A Fool for a Client
Recently I taught on the parable of the Good Samaritan. For a brief moment we paused together at a few portentous words out of the mouth of the lawyer who prompted the story. He, you will remember, asked Jesus how he might be saved. Jesus, in turn, asked the lawyer what is written in the law. The lawyer gives the two great commandments and Jesus replies, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” Now here comes the telling part, “But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘Who is my neighbor?’” Isn’t that something? He wanted to justify himself. Now why would that be?
The law, of course, condemns us sinners. Sinners that we are, we seek then to blame the law rather than ourselves. We suggest to ourselves either that the law is unclear, or unreasonable. We, ironically, seek to law ourselves away from the law- Well, the party of the first part, unable to determine the party of the second part is hereby absolved of all wrongdoing toward the party of the second part. That’s the gist of where this lawyer was going in asking who his neighbor was. What is interesting is that Jesus doesn’t tell the lawyer who is neighbor is. He tells the lawyer instead that He is the neighbor. Our attempts at earning God’s favor in keeping His law leave us naked, battered and in desperate need of rescue. Jesus alone can rescue us. He must carry us to safety. He must pay our debts, that our wounds might be healed. And He promises to come back for us. In short, we cannot justify ourselves by asking who is our neighbor. Instead we can only be justified by the One who is our neighbor.
Though the story does not say so, I suspect that when the man was healed sufficiently to go on with his life, he went through his days filled with gratitude for the Samaritan neighbor. I suspect, on the hand, that he too remained something like the lawyer. I suspect that he too, from time to time, faced the temptation in the face of the law to justify himself. He, like the lawyer who first asked the question, had a fool for a client. We all do the same. Even we who confess our dependence on the finished work of Christ alone do not always and everywhere when confronted with the law rejoice in the provision of the Great Neighbor. Too often we seek to justify ourselves. We make excuses. We rationalize. We object to the one Judge in all the universe who must always judge rightly. We seek to justify ourselves to the one Judge in all the universe who wants only one thing of us, that we would repent and believe still more.
The message here is less “Be a good egg and rescue people who are stranded on the side of the road” and more, “I am in a desperate situation, and Jesus is always and everywhere the answer. He has provided for my need, and I need no longer seek to do the impossible, to justify myself.” Would that we would always have ears to hear.