If there is anything I am good at, it is justifying myself. You would be hard pressed to find anyone as effective at it as I am… unless it is you. “I was short with my wife today, but I’d had a really stressful day…” or “Boy, I never meant to say those words, but I had so much on my mind, they just slipped out.” Self-justification. We’re experts, are we not? The lawyer who spoke these words to Jesus was seeking to justify himself. He asked a question to which he knew the answer, and then, when he realized he fell short of his own prescription for salvation, he tried to mince words to justify himself. “Well, of course, I’m to love my neighbor, but…who is my neighbor, exactly?”
We do the very same thing. “I used to go to church, but I don’t anymore, because old so-and-so really offended me by acting in an un-Christian way.” Well, welcome to the world! God is not fooled by our weak attempts at self-justification. Why? Because he knows our hearts—just as he knew this legal eagle’s heart. We’ve become theological politicians, trying to parse words with God to ease our own conscience…but it won’t work. In this man’s case, Jesus handled his dodge by telling a story—the story of the Good Samaritan. And even though we are not too keen on rules and laws, we can’t help but be drawn in to a good story. This one had dramatic conflict (near-dead man by the side of the road).It revealed shocking secrets (a priest and a Levite refuse to give aid). And a surprise ending (he finally receives help from a Samaritan). And it required the listener to provide the obvious answer to the central question: which of these three was a real neighbor? The lawyer was trapped. He answered the only way he could, and then Jesus delivered the crushing directive: “Go and do the same.”
Self-justification ends where obedience to truth begins. It’s not enough to know what is right and have a very good reason for not doing it. When we know what is right, we must act on it.
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