On this Fifteenth Sunday of the year, we hear the very familiar story of the Good Samaritan. The question that each of us must ask ourselves is, “Why do we feel the need to justify ourselves to other people?” Notice in the encounter, Jesus helps the legal scholar to answer his own question (“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”) by inviting him to refer back to the law which he knew so well. The scholar quotes the She’ma Israel a prayer which is known by every faithful Jew. However, the scholar gets into trouble when he wants to further his position and justify himself, in essence puffing himself up with his supposed knowledge. Jesus quickly shows the scholar how little he really knows about God’s law.
In short, we know God’s law, but sometimes we, like the legal scholar, feel a need to parse and pare down God’s law or God’s word into something that we find more palatable. For example, God’s law says, “Thou shalt not kill.” However, some people advocate killing the terminally ill and call it euthanasia. They justify their position by saying that it is “allowing people to die with dignity.” Others may advocate terminating pregnancy by abortion and call it pro-choice. They justify their position by saying that abortion “saves the life of the mother” or that a woman should have the right to “reproductive freedom” because it is her body.
As we continue to immerse ourselves in God’s Word during these summer months, perhaps we should take some time to ask ourselves, “Do we try to justify our positions in order to somehow circumvent following God’s commands?” Are we like the scholar of the law who could quote God’s word but yet could not see that the phrase “love your neighbor” also applied to his ancestral enemy?
God’s law has been written on our hearts and His word is spirit and life. May each of us learn to follow God’s commands in a more literal and more expansive way. Let us learn to be more like the Samaritan and less like the scholar of the law.