How can we really love God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves to receive eternal life?
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. Teacher, he asked, what must I do to inherit eternal life? 26 What is written in the Law? he replied. How do you read it? 27 He answered: 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, Love your neighbor as yourself. 28 You have answered correctly, Jesus replied. Do this and you will live. 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, And who is my neighbor? 30 In reply Jesus said: A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. Look after him, he said, and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have. 36 Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers? 37 The expert in the law replied, The one who had mercy on him. Jesus told him, Go and do likewise.
Part I: Love God, Love Your Neighbor
I presume that many of us have heard sermons with this passage, by which we are encouraged to love our neighbors as the good Samaritans did. The preachers develop directives that we are to love even our enemies, because a Samaritan helped a Jew, supposedly, in spite of the enmity Jews and Samaritans had for each other.
Therefore, we try to help and love our neighbors in need even if such neighbor happens to be our adversary. This means that both we and the preachers read and understand the parable as a commandment to love our neighbors. It is not bad, because we ought to love our neighbor anyway.
However, if we read the parable in this way, we have not yet understood the intention of Jesus, because Jesus, as the Savior, will speak about the way of salvation, not the law for us to keep.
This will be clear when we think about the initial question of the lawyer, which is “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Precisely he is asking Jesus “How can I be saved?” Therefore, the parable which is given in answer to this should be read in the light of the salvation of Jesus, not as a commandment to help our neighbors.
In addition, there are some more points we need to pay attention in order to understand correctly what Jesus means by this dialogue. They are as follows:
First, “Is Jesus giving us such a shallow teaching?” Do you really think that Jesus gives this parable for us to help the people who are half dead? As we all know, such teachings are already given to us in kindergarten even before we believed. In reality, other pagan religions and secular charity organizations also promote such a help and practice it as much as we do, or even better in some cases. It will be a shame to us if we, the believers, need to be taught by the sermons that we should not overlook such a half-dead man.
The word of Jesus cannot be such a shallow teaching. On the contrary, it is too profound to be revealed easily. For example, we who have all kind of knowledge accumulated over 2000 years of Christianity are misguided in interpreting this parable, as we will see through this article, and based on such misguided interpretation we believe. In this sense, sadly, the current Christianity fails to represent the truth and life of Jesus, if it does only by notion.
Second, “Were the priest and the Levite so particularly wicked? The priest and the Levite taught and preached to the people to do good works for the sake of God. Of course, they themselves were also diligent in doing good works as leaders of the religious community. This expert in the law, the lawyer, was also a leader. Nevertheless, Jesus says they passed the half-dead man by crossing to the other side of the road.
This is a big question which makes this story unreasonable, showing the extremes. But this is not an actual event that happened by which Jesus intended to give us a moral lesson. This is a parable which works as a medium to reveal to us the hidden spiritual truth, and so we should find it.
Third, “Is ‘love your enemy in need,’ which we get from this parable, the teaching of Jesus?” I am raising this point, because Jesus already knows that we cannot love our enemies in spite of numerous commandments. Jesus will not command us with this parable once more to do what is beyond our ability. Furthermore, as I pointed out, the lawyer’s question is about salvation and so Jesus’ answer, the parable, should be about salvation. Surely, we cannot inherit life by the deed of loving our enemy.
To sum up, this parable reveals salvation which will be given to us by Jesus. And this salvation is something that is related to destroying our sinful old self on the cross following Jesus, not the works we do which are commanded by Jesus.
Now let us get started.
What Must I Do to Inherit Eternal Life?
The story begins with the question of an expert in the law to test Jesus. The lawyer asked Jesus to test Him.
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Lk 10:25).
As an expert in the law, he teaches and preaches to the people to do good works for the sake of God. Of course, he was also diligent in doing good works, as a leader of the religious community. He was sure that such a life would be praised and approved by God, which, he thought, would result in eternal life, of course.
Having this confidence in his life, he came to Jesus who was doing many miracles which cannot be carried out without God. The lawyer wanted to test Jesus to be reassured that He was really from God by asking the above question. In his mind, if Jesus recognized him and his good deeds, he would recognize Jesus as the man who came from God.
Therefore, this was not the simple question which was raised because the lawyer did not know something. In fact, through this question the lawyer wanted to get approval from Jesus, like this, “Well done! Keep it up. You will inherit eternal life.”
We may think that he is ignorant, because salvation; i.e., eternal life, is given to us not by works, but by faith. However, if we think a little deeper, we will realize that the only thing that we will present to God to avoid His judgment will be our works. So we should not say hastily that we are different from this lawyer who does good works to inherit eternal life.
We may craftily justify ourselves in the following manner:
We are already saved, because we have confessed the Lord as our Savior and believe in Him in our hearts. And the reason why we try to do good works is to get rewards in heaven, so we do not do good works in order to be saved.
In this way, we separate good works from salvation. However, this is a misguided doctrine which is far from the truth. If we are saved, we will naturally do good works, as every good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit (Mt 7:17). Salvation and good works are one, as the tree and its fruit are one. So if we are saved truly, good work will stream out naturally from us as a part of life, not for the reward and not for any purpose.
