How should we understand Jesus' answer to the question posed to Him in our Gospel reading for today?
"Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
Jesus answered at first with another question, "What is written in the Law?" Or, to put it another way, what does the Bible say?
And the man said: "You should 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."
Our Lord then answered: "You have responded well; do this and you will live."
But does the Bible not say that we are justified by faith, not by works? Yes, it does. For the answer Jesus gave in today's text is always the answer given to the proud and impenitent, for those that trust in their own works stand condemned by the Law.
The man who asked Jesus, "What should I do to inherit eternal life?" believed in his own righteousness and that he had already done enough to earn God's favor. Without a doubt, he had observed all of the ceremonial laws and the civil laws of Israel.
But Jesus said, "Look again in the Bible." It is true that it is written, love the lord with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. Certainly this is the holy will of God for our lives. But it is not strictly a matter of rituals and external acts.
As our Old Testament lesson (Zechariah 7:4-10) says, Jehovah was not satisfied with solemn fasts and prayers from His people when all that concerned them was their own sufferings, and nobody had compassion for the widows, orphans, foreigners and other marginal people.
God wants a change in the purpose of our lives, a total dedication to serve Him and our fellowmen. We cannot realize this purpose by our own strength or reason.
You have to understand that the Jews hated Samaritans. For one thing, the Samaritans were the children of marriages between Jews and other ethnic groups. They were not of pure blood. Furthermore, the ancestors of the Samaritans had betrayed the Jews in past battles. The Jews did not consider the Samaritans their neighbors.
Nevertheless, when a Jew had fallen by the roadside far from the city, the "religious men" passed him by, not wanting to lose time or money.
The Samaritan, on the other hand, was moved solely by compassion, He did not have expectations of gratitude from the fallen man, only concern for his well-being. He did not look for the approval of the community. He was not focused on himself, but on his neighbor, a Jew.
You see, there are two types of evildoers in the world. One scoffs at the laws of God and men, saying, "I will take what I want, regardless of the needs and rights of others." The other type of evildoer is the hypocrite, the false friend, who hopes to gain something for himself by good works. He thinks he can fool even God with his insincerity, but that cannot happen.
The truly just man does good works without thinking of himself. But, how can we follow the example of the Good Samaritan?
With the forgiveness and grace of God. Because of this, every Sunday we affirm our purpose is to love God and our neighbor, but that we often fail to to do this. Thanks to Jesus Christ, His suffering and death on the cross, we have the desire to live as children of God. With the gifts of absolution and the Holy Spirit, we can accomplish this in the end.
Because the purpose of the Law never was to save us. As the Apostle Paul says in our epistle reading (Galatians 3:16-22), the promise that God made to Abraham and his Seed was not based on the fulfillment of the Law. Who was the Seed of Abraham? Jesus Christ, of course, God promised an inheritance to Abraham and his Seed. The inheritance was eternal life. We share in this inheritance by faith in Jesus Christ.
Therefore, the Law was given, first of all, as a mirror to show us our sinfulness. If we believe in our own righteousness, we need to read what is written in the Law of God to see where we fall short. The Law also was given as a check against the evil of the impenitent. The government has the authority from God to restrain the wicked works of the rebellious and disobedient.
But for those who believe in Jesus Christ, the Law is a guide or measuring-stick to show us how we can serve God and our neighbor. We obey the Law not to escape punishment or to earn favor with God, but because of the love. This is our answer to the love God has shown us in Christ.
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