The lawyer is caught in a trap and he can’t walk out. The thing about it is that the lawyer was trying to trap Jesus. Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? That’s a softball question. A lay-up. It’s also a set-up for the attempt to set the trap.
Jesus answers the lawyer’s question with a question of His own. What is written in the Law? How do you read it? The lawyer doesn’t know it yet, but Jesus has already won the rhetorical battle by answering a question with another question. He throws the whole matter back into the lap of the lawyer, who gives the correct answer straight out of Scripture. 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. Jesus responds with do this, and you will live.
How are you doing with that love thing? Love is a tricky word. You say you love God. You say you love your neighbor. You say you love everyone. You say you try not to hate people. There is no try in love. Either you love or you hate. There is no trying here. The love that is expected by the Law is a perfect love. Perfect love casts out fear says Holy Scripture. Your love is not perfect. Your love is not even close to perfect. Your trying to love doesn’t measure up to the love that God expects from His creation.
You can answer the question right all you want, but you have to deal with the big question that the lawyer asks Jesus: And who is my neighbor? Either he really doesn’t know the answer to the question or he knows the answer, but is looking for a way out. The way of man when dealing with the Law of God is to look for a way out. We do the same thing with the law of man. We hire a brilliant lawyer and tell him or her to find a loophole or two or three so we can get out of something we did wrong. When confronted with the Law we qualify our response with our favorite conjunction: BUT. “Yes, Officer, I was speeding, BUT I live two blocks away and….” “Yes, Lord, I love You, BUT I’m not so sure You will keep Your promise to me. So I have a backstop. I have this idol here that I’m going to cling to for a while. You’ll understand, won’t You, Lord?”
No, there’s no understanding here. Either the Lord has ALL your attention or NONE of your attention. Either your neighbor receives ALL your love or NONE of your love. Either you see ALL people as your neighbor or you see NO ONE as your neighbor. There are no shades of gray here.
Who is your neighbor? It’s quite a trap. If you want to be selective about who is your neighbor, what do you do with Jesus’ parable of the Samaritan? That’s you lying half-dead in the ditch, having been stripped and beaten. Should you look to your old pal the Law to help you out of this one, you’ll be disappointed. They can’t help you out of the trap. They can only expect you to go and do likewise. No one has ever been loved out of a ditch while lying there half-dead. That is why the priest and the Levite go out of their walk to walk on the other side. They are exposed to another attack by the same robbers. The love they have for the man is to exhort him to help himself by doing as he is told. When you’re half-dead in a ditch on the road to Jericho, you’re not going to be concerned with trying to be more obedient in order to live.
That’s the Law for you. It says “do” when you can’t do it. You can make a beginning to do it, you can try to keep it, for God’s Law is good and wise and holy, but you, at some point, will fall short of keeping it the way you should. Again, there are no gray areas in the Law. Do it and you live. Don’t do it and you die.
A Neighbor comes along Who exposes Himself to falling into the same trap as the half-dead man did. He came to where he was, and when He saw him, He had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then He set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day He took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.”
And this man was a Samaritan.
This man was an arch-heretic. This man was a half-breed Jew who must be despised. This man has no business doing what he did. If anything, the Samaritan should finish him off and leave him for the wolves and vultures. Instead he takes pity on the man and helps him, showing incredible generosity to the innkeeper as well. You don’t just drop a half-dead man off at an inn and take off, entrusting all expenses to someone who could take advantage of you. The Samaritan did.
The Samaritan exposed himself to another possible attack. He could have fallen into a trap like the man he tried to rescue. There could have been another attempt on his life on the way to the inn. The innkeeper could still take advantage of his generosity. There are so many “what ifs” here. Isn’t that how you treat the Gospel, though? “What if I am not good enough for God? What about that sin? Is that one really forgiven? What if I sin again in five minutes or five seconds? What if Jesus will pass me by someday and give up on me? What if He is no longer my neighbor?”
Jesus never forgets a sinner, especially the rankest sinners. It’s not that He remembers you because you’re such a horrible sinner, and you are. He remembers you and takes care of you because He knows you can’t do it. That is why our heavenly Father sent Him to be born of a woman for you. Jesus comes to fulfill the mandate of love for you. As He fulfills the mandate of love, so He gives the mandate to love one another. This is done by believing in the Son of God Who falls into the trap of the lawyers and Pharisees. They condemn Him to die because He said He was the Son of God. They didn’t believe it, but their words were true.
Jesus allows Himself to be caught in the trap in order to free you from the trap of sin and death. All your sin, all your death, all of hell’s slings and arrows fall on Jesus. You walk away free and forgiven. When you fall into traps set by the devil, your sinful nature, and the world, Jesus is there not to encourage you to try a little harder. Jesus is there to take away your sin and guilt and give you His forgiveness and innocence. His compassion never ceases.
The lawyer ultimately falls into the trap when Jesus tells him, You go, and do likewise. You go and show mercy like a Samaritan would show mercy. That’s not the answer he wanted to hear. Saint Luke leaves us hanging on how, or if, the lawyer responded. The ultimate response is Jesus’ death and resurrection after He was condemned. But when you ask a Law question, you get a Law answer. You also learn that you can’t help yourself. Jesus, the Good Samaritan, is your only help from death to life.