An expert in the law stands up to test Jesus:
- What must I do to inherit eternal life?
- Who do I need to know? (Namedropping and networking)
- What boxes do I need to check? (The guise of self-sufficiency)
Jesus replies, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”
He begins by pointing out the personal motivations we bring when reading and interpreting the law. We all have a lens and an agenda revealed in the way our values transpire from theory to practice, from talk to action.
And so, we know the conversation will not end with a simple quotation, a correct answer spoken, or a list of reasons the man believes he has already impressed God with his resume and can rest easy knowing eternal life will be his reward.
The man gives a good answer about the power of love and relationships, the great commandment, the ancient habits that cultivate connection, belonging, and reverence for one another.
Do these things and you will live, Jesus says.
But the man is quick to qualify this love. How much and how many, exactly? How will I know when I’m done and where to draw the line? Who can I keep at a distance, who am I permitted to misunderstand, who will you agree is beyond the boundaries of my love? Who is worthy of this connection, belonging and reverence… and who is not?
My family lives in south Minneapolis and our three kids attend the community school in our neighborhood.
Minneapolis Public Schools: Comprehensive District Design
- To make magnet schools more equitable and accessible
- To decrease the number of schools with > 80% poverty
- To decrease the number of schools with > 86% white or students of color
- Provide a well rounded education across the district
- It sounds great in theory, right? We can all get behind the hazy concepts of accessibility, equity, and sustainability.
That’s the law. But, as Jesus would say, How do you read it?
- Geographical context (southeast Minneapolis)
- Protest posters
- Mostly white parents of K-8 or magnet students
- Vibe: people of privilege, like me, with a lens/agenda of protecting the good deal their kid gets in a broken system
- Confession: that was my vibe, too.
- Story about choice for Kindergarten when Jasper was 5.
- Pressure to make the right choice implied there was a bad choice.
- I had to get my slice of the pie before the good stuff ran out.
- My kid deserved it.
On Wednesday night I sat by a dad who understands English better than he speaks it, who decided he didn’t need the interpreter services. The presentation was largely over both of our heads. We shared notes. And sitting with him informed the way I received the information.
It weakened my instinct to prioritize my own child above other children, to see other families as competition, to draw lines between my neighbors in other school zones, to think that my anger about change was righteous because I am right.
I tell you this story about my messy week as a parent and a taxpayer and a neighbor because it reminded me that the law is not enough. It is never enough. We fall short of love and relationship and accompaniment and empathy and connection and belonging and reverence because the law can only do so much.
Luther’s Uses of the Law
It expects a baseline of civility between people. And it reminds us that it is not enough. We fall back to our own motivations and theories more often than we lean into love for another.
And so grace is required. Grace can move us from our excuses and self-preservation and personal agendas into the ditch, to be near another in need of our attention. Grace interrupts a strict obedience to the law with an invitation to relationships and healing and wholeness the law cannot command.
The Samaritan saw the man in the ditch, on the other side of every boundary, and loved him. He went to him and touched him. He bandaged his wounds, pouring wine and oil. He carried the man to an inn where he paid for his care, for tenderness toward his whole being while he mended – and would pay the full cost for his restoration and life.
Jesus is asking us to love so that it costs something, so that sacrifices break down what has been broken, so that something new can grow from the compost and ashes of our fear and competition.
Too often my fear of the dying keeps me from getting proximate to the joy and pain of those I have separated from. And when I do, I miss the good stuff: the mending and restoration and fullness of life that changes everything.
I don’t know that I practice this. Not really.
But I know one who does. Who gives us back to each other at every cost so that life testifies to love that knows no bounds, no limitations, no zones between neighbors.
- The Letter of the Law v. The Spirit of the Law.
- Law as an instrument with limitations, that points the direction.
When our excuses and justifications close off our hearts, grant us compassion to come near like the Samaritan, grant us holy interruption and hospitality and like the innkeeper, and grant us lavish grace that extends from the ditch to the guest room, that finds those far from home or all alone, that calls us beyond the law and back from the dead for love that does not end.