Part 1 from “Jesus, the Expert in the Law, and the Parable of the Good Samaritan”
During a recent time of prayer, I felt like God was saying to me, “Love wider.” I instantly understood what he meant by that unusual phrase. He was referring to loving in circles beyond the circles of people I care about, into the realm of loving people I don’t know (yet). I don’t generally immediately trust what I hear in prayer, so sought a Biblical context for what God seemed to be saying to me, as a confirmation of the word. I felt led to take a look at the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which is found in Luke 10:25-37. This is the first in a series of articles based on this passage.
Let’s begin by taking a look at the first part of this passage, through the first words of verse 30, and let’s use the New Living Translation (NLT), since it does a nice job bringing out some of the nuances of meaning.
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 neighbor 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 neighbor?”
Jesus replied with a story.
The first thing we see here is that Jesus was being tested. We’re not sure what the motivation or the goal of the testing was. Was it to see what kind of theology Jesus had — something we might chalk up as a asking a legitimate question or demonstrating a reasonable curiosity? Or was it something more malicious, such as to show Jesus up and embarrass him publicly? Perhaps there was some other motivation. In any case, Jesus knew that he was being tested and perhaps challenged in some way.
I learned a lot by how Jesus replied. In his approach, he didn’t try to show the lawyer how bright he was or how holy he was, as perhaps another expert in the law might have done — or as I perhaps would have done. Jesus’ ego wasn’t involved in the answer — he was secure in who he was, and didn’t need to prove his credentials or his worth. Instead, he reflected the question back to the lawyer, for him to answer. Reflecting the question back can be helpful when you see that someone is looking to start a verbal confrontation. First of all, many people really just want to tell their position more than they want to refute yours. Second, understanding is about listening, and listening can start with a question. This might be a good technique for all of us to learn to diffuse potential conflict in conversation — reflecting the question back, and then really listening to the response.
In the story, the expert in the Law gave a really good answer to the question — very similar to what Jesus himself had taught in other circumstances. As a result, Jesus responded with hearty approval. Isn’t this smart?! Instead of trying to create conflict, find a point of agreement, and acknowledge the way in which you agree, not how you disagree.
Many of us actually look for the differences to emphasize. I wonder why we do this? Perhaps it is reflex — either wanting to carve out our individuality, or perhaps we are taught to note nuances in situations and like to point them out. Maybe we are legitimately trying to learn, in which case the point of difference would be met with a question to gain additional understanding, not an argument.
Finally, Jesus takes the good reply from the lawyer and extends it in such a way that challenges him in a positive way toward holiness. Jesus goes from “good theology” that the lawyer offered, to “how to practice one’s faith”, emphasizing that it is more important to do than to just understand. And because Jesus listened well to the answer initially given by the expert in the Law, and because Jesus let him know that he agreed with his answer, it opened the door for the expert in the Law to ask a real question, this time not to test Jesus, but because the lawyer himself wasn’t sure what the answer was, and he really wanted to gain understanding. Now we see the conversation went from shallow to deep, and from testing to learning.
May God grant us all wisdom to turn potentially adversarial conversations into ones that lead to connection, agreement, and deeper faith!
This article is based on parts of a sermon given July 10, 2016, at Community Gospel Church in Pasadena, MD (http://www.cgcpasadena.org).
The image is by the Dutch artist Jan Wijnants, painted around 1669, and was downloaded from http://www.hermitagemuseum.org/wps/wcm/connect/5fdaab61-ab3a-46b9-92fd-f7d42ce68768/WOA_IMAGE_1.jpg?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=42b159be-d5d3-43d7-8338-12f02d76fba4.