by Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca) on July 15, 2001
Jesus respectfully turned the question around and asked the theologian what he thought would earn him a place in heaven. The Pharisee teacher quoted "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (from Deuteronomy 6:5). He added to Scripture the words "with all your mind." For him using your mind to devote yourself to the study of the law was a supreme duty (that is still emphasized among Jews, but inevitably it excludes a lot of ordinary people). Then he quoted from another book of the law, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). Jesus told him he had given the right answer, and he should go and put that into practice.
What the Pharisee should have asked was "How does one love God?" We will think of the answer that Jesus might have given to that supremely important question in a moment. Instead the learned theologian asked a trivial trick question about whether a neighbor is just the person who lives next door, or is it all those who live in the neighborhood, or does it apply to all Jews in the land? Jesus forced him to answer his own question by a story about the road to Jericho. It is a long winding walk downhill from Jerusalem. (Mollie and I once tried to walk it, but we picked up a bus half way down). In Jesus' day there was a danger from robbers who lurked in the caves in the surrounding hills. And in this case a man had been beaten up, robbed, and left bleeding to death by the roadside.
A priest ("that's what I am called") had finished his duties in the temple in Jerusalem, and was hurrying home to his family. When he saw the wounded man he passed by on the other side. Levites assisted in the worship and one of them came by and he also thought it was wiser not to get involved - the robbers were probably still around. Samaritans lived where Arabs now live on the West Bank, and the Jews had no dealing with them (John 4:9). But it was one of them who saved the man's life, brought him to the inn in Jericho, left $200 for him to be looked after, and promised to pay anything else that was needed. Who acted as neighbor to the wounded man? And the lawyer had to admit it was the Samaritan.
Now notice anyone of us could face a similar situation driving to a family reunion on a lonely road up north. We see a car turned over in the ditch, and a man is bleeding to death. Most of us would take off our shirt, use it as a tourniquet to stop the blood, and at great inconvenience drive the man to the hospital. This kind of love for any neighbor in trouble might be called emergency love. But there are many kinds of serving love that we can engage in. God leaves us free to invest our loving in anyway we choose. Some love neighbors in a leper colony, Mother Theresa loved the sick and dying on the streets of Calcutta, others love their employees, or serve in a food bank, and many need care and attention in our cities.. Love for others is always costly, and it can be dangerous. But if the expert in Old Testament law had asked "How do I know what I should do for my neighbor? Jesus would have replied "Put yourself in his shoes, and ask yourself how you would like to be treated in that situation." That covers just about any situation we might encounter.
Now let's go back to the most important question this learned man should have asked from the Son of God. "How do I love God?" And I think Jesus would have asked him "How does a little child love his daddy or his mummy?" Some people think you love God by thinking up some suitable prayers to address God with proper respect. Imagine a little child talking to his dad, "Thou art the ineffable source of all the rich bounty of our patrimony." The Pharisees collected 613 rules for loving God from the Old Testament. Imagine a little boy making a list of all the rules his dad and mum might want him to obey.
But we can easily tell when a little child loves his daddy. When he is frightened he runs to his daddy. And when we are worried or anxious, love for God means running to our heavenly Father. A boy who loves his mum loves to tell her about all that interests him. "I saw a big butterfly and tried to catch it. My friend Joe tried to beat me up, but I got him on his back." We need to share with God all that happens in our life. When children are hurt or upset they like to cry on their mother's lap. And when we get hurt and treated badly, loving God means that we cry in his lap and pour out our hearts to him. Children love to play with their parents, and read with them. And we love God by inviting him into our play, and listening to his stories. We might say that loving God is enjoying being with God.
Now you can see how the great theologian asked the wrong question. "What
must I do to inherit eternal life?" He expected Jesus to give him a bunch
of rules and duties. But God's love is not earned by doing. God loves us
totally long before we thought of loving him. All we have to do is to accept
his love and enjoy him. And when we do that, the second command comes easily.
We find our heart is "moved with pity" like the Samaritan, and we love
others (as many of you are doing) often in very costly ways.