Summary: Title comes from a sermon by Robert Wuthnow. Jesus tells a great story. We know it well. Or do we? Some quotes from Ken Bailey "Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes"
In Jesus Holy Name July 14, 2019
Text: Luke 10:25 Redeemer
“Peeling the Onion - Let Me Do It”
At first glance the Gospel lesson is going to give us a list of the things we can do in order “to get into heaven”. That is what the Jewish lawyer is asking Jesus. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus tells a great story. We know it well. Or do we? In the Gospel of Luke we find that the parables and teachings of Jesus were written for Christians in the 1st and 21st Century. They were chosen by Luke to answer the question: What does it mean to “follow Jesus? What is discipleship?
Chances are if you grew up going to church you know the parable of the Good Samaritan. It’s as well known as the Prodigal Son. It’s a good story. Its message is timeless. “The parable of the “Good Samaritan is famous for its ethics.” It’s a multi layered story that we can easily oversimplify. It’s a lot like an onion. We have to peel it one layer at a time in order to get to the core of the message. And like an onion sometimes we cry when our heart is touched.
At the outer layer, the lawyer’s question is one many would like answered.“ “What do I have to do to obtain eternal life.” This question is like the question that causes teachers to cringe when they hear, “What do I need to do get an A?” Good teacher’s hate this question. They much prefer the question, what will I learn? Or how I will I improve?
Now to be fair, this is a loaded question. If the Bible said that a man on the street asked this question we might be more apt to believe that this was a genuine question. But it’s not just anyone who asks. It’s a lawyer. It is a Jewish lawyer. He is an expert in the Jewish law?
And lawyers back then and today are taught to never ask a question for which they already have an answer. And the lawyer has the answer. And Jesus knows that the lawyer thinks he already knows the answer and so Jesus said: “you know the law, tell me yourself”.
The lawyer responds: “You must love God and your neighbor.” Jesus said: You have answered correctly. “Do this and you will live.” Wait. Jesus did not answer the question. Do this an you will live is not the answer to question. Jesus chooses to tell a story.
Actually, the lawyer’s original question is flawed. What can anyone do to inherit anything? Inheritance, by its very nature, is a gift from one family member or friend to another. If you are born into a family, or perhaps adopted into it, then you can inherit. Inheritance is not payment for services rendered. The religious lawyer knows this.
Yet the lawyer’s question is a valid one. People than and now want to know if “they can do anything to earn eternal life.” The order of the answer is important. “Love God” comes before “love of neighbor.” It is hard to love the cranky, ungrateful neighbor until the disciple’s heart is filled with the love of God. It is only the love of God that provides the energy and motivation necessary for the difficult task of loving the neighbor.
To inherit eternal life, all he must do is to consistently practice unqualified love for God and his neighbor, without ever failing. If you can meet that standard, you don’t need grace. Who can you truly love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength? The problem is not with the law, the problem is that we cannot keep the law. That is why we need Jesus He kept God’s laws perfectly. (Romans 7:13-20)
The lawyer presses. Who is my neighbor? The onion begins to be peeled.
So the lawyer says to himself: “Fine, so I must love God and my neighbor to earn my salvation. What I now need is some clarification of exactly who is and who is not my neighbor. Then I can proceed. He wants to justify himself. (Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. Kenneth Bailey p. 287)
He is looking for a list that he can manage. In his culture, in his mind, the neighbor will include his fellow Jew who keeps the law in a precise fashion. Gentiles are not neighbors, and everyone knows God hates the Samaritans so they certainly do not qualify as neighbors.
Jesus tells a story.
The story takes place on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. This road was, and still is a notoriously dangerous road. The road between Jerusalem and Jericho is a seventeen-mile hike of narrow rocky passages, and of sudden turnings, which made it easy for robbers to take advantage of travelers. This would have been common knowledge for the original listeners of Jesus’ story. It was not a surprise that a human being was mugged and beaten along the side of the road.