The Parable of the Ignorant Lawyer

Sermon - United Ministry of Aurora, NY July 14, 2019

The Creator placed humankind just a little lower than God, with the clear intention that help would be provided to bring us all the way home. God knew we would need it. Over the millennia, we speaking bipeds have needed the assistance of healers. We’ve needed healers not only for our individual bodies and souls, we’ve needed healing for our social bodies and souls as well, be they nations or families. But before individual, family or national souls can be healed, the fundamental human attitudes and behaviors making us sick need to be corrected. Once the fundamentals are corrected, and with the help of the Spirit, we are ready to enter into the fullness of life.

The first requirement for health is dumping our pagan polytheism and acknowledging the one creator God and his rules of right and wrong. The second condition for health is playing by the rules of Divine Justice when dealing with other human beings. Divine justice can be summarized in this statement: Whatever you dish out will be dealt back to you. My words, but I didn't make this up. Jesus made this crystal clear. Whatever measure you deal out to others will be measured out to you. This principle of reciprocity rules in God's Universe. All creation is connected. All creation is one.

The fundamentals of the Ten Commandments and the rule of Divine Justice are what we must deal with before we can move on to the fullness of life God intends for each of us.

In both our readings this morning, God's holy people were in trouble. The prophet Amos was one of the first social healers God put in place. Amos had no special education or formal training for the job. He was a Judean field hand, a shepherd and dresser of fig trees. Much like the later prophets his advice was disregarded. Amos himself, however, was not ignored. He was an enormous pain to the corrupt, imperialist king of the northern kingdom, the kingdom known in Amos' day as Israel.

You recall how the original nation of Israel formed by the united twelve tribes was split in two after King David’s son Solomon died. There were northern rebels who appropriated the name Israel, and the two tribes left in the south, tiny Benjamin and powerful Judah, were called Judah. Amos was from Judah. The Lord sent him to the northern kingdom with a message for Jeroboam, the king at the time. God said, I have measured with a plumb line in Israel. And, you are out of plumb. You are crooked.

Things up there in Israel had been sliding downhill since the death of King David, and they were about to hit bottom. We remember King David's son Solomon for his proverbial wisdom. But wisdom seemed to abandon Solomon as he got older. Solomon had tremendous material success and expanded the territories of the united tribes of Israel. And he was an Alpha male like his father, David. Solomon tried to balance loving God and loving women. Love of women won. Solomon kept a huge harem made up of women he married either to cement a foreign alliance, or pretty women who just caught his fancy. To keep all his women happy, Solomon let them keep on worshipping their pagan gods. He even built them little pagan temples for their little gods. And, he lived a sumptuous life-style himself. Ivory throne, etc. To finance all that without ruinous inflation, Solomon taxed his people pretty heavily.

One of Solomon's cabinet ministers, Jeroboam, was from a northern tribe. He had an insider's view of Solomon's profligacy, and saw an opportunity. When Solomon died, Jeroboam engineered a tax revolt, and the northern tribes seceded from the monarchy to set up their own kingdom with - guess who as the first King of North Israel. King Jeroboam, the fomenter of the rebellion was a bad guy. He married a Ba'al worshipper and made that the official religion of the north. And his courtiers and priests acted like the pagans they'd become. God's people in the north suffered under the injustices being measured out to them by their corrupt neo-pagan leadership. Living in a corrupt kingdom, the people themselves were becoming corrupt. Things work that way.

God puts up with a lot of eccentric and sinful behavior, but Jeroboam went over the line. God is a jealous God who does not tolerate other gods being worshipped before him. This is the first principle in the Creator's plan for humanity. First principle on those Ten Commandment tablets. Before we can move on to true spiritual health, we've got to stop pagan idolatry and start to discriminate between right and wrong in our human dealings. These go together. When pagan gods are worshipped, child sacrifice is just one of the many despicable injustices societies regress to.

Enter Amos. Amos crosses the border from Judah, the remaining kingdom in the south, and tells Amaziah, Jeroboam's head priest that God is displeased and the kingdom will be destroyed. Amaziah passes the word on to Jeroboam who thumbs his nose at God and Amos. Whereupon God speaks again through Amos. Firmly. Since Jeroboam has played the harlot with God and turned the people back to paganism, his own wife will become a prostitute, Jeroboam himself will die an inglorious death in an unclean land and his former kingdom will be distributed to others.

Through Amos, God tells King Jeroboam that for committing the fundamental sin of idolatry, divine justice will result in his receiving the same measure that he has dealt out. Sure enough, Assyria sweeps down onto the northern kingdom and utterly destroys it. Wiped out forever. The inhabitants are either killed, carried off or forced to intermarry with the conquering Assyrians, and thus they are no longer pure Jews. The kingdom of the north now becomes the despised territory of Samaria, and the people are the accursed half-Jews called Samaritans.

