A reflection on the scripture for Sunday, July 14th, 2019
Scripture for this week: Luke 10:25-37
I have been vindicated! The jury said I am innocent! See, my brother confessed! I have a picture of the dog doing it, he really did eat my homework! Vindicated. That word is synonymous with “justified,” as in, “But the lawyer, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor? (Luke 10:29 NRSV).” The lawyer wants to vindicate himself. Vindicate himself from what?
I know I am reading this into the text of the story, but that is what a pastor does. The lawyer feels guilty. The only reason he would be trying to vindicate himself is because he feels guilty about something. The thing is, Jesus has not accused him of anything. They have just been having a conversation. The lawyer asked Jesus what he had to do to gain abundant life (eternal life was not a Jewish concept. No Jewish person at the time would have asked what they had to do to gain unending life. That is our modern translation of eternal. At the time it had the connotation of a life completely connected to God, abundant). Jesus responded with another question, “Lawyer, you know the Law. What do you think?”
“Well, Jesus the Law says that I need to Love God with all my heart mind and strength, and my neighbor as myself.”
“Excellent,” Jesus replied, “Do this an you will live.”
But the lawyer feels guilty. He feels the need to vindicate himself. From what?
From the only thing that makes sense in the context of the story. He has not been treating people as he would like for them to treat him. Perhaps he has used and abused people. Perhaps he has taken advantage of people. Perhaps he can get Jesus to tell him that those people are not really people in the eyes of God. So, the lawyer attempts to justify himself by asking, “OK Jesus, who exactly should I consider a neighbor?”
Jesus replies by telling a story. You’ve all read the story or heard it a time or two. The dreaded enemy-other (a dark skinned person, LGBTQ+ person, Muslim, Hindu, etc. person) is the hero of the story. After Jesus tells the story he asks the Lawyer, “Who was the neighbor in this story?”
“Well, of course it was the one who showed mercy, Jesus.”
“If you want to experience abundant life, you need to do that also,” Jesus replied.
Jesus gives us the path to spiritual, emotional, and physical freedom, a life deeply connected to God. It is as simple as living the Golden Rule. Yet we so often fall short of that rule. But instead of changing our behavior, we look for vindication. The problem is, self-vindication never works. Life giving, no abundant life-giving justification only comes from God. That justification is felt when we truly love all our neighbors as our self.
Miroslav Volf writes, “Whether we are aggressors or victims, genuine repentance demands that we take ourselves, so to say, out of the mesh of small and big evil deeds that characterize so much of our social intercourse, refuse to explain our behavior and accuse others, and simply take our wrongdoing upon ourselves: “I have sinned in my thoughts, in my words, and in my deeds,” as the Book of Common Prayer puts it. Genuine repentance may be one of the most difficult acts for a person, let alone a community, to perform. For good reasons, Christian tradition thinks of genuine repentance not as a human possibility but as a gift of God.”
What Jesus was really telling the lawyer in his story is this, “You have sinned against a neighbor. That is why you feel guilty. Go and ask forgiveness. Repent. And then love your neighbors as you love God. When you live that way, you will experience the abundant life that is the evidence of your justification in God’s eyes.”
It is the feeling of divine love that we receive through loving our neighbor that is the experience of abundant, eternal life.
May you experience that life to the fullest.