical side of being saved that I mentioned in the post.

I wasn’t meaning to reduce ‘zoen aiovion’ to kingdom living, per se, although reading my response again, I see how it comes off that way. I think translating that phrase to be “eternal life” simplifies it a bit, though. I think “life for the ages” or “life in the age to come” would probably capture the intent better.

Anyway, isn’t it sort of odd to ask what you have to do to inherit something, anyway? Inheritance, at least in the way we think of it usually is simply a matter of a right. We inherit something just because of who we are, not what we do. It’s sort of a loaded question. In this man’s mind, the Kingdom was the Jews’ inheritance simply because they were, well, Jewish. By asking Jesus what he had to do, it was almost a trick question. Jesus, though, calls his bluff and says, well, live like a Jew is supposed to live.

It reminds me of this passage in Joshua 1:6

Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.

The land was given to them by God, but yet they had to fight for it. It’s a strange Kingdom principle. The Kingdom is given to us by God, but we have to fight to get it. If we don’t fight, we can miss our inheritance.

10   Jerry    http://www.jerryhillyer.com
October 26th, 2010 at 2:00 pm

#8, but only with respect to his second question. Not with respect to his first question.

11   Jerry    http://www.jerryhillyer.com
October 26th, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Phil,

the particular Gk word used here for ‘inherit’ actually has some of those ideas: receive, gain possession of, share (in), be given ((something). It is does have roots in the word for ‘heir’ also.

I don’t know that this means anything, but like I said, I’m sort of thinking my way through this parable…I’m glad you are thinking through it with me. :-)

jerry

12   Nathanael    http://www.borrowedbreath.com/
October 26th, 2010 at 2:33 pm

#10 Even though that is said about his second question, don’t you think it is directly linked to why he asked the first?

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that his response to Jesus’ answer to his first question actually revealed the heart behind his first question.

13   Jerry    http://www.jerryhillyer.com
October 26th, 2010 at 3:03 pm

I see where you are going with it…I think. So, you are saying that Jesus’ response to question two is actually digging deeper into the man’s motivations in question 1…that is, like the so-called Rich Young Ruler, “All these things I have done since I was a boy” the man here wanted to be told he was doing enough…and when Jesus told him he wasn’t doing enough, he became sad and went away?

So, then, what does this say to us post-cross? Post-resurrection? Post-Paul?

14   Nathanael    http://www.borrowedbreath.com/
October 26th, 2010 at 3:30 pm

That’s the point I’m making, Jerry. I’m not saying it’s right, just a possibility.

In response to your question, I believe that Jesus is pointing out, like James did later, that our faith will be proven by our works. This became clearer post-cross, etc.

And I think my response in #5 is the result of me trying to earn my own “eternal life.”

15   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
October 26th, 2010 at 8:40 pm

“What about those who never had access to or read or even heard of Paul’s letters?”

They will burn in the lake of fire forever! :)

Seriously, I believe God accepts theological discrenpensies, even grevious ones, when it comes to those who have only heard the simple and perhaps incomplete gospel.My reference to Paul was to us, the doctrinally astute. :cool:

16   John Hughes    
October 27th, 2010 at 11:55 am

“ ‘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.”

The scribe (and we by extenstion) are still left with a conundrum – how could this possibly be done by human effort? So even if salvation **could** be obtained by human effort in keeping the law we are still left with the reality that we as humans cannot keep the law perfectly and at the end of the day realize we are still hopelessly lost in our sins and in need of a savior.

So, let’s take Jesus’ statement at face value, if you keep the law you will live (eternally). That is a true statement and we have no need to dance around it.

But who can keep the law perfectly?

Ahhhh there’s the rub!

17   Neil    
October 28th, 2010 at 12:23 am

And as I have said before to little applause, without the Pauline epistles a case can be made for salavtion by works, especially in some of the teachings of Jesus. Having said that, the evangelical world stands without excuse for their casual and many times indifferent attitude toward humanitarian works along with our contentment with a less than Christlike exhibitions of life. – rick

clap – clap – clap…

18   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
October 28th, 2010 at 5:56 am

I would like to thank the academy!