The other time Jesus was questioned about the greatest command, an expert in the law asked Jesus: What must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus, in typical rabbinic fashion, answered his question with a question, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” Jesus wanted this man to recognize that he already knew the answer! The man answered just as Jesus had in the previous story. Jesus praised him for his right answer and encouraged him to put that answer into practice: “Do this and you will live!”
The expert in the law, in typical expert fashion, wanted to justify his actual practice (or the lack thereof), so he sought to fine tune the answer – “And who is my neighbor?” In response Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. The interesting thing in this story is the Jesus used it to answer a different question than the expert in the law actually asked. His question was, “And who is my neighbor?” The question that Jesus answers is “To whom am I a neighbor?”
The expert in the law was looking for a loophole to spare him the difficult task of actually living out the implications of the truth concerning the greatest command to love God and love people. He wanted to know the right answer, but to be free from having to practice the right answer.
Christianity has struggled with this desire over the years and even developed ways to enable us to defend ourselves against the tension. We often, as Christians, focus a lot of attention on what we call orthodoxy – or right belief, but Jesus calls us to more! He is glad we know the right answers, but challenges us to understand that they are not actually right if we fail to live them! Orthopraxy – right practice – is what Jesus is calling us to!
“Who was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Jesus asked. The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise!”
If we do not practice the commandment to love God with all we have and to love our neighbor as ourselves, it is pointing to the fact that we do not really believe it after all. If we practice it, we cannot help but believe it!
- Kenny Payne