July 14, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’”
“What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The lawyer’s question is spoken to challenge Jesus. It is meant to test Him. The lawyer wants to know: Is Jesus a rabbi who goes around changing what the Lord had said? Is He establishing a new way of salvation, telling everyone to disregard what the Lord had set as His Covenant? Will Jesus speak out against the Torah or Temple? If so, then the lawyer will have boxed Him in and discredited His teaching.
So how does Jesus answer the question? “[Jesus] said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’” Interesting response. Jesus wants to discuss the Torah with the lawyer, to discuss what the Lord had declared in His Covenant. So the lawyer gives a basic summary of the Law that every Israelite had been taught from youth: “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” He recites part of the great creedal statement of Israel and the basic rule about moral behavior.
And what does Jesus think about this? Does He reject the lawyer’s answer? Does Jesus tell him that what the Lord said in the Torah is not the way to life? Not at all; He confirms it: “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” Jesus had not come to discard the Torah; He had come to fulfill its promises. The Law’s main message was to reveal the Lord’s identity, the Lord’s work, and the Lord’s promise of salvation given to His people. The Torah recorded the acts of rescue and deliverance that He had performed. It spoke of the status that the Lord had given those whom He delivered, making a nation out of them and providing them a way of life. In that Law, the Lord tells His people to love Him, to place their hope and trust in His saving actions for them and then to walk in the new ways that He had established.
In the Old Testament Reading, you heard an excerpt of that Law. The Lord addresses His people through Moses: “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you.” The Lord declares that He has taken His people out of Egypt and is bringing them to Canaan. This is His work of rescue. They had been saved from their slavery. The Lord was fulfilling the promises that He made to Abraham, their forefather, and to them. And as the Lord has saved the people, they now had a new way of life: “You shall follow My rules and keep My statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep My statutes and My rules’ if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.” The people’s actions would reflect their love for the Lord who had delivered them.
So what does the lawyer think about this? Does he accept Jesus’ teaching on the matter? Not really: “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” This question reveals an issue within the man. He seems to seek a way to disregard the Covenant that the Lord had established—the very thing that he was challenging Jesus about! His question looks to define what the Lord had commanded so narrowly, so that there would be certain individuals that he would not have to love at all. The Lord had given the overarching rule about moral behavior: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All of the commandments about interacting with other individuals could be summarized by that. But the lawyer’s question puts forth the idea that some persons exist who don’t have to be loved, some who are exempted. Such thinking shows that the lawyer’s love of the Lord and His ways is a bit lacking.
That is why Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. He shows what the Torah’s statement about love of neighbor looks like. It is seen in the Samaritan’s actions: “When he saw [the robbery victim], he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’” There was no looking for an exemption, no looking for a way to avoid doing what the Lord had commanded. None of that at all. Instead, the Samaritan reflects the love that the Lord had for His people through the actions that he performs for the robbery victim. And that is the type of behavior that the Lord who has delivered His people by compassionately acting for them desires to see them perform for others.
“What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” That question is asked by you and others. It can be asked in times of doubt. Sometimes it is asked as a bit of a challenge to Jesus and His teaching. But how does He answer? “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The answer is in the Lord’s Word for you. For that is what the Scriptures describe. They tell you of the Lord’s identity and work and His saving actions for you. You have heard it again this day, as the words of the Epistle Reading stated: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” That is what the Lord has done for you. He has rescued you. He has taken you away from slavery to sin, death, and Satan. He has brought you to a new way of life.
And so you are called to love the Lord for His saving work done for you. That is how you inherit eternal life. This is why Paul says to the Colossians: “May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” Such giving of thanks includes the living in the ways that He establishes for you. Abiding by the commands that Jesus gives to His disciples about loving one another reflects the love for Him who delivered you. Again, as Paul writes: “We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
But what is lacking from those statements? What can’t you find in them? The question that looks for ways around any of the rules or statutes. What the lawyer does in the Gospel Reading is out-of-bounds for those who love the Lord. Love of Jesus for His saving work does not ask such a question. Love for the Lord’s great act of deliverance does not lead to any attempts to figure out if there are neighbors you need not love at all. Love for the salvation that has been given to you does not bring up the idea of trying to save or justify oneself either. Those statements written to Jesus’ followers in Colossae don’t mention trying to skimp on or to ration out discipleship. No, they spoke of filling, bearing, increasing, and strengthening such living.
Filling, bearing, increasing, and strengthening the life of discipleship—including love of neighbor—that is what Jesus’ gospel does. Again, this is what Paul speaks of to the Colossians: “We heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing….” This is what the Lord’s Word—the statements about His identity and saving work—accomplishes in those who receive it: “as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth.”
But does the lawyer’s question still get asked? Does it even flow from your mouth? Yes, indeed. The challenge does come. It’s part of your being conformed to Jesus’ way of life. But when you ask, “And who is my neighbor?” then Jesus answers again with the story of the Good Samaritan. He responds: “Let Me again adjust your way of thinking. The love that you say that you have for Me is to be displayed in what you do for your neighbor. And when you do so, what really happens is that the love that I showed to you is reflected in your love for them.”
Jesus says to you: “So let me tell you again about My identity and My work for you. Hear again the good news of what I’ve done for you. Once you were a victim of sin, death, and Satan, lying beaten and dead. But I journeyed down from heaven and came to where you were. I saw you and had compassion. So I bound up your wounds. I picked you up and carried you. I brought you back to life again. And it didn’t cost two days’ wages; it cost My body being broken for you and My blood being poured out for you. But that is the love that I have shown for you. I have proved to be a neighbor to you. This is what saved you. This is how you have been given eternal life. You love Me for this. Now go and do likewise. And with My gospel bearing fruit in you, it shall be so.”
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.