Summary: Main point: Stop justifying ourselves and be the neighbor
This sermon is by James Choung of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. You are also invited to visit James’s blog at http://www.jameschoung.net/.
Introduction: on desiring to justify myself
I’m a new dad. We have a six-month old boy, and his name is Isaiah. We call him "Ice" for short. I know. Ice, Ice Baby. We’ll just hide the Vanilla Ice records.
Before he was born, I did what many new parents did: I did my research. I read books. People recommended them. What else was I supposed to do? They said it would help our kid sleep. Like Babywise. It basically told me that I should sleep train the child, starting on day 10. Or I’m spoiling him. My wife, on the other hand, wanted to pick him up at every whimper. So naturally, there was conflict. Huge. During weeks two to six, we had the worst fights of our marriage. Because no one could compromise: we were both protecting the boy, right? I needed to be right. I mean, I had Gary Ezzo, the baby expert, on my side, right?
And my friends who already have kids would come over and graciously say, "Um... James... 10 days... don’t you think that’s a bit early?" And I’d get huffy. I mean, I read the book. Didn’t they? Doesn’t that make more sense that what our friends say? I mean, when I read things in the Bible, don’t I just do it? "But James, Babywise, isn’t..." "That’s not the point!"
Right, because the point really was that I wanted to be right. I needed to be right. Because there are few things more satisfying that hearing: "you’re right." Because if I’m right, I don’t have to change. It means that everyone else around me needs to.
Let me introduce you to another character who needed to be right. He’s a lawyer, which seems to me like double trouble: someone who has a need to be right, and has the law behind him as well. Open up your bibles to Luke 10.25 if you have it, but you can just look up at the screens as well.
1. Who they thought it was: fellow Israelites (Luke 10.25-29)
Read 10.25-29. This lawyer already wants to put Jesus to the test. So this isn’t a normal inquiry, it’s an inquisition. His initial question is: what shall I do to inherit eternal life? In the original language, eternal life didn’t only signify "immortality." It literally means, "the life of the ages." It was the eternal kind of life, the kind of life that was meant for eternity. The Kingdom kind of life. How do we inherit this kind of life?
Jesus quotes the Shema from Dt. 6, which literally means "hear." This was the central prayer for the Jewish people. And they prayed it at every morning and evening prayer. And then he quotes a known verse out of Leviticus 19.18: love your neighbor as yourself.
This lawyer responds with a question. The narrator tells us that he’s "desiring to justify himself." He wanted to be right, like me and my sleep training.
This lawyer, as all lawyers do, knows the law. As many lawyers also know, they know the loopholes. Because if you just pay attention to the jot and tittle of the ink, then you can always find loopholes. And this lawyer was savvy. Everyone knew that "neighbor" meant Israelite. Check out Leviticus 19.18. He smelled a loophole, and jumped through. He asks his question: who is my neighbor? because he’s expecting for Jesus to say, "our fellow Israelites." Then, he would be able pat himself on the back and say like another rich young ruler, "all these I’ve kept since I was a young boy." He has loved his kinsmen: the people like himself. And if he’s right, he doesn’t have to change.
But Jesus does not let him off the hook. In fact, Jesus is going to take the puffed-up lawyer and help him see that he doesn’t have it right at all. He’s actually got it all wrong.
2. Who it isn’t?: the religious elite (Luke 10.30-32)
I love Jesus’ way, which was a rabbinic way. Ask a question, and a rabbi will often respond with a question or a parable. And Jesus does this. Check out Luke 10.30-32.
The path from Jerusalem to Jericho was a treacherous one. It was, at that time, called the "Bloody Pass." It’s a meandering road that starts 1,200 feet above sea level in Jerusalem, and ends up 2,000 feet below. Through all the winds and curves and cliffs, this was the perfect road to jump someone for all they had.
And Jesus is a master storyteller. The first two characters in this passage are, of course, Israelites. And not just any Israelite. They were the top brass. They were the ones who thought they were right. A Priest. So think: pastor. And Levite, from whom the tribe of Priests were taken. Think: worship leader. Or church staff.