What motivates our questions? Do we seek security, favor, and position when we ask that which we already know? Or do we seek clarity and common reference in the Scripture so that we can get on with the business of doing?
The story of the Good Samaritan and the inverted question Jesus asks, "Who was neighbor to that man?" clarifies the question asked by the lawyer to tempt Jesus. The one who showed mercy clarified the work for the innkeeper to further extend mercy, and mercy abounds! "Do this and you will live," is the clear answer.
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director for the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. And of course, our faithful, Fr. Timothy Lowe joins as co-host. Fr. Timothy formerly served as rector at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem. Hello, Fr. Timothy,
Fr. Timothy Lowe 0:32
Hollie, it is so good to hear your voice again.
Hollie Benton 0:36
All right. Fr. Timothy, I'd like to kick off our conversation today with consideration for clarifying conversations. We value leaders who lead with clarity. We appreciate those who can articulate clear expectations, they can level set, define the requirements. Clarity builds understanding and provides a sense of comfort and predictability for all parties. In our work with the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative in working with parish councils, we're huge advocates of clarity. Clarity in meeting agendas, clarity in financial reports and job descriptions for each board member or ministry leader. Clarity in church communications just promotes operational excellence and engages people in ministry. But with any communication, even those that intend to promote clarity, if we are to behave as servant leaders, as a doulos, in the Lord's household, I think we need to be mindful of agreements, of contracts, expectations, that promote and secure my own position from those that really serve my neighbor. We see this difference played out in the Gospel of Luke in the story of the lawyer who approaches Jesus to clarify expectations to inherit eternal life. Of course, Jesus turns to the clarity of what is written in the law. So let's just hear that clarifying conversation in the Gospel of Luke and how it starts out. "And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test saying, Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said to him, what is written in the law? How do you read? 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 right. Do this, and you will live." So Fr. Timothy, it seems straightforward enough, doesn't it? But it seems there are also some signals in Luke's Gospel that suggest that the lawyer is trying to get the upper hand here. The passage says, "He stood up to test Jesus." The Greek word, ekpeirazō, is sometimes translated to tempt, to test thoroughly. Lawyers are trained to be thorough, to test, to mitigate those risks. So he wants to make absolutely certain he clarifies the inheritance for eternal life. I mean, I'm all ears. I want this guy as my lawyer as he's drawing up the contract for us so that all I have to do is sign and secure eternal life, right?
Fr. Timothy Lowe 3:21
Well, yes, I guess that is one of the ultimate questions, isn't it? We always have to have someone who asks the question we are afraid to ask, so let's hear it for this lawyer. You just read it, he rose. Actually, it's the Greek word anesti, which of course we're quite familiar with, Cristos anesti. When Luke uses the word, to test, and you pointed it out, you named ekpeirazō, it is the same word that is constantly used in the conversation in Luke chapter four, I believe, of the devil tempting Jesus. So when I hear this, Hollie, I'm connecting him too, so this is actually bad news. In other words, I'm not giving him the benefit of the doubt that he wants the answer. But in fact, who is this Jesus of Nazareth that is teaching? And you know, a lawyer, in the Greek it's nomikos, is one who is a technical expert in the matters of religious law. So he is functionally the teacher, not just a lawyer who's going to advocate for us when we got ourselves into some sort of pickle. So his question for me is not out of altruism. And not to see, okay, is he going to pass the bar exam, Jesus of Nazareth, okay. But in fact, it is a temptation. The lawyer asks the ultimate question. But look at it, it says, What must I do to inherit eternal life? Now, when we think of eternal life, from his point of view, and the word inherit is a good translation of the Greek word, it's usually something that we think we're entitled to by birthright, an allotment of some sort, something that's given to you. And eternal life, it really it should be more translated as unending life because when we think of eternal life, it just overwhelms our brain. Life that knows no end. Now what I find interesting is that Jesus, the teacher, flips it right back at him. And so it becomes for us something technical, a technical discussion of the law. Technical question, Jesus throws it back at him to then test him. If he's a lawyer, if he's a legal expert, what is written? And so what I want to do here is to focus on the technical question, and its relationship to the Scripture. Not to my idea, your idea, so on and so forth. No, it is technical. And therefore, it is a matter of how then do you read. I'm exhausted sometimes by when any time we discuss scripture that people give their opinions without looking closely at the text, or even understanding the text. And they just take something out of context, read something in it that's not there. So this is my point, technical question. Serious question. What must I do to inherit eternal life? And Christ turns it back to him and tests the lawyer, and the lawyer gives the answer. So this exposes the lawyer, I think already, because he already knew the answer to his question. So why was he? Is he seeing if Jesus knows the answer? It's a bit of a setup. Okay, so he's asking insincerely. He knows the answer.
