Just then 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.” - Luke 10:25-28 (NRSV)
For many reasons, I have been spending an extensive amount of time with lawyers lately.
So much so that I (almost) regret not having gone to law school.
One of the things that a great lawyer will do is to ask a question in a manner that will trip up the other side—either now or later. This is a great way towards a win in the adversarial process.
To “test” Jesus, this lawyer asked him a trick question.
In the Gospel narrative, it’s very easy to set the lawyer up as a foil, the kind of person you don’t want to be. People love to hate lawyers, anyway, so this is very easy framing.
I would argue that it’s also lazy framing.
Because here’s the thing: the answer this lawyer gets out of Jesus pretty much encapsulates the entirety of the Gospels. If you need to know the most important thing, you need to know this:
Love. Love fully. Love God and neighbor and self, all three.
In so doing, the lawyer was not just quoting one text—since no one in the biblical narrative had put the three together just yet—but was elegantly synthesizing his read of Torah. Because this is what really good lawyers do: they sort through a whole lot of information and come up with the fastest possible way to make the point that needs to be heard.
And in this case, the point is: eternal life, which is the biggest of deals.
Right now, across this country, there are lawyers sorting through the finest of details to synthesize what is just and right and to argue for it, for us, for life. May their good work point us to a love that honors God, protects our neighbor and even ourselves. Amen.
Kaji Douša is the Senior Pastor of The Park Avenue Christian Church, a congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ, in New York City.