I used to always want to be right. If someone made a mistake, or had a fact mixed up or told a story incorrectly, I would set the record straight. I played games by the rules and I played to win. If, by chance, I made a mistake, or had a fact mixed up and didn’t remember things the way they went down, I would usually come up with a reason why that happened and why, in my own wierd world that was ok…I couldn’t see that I often broke my own rules…and my low tolerance for others’ faux pas’ created a low tolerance for me! My friends had a derogatory name for me that was preceded by “super”…like I was the worst ever. I look back and think it is amazing that I even had friends!
I have learned that this kind of behavior is about “justifying oneself”. Making oneself look better in light of the events or facts. Having reasons why one did what they did…justifying their behavior and actions with reasons that may or may not make sense.
So it is for the teacher of the Law who wanted to know from Jesus what one must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ answer is clear. Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Right out of the book of Law for the Jews. But the text in Luke 10:29 says the lawyer “wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘Who is my neighbor?'”
If he had been paying attention to the ministry of Jesus he might have known that his neighbor was more than the friendly Jew next door. More than the college of lawyers that met for coffee and bagels every Tuesday morning. More than the nice priests who gladly took his sacrifice on all the special holidays. More than the relatively easily lovable people that moved in and out of his life.
In fact, if he had been paying attention to Jesus, he probably would have known that Jesus might define neighbor as the lamest of the lame, the sickest of the sick, the most shameful of the shamed, possessed of demons and the dispossessed of the culture, the least of the lost and women, children and Samaritans for God’s sake!
No wonder he wanted to justify himself. He wouldn’t even get close to that kind of neighbor.
And that is the point, isn’t it? We would rather justify ourselves and our understanding of scripture, and our view of Jesus, and our way of looking at the world, and our way of loving than really doing what we know to be right and the way of Jesus. It goes back to Luke 9:57-62.
There is a cost to following Jesus. And one of them is to stop justifying ourselves and truly loving our neighbors.
As we begin this second week of Lent, I want to encourage you to look carefully into your soul and see if there is any hint of prejudice, any “—–ism” (fill in the blank: race/age/sex/etc.), any thing that causes you to justify yourself and not see the neighbors that are all around you. Then…repent and believe that the Holy Spirit can change your heart.
God bless you today!