POST OVERVIEW. Taking a break from our study of James 2:14-26, we will be looking at one of the most famous of Jesus’ parables, the story of “The Good Samaritan” in Luke 10:25-37. This first article focuses on the key question the lawyer asks Jesus and how we are to understand Jesus’ answer.
The gospel of Luke is filled with parables spoken by the Lord Jesus Himself to tell us about mysteries of the kingdom of God. One of the most famous of Jesus’ parables is the story of “The Good Samaritan.” A lawyer (an expert in the Mosaic Law) asks Jesus how a person can “inherit eternal life,” and thus ensues a fascinating dialog. This short series will drill deep into the conversation between the lawyer and Jesus and will explore the meaning and the application of the parable about the traveler from Samaria who helps a fellow traveler. My text will be from the NAS translation of the Bible. I will only quote selected portions of the passage but will assume that the reader is following along in their Bible.
Since Luke writes the scenes of his gospel account “in consecutive order” (Luke 1:3), then we can assume that this encounter between Jesus and the lawyer occurs somewhere in the middle of His earthly ministry. As the scene opens, Jesus has been teaching a group that includes this expert in the Mosaic Law. We do not know exactly what prompts his question, but the lawyer stood up and “put Him to the test” with the question, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (The “rich young ruler” of Luke 18:18ff asks the identical question, so it would be an interesting exercise to study these two dialogs together. See Post #612 on 1/18/2023 for an article on the RYR.) In simple terms, the dialog then goes like this:
- First, the lawyer tests Jesus by asking how a person can “inherit eternal life.”
- Second, Jesus tests the lawyer by asking him about the Law.
- Third, the lawyer answers his own question from what is written in the Law.
- Fourth, Jesus confirms that the lawyer’s answer is correct.
Let’s pause here for a second. At this point, Jesus has confirmed the answer to the lawyer’s question. “If you do what the Law demands, then you will inherit eternal life.” (NOTE: It is very interesting that Jesus has indirectly affirmed the theoretical possibility for man to inherit eternal life through the Law.) Therefore, the dialog should end here. But obviously the dialog does not end here. Instead, the lawyer asks Jesus another question. Why? What is going on here?
When Jesus confirms the lawyer’s answer (10:27) by saying, “Do this and live,” Jesus means, “Perfectly love the Lord you God and perfectly love your neighbor as yourself, at all times and in all circumstances, from birth till death, and you will live.” Jesus speaks about obeying the Law in absolute terms, in terms of absolute performance without grace. Thus, there are two possible performances – perfect obedience or abject failure. If a person would inherit eternal life through the Law, then that person must themselves fulfill all the Law’s demands. This is what God the Son means when He says, “Do this and you will live.”
THE LAWYER’S UNDERSTANDING
The lawyer’s understanding of “love the Lord your God” and “love your neighbor as yourself” is dramatically different than Jesus’. The lawyer sees obeying the demands of the Law through a relative lens. According to him (or the Pharisee or the scribe), “Do this and live,” means “make sure your performance is relatively good and better than most, and you will achieve eternal life.”
We need to spend a moment here to grasp the chasm that exists between these two ways of thinking. Even though the lawyer and Jesus have agreed on the answer to the lawyer’s question, they are oceans apart in their interpretation of what the answer means. The lawyer is probably a little surprised by how easy it is to inherit eternal life and, at the same time, Jesus knows that He is the only one who will ever fulfill the Law’s demands (Matt. 5:17). The lawyer is fully confident that his performance of the Law is good enough, while Jesus is implicitly teaching the lawyer that his performance will never merit eternal life. Ironically, Jesus’ words that should have served as a severe warning to the lawyer have probably increased the lawyer’s confidence in his self-righteousness.
THE LAWYER’S SECOND QUESTION
At this point, then, the lawyer has received from the Teacher his answer to his first question, the question about eternal life. Love God and love your neighbor and you’re good. So now, if the lawyer can just get a little clarification about loving his neighbor, he should be able to move on. It is curious that the lawyer asks, “Who is my neighbor?” and not, “How do I love my neighbor?” The Law demands that you “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18), but it gives no guidance on how to do that. It is this question, “According to Jesus, how do I love my neighbor as myself?” that prompts Jesus’ parable, and it is to that parable that we turn in our next article.
Soli Deo gloria rmb 6/5/2023 #656