Q and A with the Rabbis (Luke 10:25-29)

I have some very good and wonderful friends who are lawyers. Yet this profession is sometimes viewed as lower than a used car salesman or even a U.S. Congressman (though to be truthful, many of them are lawyers)! They may even be seen as worse than pastors!

The job of a lawyer is to represent a client favorably (or in the case of a prosecuting attorney, just the opposite) in the light of the law. To do so, one needs to be good with words, with rhetoric and with logic. We might say that he needs to be verbally “slick.”

In the beginning of our text today we have a slick lawyer. Understand that this is a law expert about the law of God as we know it in the Old Testament, so we could think of him as a theological expert. And we know from a host of biblical passages that these “experts” (who were also rabbis divided into groups like the Pharisees and Sadducees) did not like Jesus whatsoever. To them, he was an itinerant, country bumpkin, non-credentialed, unschooled preacher dude who somehow garnered a following of ignorant people who together upset their comfortable status quo. He needed to be taken down a peg.

To discredit Jesus, he needed to be caught in his words by making some blasphemous statement about which they could accuse or prosecute him. And to do this, Jesus is invited into the “big boy” circle of rabbis who discussed fine points of the law in a sort of question and answer format.

Here is the question that the expert puts to Jesus …

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

He gives him a sticky theological question. The essence of it may be more than would appear in simple terms. It is likely inclusive of more than just how a person is in right relationship with God, but beyond that to how one is positioned by the deeds of life to achieve a high inheritance from God in the world beyond. There were varied answers, opinions and emphases in the Jewish world about this subject.

Jesus answers a question with a question, essentially taking back the initiative in this high-level wordsmanship debate…

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

The lawyer plays along and answers well by quoting two very well-known passages to Jewish people of the time. There was both a vertical (love God) and horizontal (love man) component in his quotes from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

Jesus does not take the bait to argue applications of these passages. As a law expert, the lawyer was certainly part of the community of religious leaders who had many detailed ideas about keeping the Law and obeying it – legalistic details that set them up as the most exemplary people of the time. Jesus just affirms the words of the Word – obey this and you will be fine with God.

The lawyer is understandably embarrassed; he had just been “schooled” by this itinerant, non-credentialed country teacher and had his own authority turned upside down by Jesus’ probing questions.

Therefore when the text says he wishes to “justify” himself, it seems very likely that he was seeking to salvage his reputation or to “get the last word in.”  So he asks the question, “Who is my neighbor?”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

His actual question should have been, “What am I to do, because I cannot love God perfectly, and I cannot love my neighbor as much as I love myself?”  And this would have led to a presentation of the Gospel … but …

The lawyer’s intent was to discover what the minimum requirements were – how to define love’s parameters by linking religious duty with personal identity. It is this assumption that Jesus’ parable so directly challenges.

Before we go on to tomorrow’s portion of the passage that is the actual parable, let’s sort of sit in a circle like the rabbis did and ask a few questions …

What are some self-righteous ideas and beliefs that some people have about how they think themselves to be in good standing with God?

What does it mean to love God with all of one’s heart, soul and mind? Does this not sound something like a sort of works salvation?

What does it mean to love one’s neighbor as one’s own self? Can this truly be done?

This entry was posted in Long Story Short and tagged by Randy Buchman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed multiple hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and have been a sportswriter for various publications and online venues. My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with the Antietam Battlefield Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

2 thoughts on “Q and A with the Rabbis (Luke 10:25-29)

  1. Here I go again, answering blog questions. (I find myself under the illusion that it won’t take too long.) You asked the following.
    —What are some self-righteous ideas and beliefs that some people have about how they think themselves to be in good standing with God?

    What does it mean to love God with all of one’s heart, soul and mind? Does this not sound something like a sort of works salvation?

    What does it mean to love one’s neighbor as one’s own self? Can this truly be done?—

    Sometimes it involves thinking our religious activities are somehow special and make us better. Some religions tend to “Major in the minors.” Cults are particularly prone to fall into this trap. The leadership may denigrate others about something that is at BEST a point of detail, and then let that specific congregation or denomination wallow in a self-congratulatory mindset as the focus of that church is not so much on the two great commandments, or on Jesus, but rather their focus might be on the divisive point. Those that don’t practice the point that they deem important are often thought of as possibly outside God’s grace.

    Some Seventh day Sabbatarian groups see Sunday keepers as compromisers. Some who are very impressed with the baptism by immersion (although I agree that is at least largely correct) may think those baptised as children or not baptised in the correct formula are not “saved”. Bob Bitner, dad of Pete Bitner told me a couple of times about a split in a denomination over some minor point of either the phraseology used in Baptisim or maybe it was whether someone would get dunked after the mention of each person of the trinity. A church split ensued over the controversy on this trite point.

