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GOD’S KINGDOM AND NEIGHBOUR

Read­ing Time: 10 minutes

(Ref. Texts: Deut 30:10–14; Col 1:15–20; Luke 10:25–37)

In great cit­ies men are brought togeth­er by the desire of gain. They are not in a state of co-oper­a­tion, but of isol­a­tion, as to the mak­ing of for­tunes; and for all the rest they are care­less of neigh­bours. Chris­tian­ity teaches us to love our neigh­bour as ourselves; mod­ern soci­ety acknow­ledges no neighbour.”

Introduction

This Sunday Gos­pel (Luke 10:25–37) touches a fun­da­ment­al ques­tion – life after death. It is about the rais­on d’être of human right­eous con­duct – the quest for etern­al life. The lawyer’s ques­tion is both an exist­en­tial and soteri­olo­gic­al ques­tions. Who is not in any way con­cerned with the here­after? The concept of etern­al life is a uni­ver­sal concept. Although stated dif­fer­ently, every reli­gion and every people believes in the after­life. Accord­ing to Hinduism for instance, until a per­son attains Enlight­en­ment, Sam­sara will con­tin­ue. Sam­sara is a con­tinu­ous cyc­lic­al pro­cess of birth, life, death and rebirth. This is the Hindu concept of the trans­mi­gra­tion of the soul. The attain­ment of Enlight­en­ment sig­ni­fies a per­son has attained etern­al life and will no longer exper­i­ence sam­sara. What is the con­nec­tion between God’s king­dom and neighbour?

As Jesus jour­neys to Jer­u­s­alem, he is con­fron­ted by a schol­ar of the law who pre­ten­ded to know what he must do to inher­it etern­al life, but the truth is that he wanted to test Jesus. He must have listened to him and became uncom­fort­able with Jesus’ inter­pret­a­tion and applic­a­tion of the law, that he now moved to tempt him. In Mark and Mat­thew, the ques­tion is about the greatest com­mand­ment. But here in Luke, the law­yer asks what he must do to inher­it etern­al life. Again, In the Gos­pels accord­ing to Mark and Mat­thew, Jesus answers the ques­tion by cit­ing Deu­ter­o­nomy 6:5 and Levit­i­c­us 19:18. While the former con­cerns lov­ing God, the lat­ter is about lov­ing the neigh­bour. In Luke, Jesus asks the schol­ar to answer what is writ­ten in the law. Nat­ur­ally, the man responds with Deu­ter­o­nomy 6:5. Deu­ter­o­nomy is one of the most import­ant pray­ers in Juda­ism. It was said twice a day in Jesus’ time. Love of God and neigh­bour are what is required for etern­al life. Jesus’ response to the man is simple and dir­ect: “Do this and you will live.”

Not want­ing to give up, the law­yer raises anoth­er ques­tion. Who is my neigh­bour? Who is this per­son that I must love like myself? With the dis­tinc­tions between Jews and Gen­tiles, men and women, clean and unclean of Jesus’ time, the ques­tion on neigh­bour was a trick ques­tion. Jesus responds with one of the most beau­ti­ful of all the par­ables – the Good Samar­it­an. This par­able is found only in the Gos­pel accord­ing to Luke.

What must I do?

And behold, a law­yer stood up to put him to the test, say­ing, Teach­er, what shall I do to inher­it etern­al life?” (Luke 10:25). I must observe that it is strange for an observing Jew to ask what he must do to have etern­al life. the Greek word nomikos per­tains to the law. It refers to someone learned in the Mosa­ic law. In the Chris­ti­an (New) Test­a­ment, nomikos refers to the inter­pret­er of the Jew­ish reli­gious laws (cf. Matt 22:35). This law­yer must have listened to Jesus on sev­er­al occa­sions, and must have observed that his teach­ings are not on the same ped­es­tal with that of the Scribes and oth­er Jew­ish author­it­ies. His inter­rog­a­tion imme­di­ately fol­lows the send­ing and return of the sev­enty-two dis­ciples with Jesus’ final com­ment to his dis­ciples in Luke 10:23–24. How­ever, the expert in law did not ask this ques­tion because he genu­inely desired to be taught by Jesus. He only wanted to jus­ti­fy him­self (cf. Luke 10:29).

The Jews believed that sheep­ish observ­ance of the Torah was enough to mer­it them the king­dom of God. Since the law­yer have been observing and listen­ing to Jesus and so needed to con­firm his doubts, he needed to find out why the Jew­ish law was not enough to earn him etern­al life. Ini­tially, Jesus answered him in terms of the com­mand­ments (Luke 10:25–28), then fol­lows an explan­at­ory story explain­ing the mean­ing of neigh­bour and the right­ful way to inter­pret the law. Although the law­yer had a dif­fer­ent inten­tion for ques­tion­ing Jesus, yet, Jesus seconded him in order to bring him on the right track. Jesus took his mind to the words of the Scrip­ture in Deu­ter­o­nomy 6:5 and Levit­i­c­us 19:18 (cf. also Luke 18:19–20). If the law­yer wants to inher­it etern­al life, then, he should go and do what the law says. But was this man sat­is­fied by Jesus’ com­mand to go and do what the law says?

Going beyond the law

To the lawyer’s ques­tion (Luke 10:25), Jesus asked, “What is writ­ten in the law? How do you under­stand it?” (Luke 10:26). To love the Lord your God involves hav­ing faith in God and delight­ing in God above every oth­er thing and every oth­er per­son. Both Mat­thew, Mark, and Luke include the words heart (emo­tions, will, and deep­est con­vic­tions), soul (the imma­ter­i­al part of a person’s being), and mind (reas­on).[1] Mat­thew (cf. 22:37) alone lacks the term strength[2], an indic­a­tion of the total devo­tion of one’s entire being. Jesus acknow­ledged the lawyer’s accur­ate and abstract know­ledge of the law and, informed him that he has answered cor­rectly. This means there is noth­ing wrong with the lawyer’s answer. How­ever, there is everything wrong with his under­stand­ing and applic­a­tion of the law.

Now, fol­lows the great chal­lenge. From the abstract and the­or­et­ic­al know­ledge of the law, the law­yer is invited to embrace the prac­tic­al aspect of the law. This is the mean­ing of do this and you will live. Abstract know­ledge of “what shall I do to inher­it etern­al life?” is insuf­fi­cient. One must go bey­ond the uto­pi­an mas­tery of the law. That is, one must prac­tice this law. With the story that fol­lows, Jesus will prove to the law­yer that he falls far short of fol­low­ing the com­mands he recited. Many Chris­ti­ans (espe­cially their lead­ers) are like this Jew­ish law­yer. They have a per­fect but abstract know­ledge of all the can­on laws, the vari­ous doc­trines, writ­ten and con­ven­tion­al laws of their vari­ous churches, but they lack the prac­tic­al know­ledge. They are incap­able of doing that which these laws com­mand. What a dis­ap­point­ment! And what a great les­son by Jesus!

Reflecting on neighbour

But want­ing to jus­ti­fy him­self, he asked Jesus, and who is my neigh­bour?” (Luke 10:29). This ques­tion is due to the lawyer’s desire to jus­ti­fy him­self, an atti­tude that reveals his insin­cer­ity and super­fi­ci­al­ity in terms of the law and what God wants. The Greek verb used by Luke (dikaioō) shows the man saw him­self as a just and right­eous per­son simply because he stud­ied and inter­preted the law. Desir­ing to jus­ti­fy him­self means he wanted to prove he has known the com­mand­ment from his youth (cf. Luke 18:21).

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