"Teacher, he asked, 'what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
It is interesting the way Jesus responded to questions. Sometimes he was happy to answer them. "Lord, will you teach us to pray?" the disciples asked in Luke 11. And Jesus responded by teaching the Lord's Prayer. A good question gets a good answer.
Other times, however, Jesus refused to give a straight answer because the question was based on a false premise.
In Mark 10, two of the disciples asked if, when they came into his kingdom, one of them could sit on his right and the other on his left. This is a bogus question because, no matter the answer, it is based on a desire for honor and power. So Jesus refused the question.
In today's passage, a religious leader asked what seems to be a straightforward question: "Who is my neighbor?" But the question had a sinister motive. If the man could get a clear definition of who his neighbor was, then he would be free to place limits on to whom he showed mercy. After all, the sacred text says we should love our neighbors as ourselves. Doesn't that imply that we are free to withhold such love from those who aren't our neighbors?
Jesus saw through the smoke screen and refused to answer the question. In fact, you will notice that at the end of the story, he answered a different question. The man wanted to know whom he was obligated to treat as a neighbor. But Jesus asked, essentially, which of the three characters in the story acted like a neighbor. That's the Critical shift. Instead of determining where we can draw the limits, the story forces us to consider how we will be neighbors.
Like most of the parables Jesus told, this one blows up our cherished ideas and our preconceived notions. You will sometimes hear it said that the Bible is the answer to all our questions, but based on today's reading I would say that is not necessarily so. It turns out that not all our questions are worth answering. Perhaps it is better to say that the Bible is in the business of teaching us to ask better questions.
"Holy God, teach me to ask the questions that matter to you.
Through Christ, Amen."
Written By: Chris Cadenhead