This leads into today's lesson in Luke's gospel. This is an introduction to teaching the concept of Love, the other fundamental principle. This lesson is often called the parable of the Good Samaritan, but I prefer to think of it as the parable of the Ignorant Lawyer. (Oh yes, it's possible for a lawyer to be Ignorant.) Luke tells us; A lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" 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 given the right answer; do this, and you will live."

The Lawyer was a learned man, but ignorant in wisdom. Maybe he wanted to show off how wicked smart he was. So he cross-examined Jesus, asking, "And who is my neighbor?"

In answer Jesus tells a parable. A man, a godly Jewish man, was coming down from Jerusalem towards Jericho. Robbers stripped him and beat him and left him half-dead. A priest came down from the holy city and saw the man. He may have thought it would be unlawful for himself, a priest, to touch what might be or shortly become a corpse. The Law must be observed. Ignoring the need of the wounded traveler, the priest crossed the road and passed him by. Next a Levite, sort of an assistant priest, came by and he too passed by on the other side. The Levite no doubt was going about his important assistant priest duties and couldn't be distracted by a common Jew in need of help. He, too, passed him by on the other side of the road.

Now comes a Samaritan, a despised foreign immigrant from the north. The Samaritan sees the human need, and moved with pity, empathy and mercy, ministered to injured man. Not stopping there, he put the injured man on his animal. took him to an inn and further tended his wounds and needs. Still not enough, next day he gave the innkeeper cash and instructed him to take whatever care of the beaten man was required, and if he spent more, he would fully reimburse him on his return.

Jesus asks the lawyer, Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He (the lawyer) said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

The Priest and the Levite represent adherers to the letter of the Law. Literalists. They do not violate the ten great commands, but they stop there. They knew the commandments, they taught the Law, but they didn’t experience what the Law intended for them to experience – oneness with the needs of the injured man. The clerics knew and taught the words of the command to Love the Lord with all our hearts and souls and strength, but they lacked either the will or wisdom to act on it. This was the meaning of Jesus' accusation to the clerics, You bind up heavy packs for the people, but you do not lift a finger to help them.

Knowing that we should Love God and neighbor is not the same as Loving God and neighbor. How does one Love? Unfortunately, in English, romantic love, Eros, shares the word love with Christian love, or Agape. Here is a reasonable definition of Love, or Agape:

Love is when what you want diminishes and what the other needs and wants is always foremost.

Before we can Love, we must decide to Love. It is an action of will. Only when what the other needs and wants becomes what we need and want, can we act in Love. Think of it. Have you ever experienced this kind of Love, the Love which displaces your wants and needs with what another wants and needs?

The priests and the Levites taught and recited aloud each Sabbath day: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One....And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might. They also recited the following ... And these words that I command you this day shall be in your heart. Love is the willing displacement of your own heart's felt needs and wants with the needs and wants of the Other. If we do not experience Loving the Other, we are unlikely to act in Love of God or Other. Jesus emphasized, Love of neighbor as ourselves. We express the Love of God by experiencing the needs and wants of our neighbor as our own experience. We displace love of self with Love of neighbor. Then we are on the path to healing of the soul.

The ancient mystics understood there are twin principles at work in Creation. The two principles are: Divine Justice and the Law on the one side, and on the other side, the principle of Mercy and Compassion, of Love.

The First Temple was begun in Solomon's reign. At the doorway of the temple stood two huge bronze pillars. The pillar on the left of the Temple was called "Boaz" which means "Established." Boaz points us to the established severity of God's Law and the principle of Divine Justice. The highest principle on this "Legal" side is Understanding — Binah. The pillar on the right side was called "Jachin." Jachin implies action. Jachin points to the actions of love, mercy and compassion. The highest principle on this right side is Wisdom — Chokmah; the same Wisdom which speaks in Proverbs and Psalms.

So the pillars of God's Kingdom are (1) Understand the establishing principles, the laws underlying the foundation of the world, and more important, (2) Exercise Wisdom in action of Love, mercy and compassion. These two sides are connected by the principle of Balance, or Beauty which holds all together. Jesus taught that only avoiding sin is necessary but not sufficient. The higher principle of Love perfects and trumps the Law. Balance and Beauty, fruits of the Holy Spirit hold all together. In the parable, an outcast Samaritan saw and internalized the needs and wants of the wounded, needy person lying by the side of the road. The Samaritan subordinated his own needs and wants and acted as if he himself were in fact that beaten person. He perfectly fulfilled the Law even though he was "outside the church."

The Priest and Levite kept the letter of the Law. But they missed the Love. The ignorant lawyer convicted himself by asking for the legal definition, casuistically challenging Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" Definitions don't fulfill the Law. Definitions don't welcome the Spirit.

Jesus answer was clear: All of humanity is in need and is your neighbor. Be and do as the Samaritan. — Amen