As I was reading in Luke earlier this week, I came across a question Jesus asked a Pharisee and it struck me: “How do you read it?” (Luke 10:26, NIV)
How do you read it?
There are many times I don’t understand something, many times I am looking for answers. Have you ever noticed, though, how often Jesus answered a question with a question, rather than a direct answer?
What do you think, Rhonda? How do you understand it?
The Pharisee responded to Jesus, quoting from scripture. He responded with an answer, with the right answer. And Jesus affirmed that answer. But the Pharisee wasn’t satisfied to leave it where it was. Instead, knowing the answer, knowing that he had known the right scripture to answer the question, Luke tells us that “he wanted to justify himself” (Luke 10:29, NIV).
He wanted to justify himself.
The entire exchange had started out as a test for Jesus. The Pharisees, teachers of the law and the religious big wigs in the Jewish culture at the time, constantly tested Jesus because they didn’t—didn’t want to—believe that he was the Messiah. Their idea of the prophesied Messiah was quite different from who Jesus proved to be; they wanted a king, a military man who would rescue them from the Romans. While their prophecies did seem to predict two Messiahs—one kingly, one suffering—they were looking for the King, never suspecting that the two might be one and the same. So they constantly tested him, tried to trap him in what he said, tried to watch and somehow prove that he was not a messenger from God, not the Messiah they had been waiting for.
Isn’t that the way it goes for us, so many times?
Jesus—let alone God, for that matter—doesn’t measure up to our expectations of who, or what, Jesus or God should be. We test and question him. We test and question his word. And he allows our questions, even welcomes them. We ask questions, and he answers, How do you read it? And then in response, wanting to justify ourselves, we think, “But that couldn’t be what you really meant.”
Wanting to justify our culture, we set aside the words we read and think, “This has to have meant something different.”
Wanting to soothe our consciences, we set aside God’s words and think, “Times have changed. Things are different now. This was for back then, not for us.”
Jesus, though, once again did not answer as the Pharisee expected. He didn’t justify the Pharisee; he challenged the ideas of the Pharisee even more, proving that his own viewpoint was even further removed from the Pharisee’s expectations than the Pharisee thought. Here’s the lead-up to the story:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘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.'”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29, NIV)
When Jesus responded, he told him the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan was the “hero” of the story, the one who acted as the true neighbor and set the example for others. The Samaritan, a person of a race the Jews despised because they weren’t “pure-blooded”—they had mixed racial heritage and no longer were privileged to consider themselves Jews. Jesus’ answer was simple: Don’t pick and choose who your neighbors are, loving selectively; you be the neighbor, you be the one who has mercy to those around you. If you are not acting as a neighbor, you are not loving your neighbors as yourselves.
No, I will not justify you. This is how it is.
This God, this Jesus, often did not and does not live up to people’s expectations. This God, this Jesus, often said and did things that people took offense to, that seemed radical to them—God wouldn’t do such a thing. God isn’t like that. But this God, this Jesus, has shown us what he is capable of. He has shown us what he is like, and told us what he is like. We can see this in the Bible.
How do you read it?
We may not want to believe it, we may not want to accept it. We may want to interpret God and Jesus according to our expectations. But that doesn’t change who he is.
The Bible doesn’t tell us how the Pharisee reacted to Jesus’ answer to his final question. The Pharisee had the knowledge, and had that knowledge affirmed by the Lord. He then was given the understanding—but what did he do with it? Did he reject it, thinking to himself, My God would never have me imitate a Samaritan? Did he walk away angry, dismissing the lesson God had just given him about himself and plot to kill the Messiah, since this Messiah did not live up to his expectations? Or did Jesus’ lesson sink into his heart, change the way he thought, and change the way he treated others?
We can know what the Bible says. We can have all the right answers. But we cannot twist what it says to justify ourselves. If we really, truly believe God is GOD and Jesus is LORD, then we must take him at what he says. We must trust him.
We must love him, not our idea of him.
This entry is longer, and different, from other entries. There isn’t a personal story illustrating it, going along with it, at least one that has been published. There is, however, an old personal story, one that spans decades and involves others—people I love, and people I can’t stand to hurt more by putting the story in writing for others to read. People who, long ago, decided that God couldn’t be who he said he was, couldn’t mean what he said, because it would not justify their own lifestyles. Oh—they believe in God, but the God of their own expectations, not the God of the Bible. And although I love them dearly, I was eventually forced by them to choose between supporting them or trusting God. I decided to trust God, and lost a dear friend as a result.
I say all of this now not to hurt, not to anger, but to illustrate in a tiny way how this type of situation may play out in someone’s life. How each of us will be confronted, at some point in our lives, to choose to believe God’s version of himself or our own, and how our choices will have consequences.
If you’d like to read about God by someone who knew so much more than me, I highly recommend Knowing God by J. I. Packer. It’s not an easy read (or listen—I bought it on Audible, but it may be available through your library’s audiobook offerings, as well), but well worth it.
Speaking of reading, I’m reading (listening, again!) to a great historical book right now called The Radium Girls by Kate Moore. I’ve somehow picked up a fascination for what I would call “historical science and technology” stories, and this is what I would put in the science history category. Kind-of. The book cover is linked to on the left, in my Instagram account.
Finally (I really have not gotten the “short is good” blog convention down! Sorry, if you’re still with me), I have to acknowledge that my Daily Blessings Menu entries (linked on the left) have slowed tremendously—last week I only wrote one entry! And if you were looking for it, the running club stuff (also on the left) has dwindled even further, having zero entries the past two weeks. Those are really just for practical reasons: Work has been crazy. Crazy as in, I got rid of 60 papers earlier this week and got 126 papers in Friday evening, and the majority of these are between five and eight pages. So while I plan to get back to those eventually, it may take a while.
(And no, I’m not getting paid to promote anything. Not books, not Audible, not Amazon. Just sharing!)
#Bible #Godsword #selfjustification #whoisGod #trust #belief #expectations #Jesus #God