Furthermore, salvation is being born again, as Jesus says “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (Jn 3:3). Salvation into the kingdom means being born again into the kingdom.
In reality, we, like this lawyer, are trying to inherit eternal life by works, but manipulate language to justify ourselves.
What Is Written In the Law? How Do You Read It?
Jesus replied to the lawyer’s question as follows:
“What is written in the Law?” and “How do you read it?” (v. 26).
The word of God that is written in the Scripture contains the intent of God, the writer. But readers will read according to their own eyes independently from the heart of God who wrote it. That’s why Jesus is asking this question of the lawyer.
How about us? “Are we sure that we read the Bible according to the heart of God?” Whatever answer we may have, we are to read the Bible with our own legalistic eye, which will convert all that it takes into the law unwittingly and automatically. This legalistic eye will only be removed when we are truly saved.
Love God, Love Your Neighbor!
To Jesus’ question, the lawyer summarized the whole Old Testament simply in two sentences.
“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, Love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 27).
It is not easy to sum up like this, and we can know how diligently this lawyer has searched the Scripture. Anyway, what will be the meaning of that? It is simple and easy. It is, as written, a command to ‘love God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves.’ So, the lawyer has been trying his best to practice it, even though it is a heavy load. We also struggle to love as commanded by the Scripture and to work following what Jesus did. And we read the parable of the Good Samaritan as a commandment to love our neighbors. We read all the Scripture as if it was the law to keep.
However, the true meaning of “Love God and Love neighbor” is ‘grace’ which says, “If you meet and follow Jesus, He will make you a man, a being, who loves God and loves his neighbor naturally.” This will be clearer when we discuss the parable later.
Now, you will see that what we read is totally different from what was meant. That’s why Jesus says to us “What is written in the parable?” and “How does it read to you?”
Do This and You Will Live!
Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly,” and “Do this and you will live” (v. 28). The lawyer thought he was on the right track. He understood Jesus’ saying as that “if you continue to love God and love neighbor as you do now, you will receive eternal life.” So he will try to do so even more diligently.
However, as we discussed, what Jesus meant was “Follow Jesus who is in front of you and be born again, then you will inherit eternal life.” You will notice that the dialogue between Jesus and the lawyer runs parallel without crossing right from the beginning to the end.
Who Is My Neighbor?
“But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, And who is my neighbor?” (v. 29).
When the lawyer heard Jesus saying “Do this and you will live,” he wanted to justify himself showing that he was helping the people in need. So he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”
The lawyer expected Jesus would answer “Your neighbor is he who desperately needs your helping hand, being half dead.” If Jesus said that, then the lawyer’s good work would be justified. We all will share the same opinion with the lawyer and so we already have been helping our neighbors in the name of Jesus.
Unfortunately, however, Jesus answered very unexpectedly.
Who Do You Think Was A Neighbor to the Man?
Jesus, without answering outright, gave a parable of the Good Samaritan. Read the parable to refresh your memory and to follow this explanation. After giving the parable, Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (v. 36).
The lawyer answered, “The one who had mercy on him,”—who was the Samaritan. The Samaritan was the neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers. To the lawyer’s question of “Who is my neighbor,” Jesus derived an answer through the lips of the lawyer himself, that, “Your neighbor is the Samaritan.”
We have to think deeply about Jesus’ question. When the lawyer asked, “Who is my neighbor,” Jesus questioned back to the lawyer, “Who was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” We automatically convert this question in our hearts into “Who was the neighbor to the Samaritan?” Of course, our answer is “The man who fell into the hands of robbers,” and try to find such a man to stretch out our helping hands.
I guess this is the way how we have believed in Jesus up to now. But, Jesus never said anything like that. It is our interpretation of our own way and how we go around all over the place.
Listen carefully. The lawyer’s question was “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ answering question was “Who was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Jesus equates the lawyer with the man half dead.
In other words, Jesus says that the lawyer cannot save and help the neighbor, but he is to receive pity from neighbor, the Samaritan. Therefore, Jesus’ answer to lawyer’s question “Who is my neighbor?” was the ‘Samaritan,’ not the ‘man who was half dead.’
You will now understand that what Jesus said and how it reads to you are totally different. And you have followed Jesus based on such misunderstandings so far. Then, do you think you have followed Jesus, or someone else? Someone else, of course. If you continue to believe in this way, at the end of the day Jesus will say to you, “I never knew you. Away from me,” as a natural consequence. Do not think this is an isolated case, because all along you have been reading the Bible with the same eyes. It’s time to think deep.
Go and Do Likewise!
Regardless of what and how the lawyer understand what Jesus said, Jesus added further,
“Go and do likewise!”
By this, what Jesus really meant is: “You, the lawyer, are the man half dead who fell on the hands of the robbers. You need a good Samaritan, the real Jesus, who will save you. And only after being saved, you will likewise be able to save your neighbor.”
If he does not realize that he is half dead, he will interpret this saying as a commandment to help the half-dead man, too, being himself half dead. However, if you understand what Jesus said correctly as above, you will try to find Jesus first of all, and stop searching for the half-dead.
Meet Jesus, a man, and follow Him, and you will be saved.
Already done so?
Do it again, correctly this time!
Taken from “The Second Call of Jesus”