Hollie Benton 6:30
You also likened the temptation to the temptation by Satan of Jesus in the wilderness, and even Jesus there refers to what is written. Wow, the parallels are very, very strong here.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 6:45
Yes, it's a scriptural discussion about texts. Well, it reminds me of a funny story. A bishop, one of my former bishops, God rest his soul, he has passed away. A certain venerable archpriest asked him a question. Before this person became a bishop, he was just a priest like everybody else. And this venerable archpriest's chancellor was above him, was his elder and still, age wise. But now it's sort of a strange relationship when it flipped. When all of a sudden now the younger one is the bishop and he shot back immediately to the elder priest, "Do not ask me a question ever again that you know the answer to." In other words, as if somehow he was wanting a way to get around a technical issue, and maybe the bishop would give him a loophole. When it comes to matter of law, we do this all the time. The best lawyers are the best at managing how to get around difficult situations. Once we have the knowledge or the answer to a question, we now bear the responsibility of the knowledge. Okay, so we can't say I didn't know or it was unclear to me. The hearers, us, know we have to love God and love the neighbor, we have to show mercy. And this is the only way to live, anything else just doesn't work. The burden is on us because we could no longer feign ignorance. But my point here is he knew the answer. Jesus gave it to him. But notice Jesus's response. After he says you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and this word, soul, when it says love with our soul. What is that? I also want to be technical here because it's the classic Greek word that's translated soul in English, psyche. It's the Hebrew nephesh, which happens to be related to breath, to breathing. So if I have to say I have to love God with every breath I take and not some abstract concept of the immortal soul and blah, blah, blah, it's different. Okay? So it's the totality. It's the heart, it's the breath. It's my thoughts, okay. And then, of course, with all my strength, power, and then love your neighbor as yourself. The neighbor is the one whom you encounter in close proximity. It's not an abstraction. So after they agree on what it is, he says, "Do this and you will live." This is the first punch line and we haven't even gotten to the parable yet. Do this and you will live. It doesn't say you will have eternal life. It says you will live, as this is the fundamental prerequisite. It has nothing to do with securing our national borders and securing our IRA funds from the next stock market crash or securing whatever it is, you see, our food sources, even drinkable water. No,, it is the focus once again, not an abstraction, but concrete. And so if you want to talk about leadership, in the case of the leadership, it is focusing on the matters at hand, which as you say is clarifying and instructing. If you're a leader, those under you. It makes all the difference in the world, you know, not a leader who's aloof, not a leader who's incommunicative, no, a leader who understands his relationship and responsibilities to those with whom he's in a position of oversight. Again, the focus is not theoretical. It's not a philosophical question. It's not a theological question. It's a technical question with what we must do it. Jesus says in the imperative, it's a command. Do this. Do this. It's not negotiable. Sometimes when we talk about loving our neighbor, and okay, I'm driving up as I did visiting my former home parish in Worcester last Sunday and there are street beggars at every stoplight. It's the most prolifically stopped-lighted area with people with their homeless signs and begging. Well do you give money to them every time you stop? People always want a work around. They want to limit. So why? So they can feel comfortable and not have the weight of, Do this and you will live. Basically, we do just want simple rules, then we are not pressured into the challenge of the doing. But what does the lawyer do? Well, he wants a work-around. Well then, Who is my neighbor? Which is also a technical question. Okay, if I'm supposed to love this person, who is this person? And that, of course, is where the knockout comes. But we're not going to read that because everybody knows the story that was reading for last Sunday in church. So let's go ahead and go to the next section.