    Speaking in tongues is sometimes very divisive and seen by some as necessary evidence of being saved by some people or denominations.

    Some Young Earth Creationists have made some remarks about whether believing in a literal six days is somehow a salvation issue. Ken Ham has said it isn’t, but others are pointing to some things he said that seem to indicate that he has argued otherwise or at the least, thinks it could be a salvation issue in some contexts.

    Some probably flawed arguments about some pagan elements of Christmas leads some who don’t celebrate Christmas to lump Christmas celebrators in the same category as idolotars. Again a point of tradition or practice gets elevated and they quickly lose perspective on the Will Of God.

    This list can go on and on. Probably a book or encyclopedia can be written on this topic. There are so many ways Christians stumble “We all stumble in many ways” it says in some epistle. In any case, if we learn not to stumble in some way that most other Christians do stumble, we can easily start feeling superior. While doing good works is commendable, the pride that sometimes accompanies it creates arrogance and occasional devisiveness and turns people off. Remember the parable Jesus gave of the Pharisee and the tax collector going up to the Temple to pray.

    So you asked the question about whether obeying the two great commandments sounds like works salvation. I think the scripture is clear that obedience to God is great. When we let pride take hold of us and we forget that anything we do that is good, is ultimately of God … then we are in “works” mindset. Paul repeatedly said that it wasn’t him doing the good work, but Christ in him. When we forget that, then we might be trying to gain points with God. Jesus said that when we have done all that we should do we are to say, “I am an unworthy servant, I have only done what I was commanded to do.”

    God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

    — As for what it means to truly love our neighbor as ourself and as to whether it can truly be done. Paul recollected that occasionally a man might even be willing to die for a good man.

    I suppose that loving your neighbor as yourself, is the hallmark of a teamplayer. We are on God’s team. If we have God’s perspective, we will try and get results for Him.

    Having said all that, with some family issues that I have over the time of my attendance at Tristate Fellowship and having other projects that I think God wants me to do, my time at church has been limited and therefore I haven’t come to know people at church in any way that allows us to serve each other in love. I’ve had some occasional interactions with some ministers at Tristate Fellowship. I know a few other people enough to say “Hi” to them, but God hasn’t put me in the body in such a way as to interact deeply with most. The assortment of gifts that I have, and another assortment of gifts that Tristate Fellowship has, — we don’t have a great deal of contact and when we lack the ability to build each other up … there isn’t much need or reason to engage each other deeply.

    My familiarity with scriptural principles and the little bit of writing proficiency that I’ve developed over the years does allow me to make comments on a blog like this and perhaps write some worthwhile things. So maybe it doing a little that God wants, though my church attendance is sporadic for numerous reasons.

    It is fairly easy to “love your neighbor as yourself”. Knowing what is important or worthwile is the hard part. For example, though Jesus in some circumstances urged people to great strangers and said a failure to do otherwise puts in the same category as tax collectors and pagans … he also told the disciples who he was sending on mission to not great people on the road. The church in Corinth was puffed up, being kind to a a sinner in the church, when Paul said they should have been grieved. Other times Paul warned the people not to support those who weren’t working. He said “If a man will not work, he will not eat.”

    Another serious concern that relates to your question of is it possible to Love your neighbor as yourself, is do we really know how to do good? The answer is not as easy as it seems.
    NIV Jeremiah 4:22 “My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.”
    (Jer. 4:22 NIV)

    This has some bearing on our society where we are so segmented by technology. In ages past people would be forced to be with other people as they go about their daily routines. Need water? People might meet at a common well or stream. Maybe cook outside or walk to the store. Today we can stay in our houses and fill our own needs with hardly any interactions with others. When we try to reach out, we might find that we are awkward and unskilled and haven’t built up even a base of concern or awareness of others and so we just see a person and we don’t know how to communicate that well. (Now since I am quite out of my league and you Randy are a much more gregarious person … it is time for me to end my banter lest I reveal my relative social ignorance and since I still have social weaknesses. I didn’t grow up with strong social skills, (they are far less than my analytical skills) so this is a tangent that I am not worthy to discuss. And I fooled myself again, spent a lot of time on this comment.

  2. Some good illustrations there Thomas. and you don’t even know how much one of them relates to the founding history of TSF! haha… it made me laugh out loud. A time will come when your life is not as convoluted as now and you’ll find ways of serving practically.

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