GOSPEL Reading: Luke 10: 25-37
Some time ago, I used to have discussions with a rather disturbed gentleman. He was a nice bloke, who lived with his mother and sister on the outskirts of town. He eeked out a living fixing lawnmowers. His life had been one tragedy after another. His father had been severely depressed, and had often threatened to kill himself. His family had been so scared that they hid his guns from him. One day when my friend was a young teenager, his father found a gun and shot himself. If this was not unfortunate enough, this young boy heard the shot, and rushed out of the house to discover his father still alive. Without going into detail, you can imagine that this had a serious effect on this young boy. He began to have uncontrollable fits of rage, eventually hospitalising himself after he slammed a hammer into his left hand then temple.
His speech and vision were affected, and he was placed on medication. I first met him when he came to my door and he started asking questions like - How come if there is a God, a loving God, there is so much pain and suffering in the world? His view of the world was that we were all corrupt, our lives and actions were putrid. He asked question after question, and when I would shrug my shoulders and often admit I had no answer - he would reply - “And you call yourself a minister!”
Finally, after many conversations with him, I decided that the only way his questions would be resolved was if God dealt with him. I told him, “Look, I don’t know the answers to your questions, But God does - Why don’t you ask Jesus into your life and raise these questions directly with him?”
His response was “I’ll believe in God if he changes my life” I said “He will change your life if you believe in him” We came to a stalemate, and that was the end of our discussions. When I think back on it, I believe that his questions were his way of distancing his pain. He had a lot of questions, he knew a lot of emotional pain.
A Lawyer comes to Jesus and puts a question to Him - “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Its a good question - its a religious question, a theological question. But as you read the story, don’t you get the feeling that the lawyer doesn’t really want to know the answer. Jesus responds to the lawyer’s first question, not by giving an answer, but by making the lawyer answer. What do we find? The Lawyer already knows the answer to his question! He knows the commandments - love God (Deut 6:5) and love your neighbour (Lev 19:18). Why ask a question when he already knows the answer?
Why? Because he doesn’t like the answer! So he asks the question, maybe hoping for some change maybe in the belief that while he keeps asking questions, he can keep the answer at a distance. Maybe this is why he is full of questions “Who is my neighbour?” “Who should I go out and love?” “Who is worthy of my love?”
Jesus turns the questions back on the Lawyer. He asks him, after telling his parable of the man wounded by the road, “Who was a neighbour to the man in need?”
I don’t think the Lawyer wanted to hear this question, because it forced him to give an answer - an answer he was uncomfortable about. Maybe he knew that God requires us to love God and our neighbour with everything we’ve got.
While the discussion is intellectual, academic, cerebral - it is just a discussion - but Jesus wont let the Lawyer, or us, get away with asking questions we are not willing to back up with active answers.
Here we come to God with our questions, big large religious questions, when deep down we already know the answers. That’s often the problem really. We know the answers! They are the answers that would require us to change our lifestyles, to be converted, to be turned inside out, upside down. And that can be painful. It would require us to put our money where our mouth is - to put up or shut up.
Jesus’ parables have a way of coming back at us. We want to have the big religious discussions, and then the parable throws it back at us. We find that the answer is within us. Jesus moves religion from the level of deep discussions about religion and turns it into a mirror in which we are confronted with ourselves. We realise that our questions can be a smokescreen for our unwillingness to change.
Do you have any questions? I have heaps! I think one of the main questions that we ask is the one the Lawyer asks - “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Or to put it another way “What must I do to feel close to God?” These are the Big Issues!
And then Jesus shakes his head and sighs. Religion is not as complicated as we sometimes make it. It is a matter of loving God and our neighbour. Now the question turns back on us. What have you done to love God and your neighbour? In what specific, practical ways have you been a neighbour to the one in need? We come with questions, and what do we find - we are the ones who are asked to give an answer!
Who is your neighbour?