Hollie Benton 11:24
Yeah. So after Jesus tells them this story of the Good Samaritan, he ends with this. "Which of these three do you think proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers? He said, The one who showed mercy on him. And Jesus said to him, Go and do likewise." What I love about the Good Samaritan is that he too had an important clarifying conversation with the innkeeper. "Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back." So he also set expectations for service and care. But it wasn't to secure his own position. His agreement with the innkeeper not only promoted the well being of the man who fell among the robbers, but also the well being of the innkeeper. He covered his expenses so as not to overburden the one put in charge. And essentially, those clarifying conversations engaged others in the extension of ministry, and then mercy abounds.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 12:24
Yeah, what is extraordinary about what you just read, is that it's not a one and done, right? I mean, he could have said he helped him, got him on it, and then went about his business and never saw him again. But no, it extended the mercy, as you said, continued to extend way beyond what even we thought, the going the extra mile, and which even puts more pressure on us, because this is our reference for who is our neighbor. This is our reference point. And I'm sure most priests in their sermons on Sunday had to reference, it is the issue of the Samaritan. And we know Jews and Samaritan, Samaritans were apostates. So they were worse than the unbelievers. They were completely distorting what standard Judaism was, complete disregard for Jerusalem, the temple and replacing it with her own, so they were most hated. But if people look back at the end of chapter nine, it says, Jesus had set his face towards Jerusalem. In other words, he's done with his Galilean ministry, and he's coming to Jerusalem for the events of his last week and his death, crucifixion and death and resurrection. And he was passing through a Samaritan village, and he wanted to lodge there and he sent his disciples to go find a place for them to lodge, and he was totally rejected. And then the disciples say, Lord, shall we call down fire from heaven to consume them? This is reference to Second Kings first chapter and fire from heaven coming down and consuming the enemies of Elijah, sent by Ahab. So my point is, the disciples, complete disregard of their neighbor, immediately want to bring judgment and annihilation, and then Christ says no, let's just go to the next village. So my point is, the Samaritan is way beyond just being an enemy, an apostate, someone that has no value. Here is the singular one who shows mercy. So that completely undermines the idea of inheriting eternal life, of birthright, of place, of order. You know, we can talk about priests and Levites. But let's talk about first of all bishops, priests, deacons, lay leaders or anybody who thinks they have a privileged position given to them by God, which ultimately is meaningless when it comes to life. It is showing mercy. And who is it that shows mercy? In this instance, it is the one whom you wanted to bring down fire a few minutes ago, and so Christ is using it to not just hit us, because we're the hearers, but also hit his immediate audience. The presumption, and that ultimately, we do not live in an abstract reality of our theology, of our spirituality. It is fundamentally doing, and it is not an option. Because notice here at the end, shows the symmetry and beauty of Luke's writing. He says, once again, "Do this, go and do this." It's the same command that he said, Do this, and you will live to His disciples. Do this, and you will live. So it's all about mercy. And you say, if life was all about mercy, and imagine how transforming it would be if it really was mercy that was abounding? That gives life, it gives hope. What is mercy? So I was visiting my in-laws in rural Oklahoma, two lane roads. That's it. I never saw a police car or highway car, and I'm running off to the store to get something and then of course, I think I had a swimming suit on, a pair of sandals and a T shirt. And I'm saying, I've never seen a cop here, I'm just gonna go. Within 20 seconds, the red light is spinning, the sirens going and I'm being pulled over. I was dead to rights, not just by negligence, I consciously said, I'm going to speed, I'm never going to get caught. It's not going to happen. And I was dead to rights. Patrol looks at me, looks to see I'm out of town, and he says, You better slow down, I don't want to send you back in a body bag, and left me. My point was I was guilty. He chose for whatever reason, to show mercy. And for that I was grateful because it spared me, saved me money too, if you get a ticket, your insurance, right? It's a simplistic, but it's a point of when you know you're guilty, you've done something wrong, and you deserve punishment, rightfully so. And someone decides just to say no, but to teach, instruct, and to show you that you can do the same thing. And you must do the same thing. And it wasn't like I was begging him. I was just sitting there sort of just glum because I was an idiot. No harm, no foul, but a lesson was learned. So mercy abounds. If only it was true. If only it would start with us, Hollie. If it does, then the seeds are planted, for other people to show mercy, to understand mercy, to thank God for mercy. So yes, all those endless "Lord have mercys" that we say, rote in liturgy and every other service No, no, no, they need to resign from our depths. Otherwise, there is no life. There's no repentance, there's no possibility. Forget about eternal life. That for me is a temptation. You know, the once saved, always saved, do this, and you got it in your pocket. It can't be taken away from you and so on. Again, theology. It's about doing and then God will judge.
Hollie Benton 18:01
It's about doing. I love how he contextualizes the love of neighbor, not as a tit for tat, contractual, do this and I'll do that. And are we equal in our love for each other? But he really contextualizes it in the mercy-giving. Totally, a major game changer, right?
Fr. Timothy Lowe 18:18
Yes, because he gets nothing back. Exactly as you said, I've done you a favor, you then you owe me a favor. I showed you mercy. No, no, no, it is freely given. The famous Jewish idea of tikkun olam, healing the world. It's a wonderful idea that they have there. That is part of our ministry, part of leadership, healing the world and the larger sense of the human being. We are caught, Hollie, we have been fished. We have been baptized, we have been illuminated. Now we must do, and that's the focus, the doing. And as you pointed out in this conversation, it is never a question what's in it for me. The Samaritan never asks am I gonna get paid back? But it's never, never what's in it for me. It is just the manner in which we are told, commanded to live as adherers of the scriptural teaching, followers, baptized Christians, Christian leaders, slaves of Christ.
Hollie Benton 19:21
Thank you, Father Timothy.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 19:23
Okay, my dear.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai