“Critical Question with Cynical Intent”

By Akin Ojumu

Underlying the misinterpretations of the parables in the Bible is the presumption that they are factual stories of events that actually happened. Many take parables at face value because they believe, albeit erroneously, that they are narratives of actual historical accounts. 

In reality, however, parables are fables. The events told in the narratives never happened in real life. Parables are fictional stories that are “cast alongside” a truth in order to illuminate that truth. Jesus employed parables as teaching aids, and he used them as extended analogies or inspired comparisons. They were earthly stories with a heavenly meaning. 

And that’s what the Parable of the Good Samaritan is. The telling of it was prompted by an encounter Jesus had with a self-righteous religious man who was an expert in Mosaic Law. The scene for this exchange was the debriefing of the seventy-two disciples whom Jesus had sent out, two by two, as advance evangelistic parties to towns and villages where he intended to go.

Upon their return, the disciples were ecstatic. They enthusiastically gave reports about the many miraculous deeds they were able to perform.

“When the seventy-two disciples returned, they joyfully reported to him, “Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!”” (Luke 10:17).

Amid the euphoria and elation, the lawyer got up to put Jesus to test. Now, we really don’t know why he chose such an inopportune moment to do this, but he did anyway. Something he saw or heard must have propelled him to want to drop what he thought was a bomb of embarrassment at Jesus’ feet. He felt the urge to prematurely terminate the good time the Lord Jesus was having with his disciples who had just returned from a successful mission’s trip.

Maybe the religious leader was offended to hear these nobodies give the testimonies of amazing feats wrought in the name of their master, Jesus. Perhaps it was because he felt insulted when Jesus thanked God for, “hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike.” (Luke 10:21).

Whatever the rationale, the lawyer felt driven to burst the bubble and steal the joy of Jesus and His disciples. He chose that instance to ask a pivotal question with cynical intent.

“Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25).

Immediately, Jesus saw through the pretense. It was obvious to Him that this religious scholar wasn’t asking because he was seeking knowledge, but because he wanted to showboat his superior knowledge. Arrogantly, he posed what he thought would be a difficult question for an uneducated and unenlightened son of a carpenter to answer, hoping to embarrass him in front of the watching crowd.

Rather than give him a straight answer, Jesus seized the opportunity to show the legal scholar the error of his ways. He answered the question with a question of His own.

“What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” (Luke 10:26).

 “You are the religious scholar and the legal expert,” Jesus said, “why don’t you tell us what’s written in the Law? You chant the law, twice a day, every single day, go ahead, tell us what it is that you chant? Don’t tell me you don’t know.”

Flustered but wanting to show off his superior knowledge, the lawyer answered, 

“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.” (Luke 10:27).

Regarding the requirements for attaining eternal life in the Law of Moses, the lawyer demonstrated his expertise by summarizing the entire Law of Moses; perfect love for God (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) and perfect love for neighbor (Leviticus 19:18).

Humanly speaking, no one can meet these two requirements. None can love God perfectly without fail. It’s impossible to love a neighbor constantly, continuously, and perpetually. And that’s the point of the Law. It cannot be kept flawlessly, faultlessly, and indefinitely in order to be justified.

“Because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20)

Justification cannot be earned. By grace and mercy, God gives it. In humility and thanksgiving, we receive it. Yet, this self-righteous religious scholar arrogantly believed he had attained it. He failed to acknowledge the futility of his own effort at loving God perfectly and the impossibility of loving his neighbor perfectly. Instead, like all sanctimonious religionists do, he sought to justify himself. Rather than fall down on his face and plead for God’s mercy, he was determined to prove his right standing with God. 

Obstinately, he numbed his pricked conscience and silenced the Holy Spirit’s tug on his heart. Summoning all the pomposity he could muster the lawyer asked,

“And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29).

We’ll take it from here next time…


Popular posts from this blog