Sunday, November 13, 2011

Jesus' version of a lawyer joke

Today's Gospel reading was from that of St. Luke 10:25-37, the parable of the good Samaritan. Though I hear this parable every year at this time in church, I'm always happy to learn something new about it that I didn't know before. My priest, when he brought up this point, even admitted that he had never thought about this until he was reading it to the congregation.

The text says a lawyer wanted to test Jesus about how to inherit eternal life. Christ responds to him, "What is written in the law? How do you read?" Jesus asks him two questions, not one. The first question asks to state a fact, the second question then asks for interpretation. I never noticed this before, no matter how many times I've read it. Jesus doesn't ask the lawyer the same question twice. If He had, the second question would be "What does it say?" "How do you read?" implies that another lawyer could understand it very differently.

Maybe the lawyers in Jesus' day weren't so different from today's legal community. How many times do we hear of lawyers knowing what the law says and then argue that what it means is far different than what is in the text? Jesus probably also heard this from the lawyers in his own day. The law was clear on a certain point, but the Pharisees and scribes and other "learned" people would argue that the text meant exactly the opposite of what it said. What ensued was a legalism that reeked of self-righteousness and self-glorification. No wonder Jesus had to clarify his initial question! Maybe He thought one question wouldn't do? Who says our Lord doesn't have a sense of humor?

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