Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Story of the Unbalanced Lawyer

The Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, the 10th Chapter

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “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.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Here’s the story:  “A guy is beat up and left for dead.  Two guys just drive by the scene.  A third guy stops to help.  Be like the guy who stopped.”  Alright!  We’re done here.  I can get the 10:30 a.m. Cape Air flight to vacation!  Amen and...... BYE!  

EXCEPT.  Except, that would leave me sitting in Boston longer AND the WiFi there is terrible, AND more importantly, that’s not the point Jesus was trying to make.  Don’t get me wrong, Jesus does want us to be nice.  Jesus DOES want us to be the ones to stop and help, but that wasn’t the question Jesus was answering.  My dad, whom I’m going to visit, has passed on a wide variety of knowledge to me, from grilling, to fishing, to wild flowers to water pumps, but for today, the bit of my dad’s wisdom we need is to RTFQ, which of course means, “Read the Funny Questions.”  That is TOO what that means.  Don’t argue!  

Anyway, we need that bit of wisdom, because that lawyer has asked a trick question, so the answers Jesus gives are even trickier.  The lawyer asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  What happened after death was a hot-button political debate at that time and the lawyer was trying to pull Jesus into the middle of a fight.  Jesus side-stepped the attack by answering with another question, “What is written in the law?”  

With that move, Jesus left the lawyer slightly off balance.  His attack didn’t land as expected and maybe, just maybe in that one unbalanced, less guarded moment… maybe the lawyer would be able to hear something new.  Listen again to the question the lawyer asks.  “What must I DO… to INHERIT.”  When you INHERIT something, what do YOU do?  Well, YOU don’t do anything, do you?  When you inherit something you receive a gift.  The only person who DOES something is the person giving the gift and the thing that person does, is DIES.  Eternal life is an inheritance… it’s a gift.  Period.  There is nothing for us to DO to get it.  It is a gift which we receive upon the giver’s death.  The giver of eternal life has died (and been resurrected) and we have… all of us… all of creation has, inherited that gift.  Like the song says, “The Strife is O’er the Battle Won!”  It’s a done deal.  The will has been read and the inheritance has been given.  The question at this point is not whether or not you HAVE it.  You have it.  The question at this point is can you SEE it?  Can you SEE the inheritance you’ve been given and HOW LONG will you go before you pick it up and start enjoying it?

The story Jesus tells next, about the Samaritan and friends, is Jesus telling the lawyer and you and me, two hard truths about this inheritance that we’ve been given.  First, just SEEING the gift we’ve been given is really hard.  It’s not shiny or fashionable or wrapped up in pretty paper and tied with a bow.  The gift we have been given looks as inviting as a broken, bleeding, body left beside the road.  The hard truth Jesus is telling us is that the way most of us are finally able to SEE our inheritance is through our own brokenness, hurt, pain and the suffering we encounter in our lives.  God doesn’t make us suffer so that we might see the gift, but it is a hard truth of being human, that the light of God’s love can most often only be seen through the cracks that life deals out.  

The other hard truth in this story is that we often don’t PICK UP our inheritance even if we see it… we don’t often begin to experience eternal life NOW… even though it’s ours to live now.  That's because to pick that up, requires setting down all the other STUFF we carry.  The Priest and the Levite had so much baggage:  Concerns about their own safety… Who might be lurking, waiting to attack them too?  Worries about purity and prejudice, responsibilities and status, career and family and on and on.  They were walking that road piled high with ALL the baggage of their lives.  The same way we all walk the paths of our lives, piled high with ALL our own baggage too.  

When Jesus told that lawyer to, “go and do likewise” Jesus wasn’t telling him to go and be nice to people in order to get some reward, but to go and SEE like the Samaritan saw… open your eyes and REALLY SEE the gift of eternal life you have ALREADY been given.  It's right there in front of you, but you're likely to miss it still, because it won’t be wrapped in glittery paper and bows but in the least, lost and last of the people we find in our neighborhood along the way.  

And when Jesus said to “go and do likewise” he was telling that lawyer to set down ALL the baggage he was carrying… career, traditions, status, prejudice, fear and all the rest so that his hands and heart, his spirit and his mind and his entire life might finally be free to pick up his inheritance… the gift of eternal life and LIVE!

The lesson of the Good Samaritan is not that we should “be nice so that one day we might be rewarded with eternal life” but rather that eternal life is ours already and we will see that truth most clearly, deep within the eyes of our neighbors… the most broken, the least, the last, and the most persecuted of our neighbors.  There... in amongst that brokenness, we will see our inheritance and in setting down all the baggage we have been carrying, we will be able to pick up and live into the gift of eternal life which has been ours all along!  Amen.