How Christmas Continued, 20

MERCY EARNS ETERNAL LIFE? (Lk.10: 25-37)

I was a lawyer or an interpreter of our laws. In fact, I was regarded as an expert in the legal profession. We had mainly two schools of legal interpretation. The Pharisees believed in an after life and the Sadducees did not. I was a bit skeptical about a life beyond and tried to ask ambiguous questions of those that believed in eternal life. For instance, one of my colleagues asked Jesus which one of her seven husbands would she keep in heaven? I used a more personal approach and asked Jesus directly, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

My intent was to test Jesus; but, He ended up testing me. Instead of giving an explanation as on other occasions, He answered with a question, “What does the Law say? How do you interpret it?” Jesus took me completely by surprise. I had to explain my own question based on my legal expertise. The only thing I knew about the other life was that God is eternal and to love Him would get me into heaven, that is, if there is one. It was my dubious question that led me talk about what I must do, rather than explain eternal life. In that case, I gave the correct answer by reciting the two greatest Commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your will, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus approved of my answer, urged me to continue loving God and neighbor and I would live because of it.

The mentioning of the neighbor opened the door for another test question. This one Jesus had to answer and I hoped to make my point. I was even more surprised when Jesus used a practical life example to demonstrate what I had to do to earn an inheritance of eternal life. He gave me an option of being three different people. Two of them were like I was and they did not qualify for the inheritance. The third person was not acceptable to me; but, he was the only one that would earn a place in eternity. Jesus began with a traveler that was attacked by bandits on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. They beat him, stripped him, and left him for dead. A priest had to travel the same road. When he saw the victim, he passed on the other side of the road. Shortly after, a Levite did what the priest had done. Then a Samaritan on his donkey also traveled that way. He, too, saw the man lying on the ground and had pity on him. He poured oil and wine on his wounds and bandaged them. Then, he put the wounded man on his donkey and took him to an inn. He gave the innkeeper two coins in silver for the night. In the morning, before the Samaritan departed, he asked the innkeeper to continue caring for the victim and he would pay for the additional care when returned from his trip.

The example explained itself. Still Jesus asked me which of the three I thought was a neighbor to the victim? I could give only one answer, “The one who had mercy on him.” And what did Jesus say, “Go and do likewise.” In other words, Jesus told me to do what the Samaritan did. I felt accused and sentenced. How often have I crossed over to the other side to avoid rendering assistance to a needy stranger? In case I should be the victim, would I want a priest or a Levi come my way or a merciful Samaritan? And would the innkeeper trust me that I would return with more payment for the victim. More than anything, I was rather proficient with lip service, but not with deeds of mercy. I did serve the Lord God with my heart, soul and mind but not with my physical strength. I kept the Lord within me and did not take Him to those in need. I lacked mercy!

I was close to God’s kingdom but not in it because I felt no pity in my heart. Jesus made us aware of what we must do to enter. As human beings we can love verbally, but that will not earn us the trust of love until we offer some physical evidence. In our Hebrew tradition, we closed the door to people that could have helped us inherit eternal life. Our traditions were to rigid and without mercy to allow us to care for those that were not complying with our laws or belong to our religious cast. For instance, during holidays and rest days, we could not treat a person in an emergency. We could rescue animals but not a human being. We were created to observe the law. It was our taskmaster. Jesus, on the contrary, held that the law was for man and not man for the law. We assisted the law while for Jesus the law assisted men. He made our traditions appear to be a prison. He had the audacity to tell us that if we did not love Him, we did not love God either. He tried to show us that love for God is best expressed in acts of mercy. This man, who claimed to be the Christ, insisted that love and mercy are the heart of the law.

I was not exactly full of mercy. My failure to test Jesus only added to my dislike for making me less worthy to earn eternal life than a Samaritan. It contributed to my desire to put Jesus away. After we had Him crucified, without consent among us lawyers, we began to have second thoughts about our deeds and quite a few became Jesus’ followers. When it was rumored that He was alive and that many had seen Him, we began to find ways to discredit Jesus’ resurrection. The more we tried to silence the reports that He had risen from the dead and ascended to heaven, the bolder His followers proclaimed their faith in Him. We simply could not stop His message that those who loved his neighbor, the way the merciful Samaritan did, would inherit eternal life. Some of our brightest students like Saul of Tarsus became profound believers in Jesus’ mercy that leads to eternal life.”