There’s this story in the Gospels that tells of a man who came to Jesus and asked,
‘What must I do to inherit eternal life? ‘
That should capture our attention. I mean, after all… this is THE BIG QUESTION, right?
How can we be ‘in’ with God? How can we know we’re not headed toward hell?
Think about the question :: What must I do to inherit eternal life?
That question, answered by the Son of God.
Grab a pen and paper. Take note. Write this down. Pay attention.
His answer may surprise you.
The young scribe had just the right question for this rebellious rabbi. ‘What must I do?‘
Jesus stopped and turned, his eyes looking into those of the man who asked, seeing past them and into his heart. ‘What does the Torah tell you?‘
The lawyer had paid attention as a boy. He knew Jewish Law and custom. It was, after all, his profession – to be a student and defender of the Law.
He rattled off the right answer in response ::
‘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 love your neighbor as yourself.‘
Jesus seemed pleased.
Some in the crowd later said they saw the Great Teacher crack a gentle grin.
‘You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.‘
As Jesus turned to continue along the path towards Bethany, the man asked ::
‘…who is my neighbor?‘
And this is where the story really begins.
Jesus answered, ‘A man was going down a steeply descending road – the one from here to there – from Jerusalem to Jericho.
On the journey, thieves came and stripped him naked, beating him and stealing all that he had, leaving him for dead.
There he lay, alone – bruised and beaten, along the side of the highway – hurting.
It just so happened that a Priest was heading down that way.
‘Perhaps the Priest will help me,‘ thought the man.
But the priest passed by him on the other side, pretending not to see.
Then a ‘super priest’ – a Levite – came upon the man.
They made eye contact. The victim looked at the Levite with desperation in his eyes.
‘Please. Help me,‘ he whispered through the pain.
The Levite passed along the other side just like the Priest before him, thinking if he got blood on his hands that others would see him as unclean. Maybe even God would. He went on his way, leaving the man to die.
But then, a Samaritan came.
<At this, the crowd sneered. Samaritans were despised by the Jews – they were half-breeds with mixed Gentile blood and different worship, which centered around a different mountain (not Mt. Zion, where the Jews worshipped), with different customs and different priorities. Come to think of it, they weren’t just different – they were wrong.>
Jesus continued, ‘When the Samaritan saw the man, he felt compassion – the same kind of compassion that God has on us – and went to him. He clothed the man and bandaged his wounds, tenderly rubbing a salve into the areas where his skin had been torn open.
Carefully lifting the man upon his donkey, the Samaritan walked alongside him until the nearest town. When they arrived, the Samaritan paid for them to stay in an inn, and took care of the man throughout the night.
The next day, the Samaritan gave the innkeeper what little money he had and also gave instructions :: ‘Take care of this man. Whatever more you spend above what I’ve already given to you, I will repay when I return.‘
‘Which one of these,’ asked Jesus, ‘Do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robber’s hands?‘
The surprised scribe muttered his answer. He couldn’t quite get the word ‘Samaritan’ out. ‘The one who showed him mercy.‘
‘Then go and do likewise.‘
‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?‘
Could it be that the way to be ‘in’ with God is to join him in breaking down the barriers between ‘us’ and ‘them’? To reject the thinking, paradigm and language of ‘in’ and ‘out’ and instead focus on bringing healing to the hurting, no matter their race, color, creed, religion, orientation, or any other factor that makes them a so-called ‘Other’?
Could it be that the way to avoid hell is to choose to be an agent of reconciliation toward those who are different than ourselves?
‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?‘
What do you think Jesus meant?