Over 2000 years ago, a scribe stood forth to test Jesus and asked Him, ‘‘Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied by questioning the scripture lawyer of his understanding of the law. “What was written there, and what did he make of it?” So he, the scribe answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus told him he was right and that if he would do that, he would live.
The testing scribe, proud that he could quote scripture, may have been distressed at the Lord’s agreement. “Do this and thou shalt live.” Betrayed perhaps by his conscience, he demanded a definition of the neighbor whom he must love as himself. Do we see how this works? Our neighbor makes us aware of our love, or lack of it, toward God, while loving God with less than all indicates we love our neighbor less than we think. The identity of our neighbor, who heaps this demand of love upon us, is “a certain man”. No other name would suffice here because he is any man, every man. He may be any gender, race, creed, political persuasion, religion, social class, or intellect. Think of all the personalities we encounter along the way. This might quickly get harder than it seems. Close friends we could love. Immediate family we should love. Those we like we might love. Those we dislike, we must love. The lack of love for our neighbor cannot be cloaked or disguised by religiosity as represented by the priest and the Levite. On the other hand love may be possessed and expressed by an outsider, as represented by the Samaritan. Note what he gave to this stranger-neighbor; his compassion, his time, his day and intentions for the day, his care, his money, and his pledged word of reimbursing future expenses. Note the lack of publicity, interviews, or names. No trumpets here.
The instruction Jesus gave to the scripture lawyer, who with arrogance brought up the eternal life question, is direct and to the point, “Go and do thou likewise.” To so be and to so do, Jesus says, is the way to life. Humility will seek a place at this table. Puffed up scripture lawyers are farther afield than sorrowful publicans. Love of God must encompass loving all whom He loves, and He loves our neighbor. Love makes demands and according to Jesus is the starring act of obedience toward God. It is easy to say, easy to forget, hard to always do. The first faltering steps of a babe are wonderful in the eyes of it parents. They will expect more as the little one grows. Learning and remembering to love cultivates the genuine and sincere form of the agape.
There is one other scribe to mention, one with a discerning heart who noted to Jesus that to love God completely and one’s neighbor wholly, was greater than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. Jesus replied by telling him he was close, very close. He was close because he had seen the heart of the commandment. And what he saw was the Author.
What to do with these tremendous love commands of Jesus? The road paved with love which leads to life begins with honest repentance. One cannot repent unto perfection or unto whole goodness, but it is the essential beginning to a love affair with God and our neighbor. Do not fret about or fear, perfection. It will come when you are not looking and your feet are unbound to gravity, gifted through the blood of Jesus and the fire of the Holy Spirit. In the meantime remember, the wounded man needed love, not perfection, and Jesus believed the parable worth telling.
Luke 10:25-38, Mark 12: 32-34, Matthew 3:11.