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I love Luke’s emphasis on the Holy Spirit. He tells us that the Spirit overshadowed Mary, and the eternal Logos assumed flesh (1:35). The Spirit, in the form of a dove, descended upon Jesus at His baptism (3:22). Jesus faced His desert temptation while empowered by the Spirit (4:1). Quoting Isaiah, declaring His anointing by the Spirit, our Lord began His public ministry (v. 18). Conceived, empowered, and anointed by the Spirit, Jesus is next found rejoicing in the Spirit. What filled Christ’s heart with Spirit-wrought joy? The humbling irony that the wise and understanding of this world miss gospel truths that Jesus enables little children to embrace (10:21–22).

This is the context for a “test” a lawyer devised for Jesus (vv. 25–37). Trying to back Jesus into a corner never works out well, then or now. And stories, once we assume we have them figured out, tend to lose their punch. Let’s take another look.

“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test” (v. 25). That’s Luke’s way of saying, “Check this out—a really smart Old Testament theologian got up in front of everyone and tried to back Jesus into a corner.” He asked a crucial question about eternal life—the question the Bible addresses from start to finish. However, Luke wants us to know the intention behind the inquiry. Not only was this Bible scholar trying to trip Jesus up, but he assumed he could justify himself (v. 29). “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The question is ill conceived and arrogant, as it assumes that inheritance—by definition, a gift—is something that can be earned. This false gospel thread runs through us all. We all ask what we must do to earn eternal life, to merit our justification.

Not only does putting Jesus to the test never work out well, but it is strictly forbidden (Deut. 6:16). Jesus, undaunted, turns the tables with a test of His own. He asks this expert in the law about the law. It seems like batting practice to the self-assured lawyer. He speaks quickly, confidently, concisely: “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” (Luke 10:27). Jesus basically gives him an A+, saying, in effect: “There’s your answer. You said it yourself. Fulfill the whole law, and you’ll have eternal life” (see v. 28). The lawyer is correct about the law, as he has brought together the commands to love God and neighbor (Lev. 19:18; Deut. 6:4–5). And Jesus, of course, is right—eternal life hinges upon completion of the law.

We are the cherished possessions of the One who became our neighbor, assuming flesh, dwelling among us.

The very learned lawyer, not to be outdone, conceives a second round of testing to make sure Jesus knows the answer is not so simple: “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Our Lord again turns the tables, but first, He tells the lawyer a story.

The story Jesus tells would make for great theater. An unsuspecting traveler is on a dangerous journey, one not for the faint of heart. Seventeen steep miles, descending 3,300 feet, from Jerusalem down to Jericho. Bishop J.C. Ryle called the road to Jericho “the bloody way.” Jesus knows that the lawyer will sense the danger. The only thing that could be added is, “It was a dark and stormy night. . . .”

The curtain is raised: robbers! Out of nowhere! There are treacherous, remote passages, peppered with clandestine places from which to ambush the unsuspecting and unaccompanied. Our weary traveler is left naked, bloodied, broken, and half-dead (v. 30). Enter stage right: a priest. He sees and passes by—on the other side of the road. Same with the Levite who comes by next (vv. 31–32). What if this were a corpse? They can’t risk defilement. Who knows what ethical gymnastics they employ to rationalize, even sanctify their lack of compassion. When we see the needy, especially when it involves risk, when more than convenience is at stake, will we reach out or leave? Charles Spurgeon, whose pulpit was in the heart of a great city full of wonder and riches, impoverishment and crime, once admonished the congregation of the London Metropolitan Tabernacle:

You have smiled over what the priest might have said, but if you make any excuses for yourselves whenever real need comes before you, and you are able to relieve it, you need not smile over your excuses, the devil will do that; you had better cry over them, for there is the gravest reason for lamenting that your heart is hard toward your fellow creatures when they are sick, and perhaps sick unto death.

A surprising entrance, stage left: a Samaritan. The lawyer knows there is nothing good about a Samaritan. Yet the Samaritan has splanchna. It’s not the most eloquent Greek word as it rolls off the lips, but it has to be one of the most beautiful words. It means “compassion,” and the Samaritan pours the oil and wine of compassion on the man’s wounds and binds them. What a tender scene. Jesus says the Samaritan has compassion. But, in a sense, compassion has consumed the Samaritan. He gives and gives in abundance. Nothing is lacking for this poor stranger’s care at the inn (vv. 33–35).

Now, Jesus turns the lawyer’s question back to him. Instead of answering, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus, drawing an unassailable apologetic from His poignant tale, asks the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (v. 36). The lawyer’s arrogance is under gracious assault. He answers, “The one who showed him mercy” (v. 37).

Perhaps the lawyer has begun to understand. We need to consider anew both the message and manner of Jesus’ mercy. We must go and do likewise. Most everyone takes a turn, bruised and beaten, on Jericho Road, as it were. That road may consist of emotional issues, financial distress, illness, addiction, or marital disharmony. Will compassion triumph over convenience? Pity over prejudice? Tender understanding over the tyranny of the urgent? What if someone wound up on Jericho Road through sinful foolishness? Should I bother to help someone like that? But isn’t that how most of us find ourselves on our own Jericho Road?

What if the needy person is just too different from me? Maybe someone from their side of the tracks should step up. But the question isn’t, “How can someone whose skin color is not like mine, whose beliefs are different, whose sexual past, present, or future is embarrassing possibly be my neighbor?” Rather, we must ask, “Whose neighbor do I get to be today? Whose neighbor can I become?” If, as Psalm 23:6 says, grace is on the chase, then let’s join the race. Even if—especially if—that race is risky, costly. Even if—especially if—we aren’t “made of money” ourselves. After all, the race of the Christian life to which Hebrews 12:1 refers is an agona—it can be agonizing, burdensome. Jonathan Edwards preached a searching sermon, “The Duty of Charity to the Poor,” in which he asked:

If we are never obliged to relieve others’ burdens but only when we can do it without burdening ourselves, then how do we bear our neighbor’s burdens, when we bear no burden at all? Though we may not have a superfluity, yet the case may be so that we may be obliged to give for the relief of others that are in much greater necessity, as appears by that rule; Luke 3:11, “He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none, and he that hath meat let him do likewise.”

Giving our coat, covering the naked cold of another, we clothe ourselves with compassionate hearts (Col. 3:12). Let us not turn away like the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17–22, wanting to earn eternal life and disheartened because his great possessions possessed him.

We are the cherished possessions of the One who became our neighbor, assuming flesh, dwelling among us, running the race for us, fulfilling the whole law, burdened with our sin, left bloodied, beaten, and dead on the cross. He lifted us up off the Jericho Road of our own sin and brokenness, poured the oil and wine of salvation upon us, covered us with a new “coat”—the robe of His righteousness (Isa. 61:10)—bound our wounds by His wounds (53:5), and secured a place for us in the inn of the inner sanctum, beyond the veil (Heb. 6:19). He now bids us to be loving neighbors.

Rather than ask what we must do to earn eternal life, we become neighbors to the needy, not to earn eternal life, but to evidence that we have eternal life; not to merit our justification, but to manifest we are justified by a grace that is ever on the chase, especially when we wander down paths most remote and treacherous.

Enabled to Love

Loving Ourselves

Keep Reading Loving Our Neighbors

From the March 2018 Issue
Mar 2018 Issue