And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And he 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.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE.” But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:26-29 NASB)
There had to be something about Jesus that drove the religious elite up the wall. I’m guessing it had to do with His attitude, demeanor, or perhaps His refusal to show off how much He knew what others knew. He seemed to only quote Scripture. He never referred to any known scholars of the day. He only used His own interpretation of Scripture. Or maybe it was that being anywhere close to Him made one acutely aware of how unholy and unrighteous one was.
This lawyer stands to “test” Jesus. It’s a test that desires to see the quality of what is tested. I infer from the context that the lawyer asks without any assumption as to the expected outcome. I think he really wants to know who this Jesus person is. When he stands, the lawyer is in the “driver seat” directing the conversation to his desired outcome. Yet that lasts two sentences into the conversation. He asks, then Jesus asks, and the lawyer is now the “occupant.” Something about Jesus’ question, his answer, and Jesus’ response leaves the lawyer wanting. I wonder if this feeling of being “undone” was the expected outcome of the test.
The lawyer desires, wishes, wants to be justified. He wants to justify himself. So, he’s looking for validation from Jesus. Why? What is it about Jesus’ response that has this legal eagle so bugged? Jesus gave the expected response. When asked, it’s a teacher’s normal process to ask a question in response. The lawyer gives a good answer, one Jesus will use later on in the Temple with other lawyers. Jesus affirms the answer. So what’s the problem, why the need to justify himself?
Jesus heals lepers. Jesus speaks with and stays with Samaritans. He travels to Gentile regions, and even heals someone there. Jesus seems to accept women, even ones with dubious histories. It’s a fairly safe bet this lawyer does none of this, or rather accepts no one in any of these categories. To be near Jesus and talk with Him is to throw into sharp relief the distance between the love Jesus lives out and the love this lawyer lives out. He needs this validation because he has just subordinated himself to the teaching of One who loves the unlovable. That was not what was supposed to happen. It left the lawyer undone, needing justification.
Me too. Seriously, me too. How can anyone read and really study the Gospels, sift through the life of Jesus, and not be undone? How can we be confronted by this One accepting the unlovable, touching the unclean, taking the time to speak with women, holding up a child as an example of greatness, and then feel justified? It’s not possible. Even if the deeds match, something in the attitude would leave us undone. Unless we don’t care. Unless we really are not that interested in Jesus’ life and seeing where we fall short. We can even justify ourselves by skipping parts. But when we don’t skip, when we allow ourselves to be confronted by the Teacher who lives out perfect love, we feel the need for justification.
It’s the desire to justify ourselves that holds the danger. The whole parable was designed to remove the option of self-justification. The lawyer may have wanted to justify himself, but the Teacher was not going to give him that option. It was necessary for the lawyer, and for us, to feel the need for justification. We need it. It’s part of why Jesus came, part of why He went to the cross, and part of why He needed to rise from the dead. Justification is the result of knowing Jesus and submitting to Him as Lord of our lives. Justification is available because Jesus suffered, died, and rose again. Justification happens because our “defense attorney” is the Son of the Judge who has already paid for our crimes. The court is rigged, the trial is predetermined in its outcome. We win.
A fool has himself as his attorney. The lawyer failed to justify himself. We fail to justify ourselves. But we can always take the option left to us by the Teacher. Would you rather be your own defense attorney before the Judge, being accused by the Satan? Or would you rather opt for the rigged trial where the Son of the Judge defends you? The path to that outcome is through Jesus as your Master. It’s not exactly “free”, it costs your submission and belief. You declare Jesus is Lord with your mouth and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead. But God does not believe lies. Our life and heart are the litmus tests as to whether we have done this. So, is Jesus your Advocate or are you still trying to justify yourself?
What do you see in the dialogue between Jesus and the lawyer?