In Luke 10:25-26, a lawyer tries to test Jesus. He asks him, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answers the man with another question: “What is written in the law? How do you read?”
The remainder of the chapter gives us two stories that expand on Jesus’ question. First, Jesus tells the man the famous parable of the Good Samaritan. Next, we read the story of Jesus’ meeting with the two sisters, Mary and Martha, and their differing responses to him. Together the two stories help us to answer that crucial question, “How do you read?”
For some of us, our first answer might be, “Sporadically!” But Jesus is not asking about how often we read Scripture, but how we approach God’s word to us, the posture with which we receive it.
The story of the Good Samaritan issues a challenge to this man who spoke to Jesus, this person who was an expert in “the Law”—which means the Law of God as revealed in the Old Testament and as understood through the traditions that had grown up around it. But as in some other places in Scripture, we can tell that the challenge to this man is about the temptation of avoiding the implications of God’s word.
In that time, many people had developed ways to “keep the Law” but to miss the point entirely. It reminds me of our recent struggle with one of our children (I won’t tell which one!) about sticking their tongue out. They’ve come up with a way of “not sticking their tongue out” at the other one that still gets the job done: whining and tears follow almost every time our child “doesn’t stick out” their tongue. They’re trying to “keep the Law” (our rule about your tongue staying in your mouth!) but they’re missing the spirit of the whole thing.
When this Lawyer asked Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life, he was thinking about what was the minimum he might do and still “get the reward”… but Jesus challenged him to put his faith in action. The Samaritan in the story does what the more respectable priest and Levite avoid: serving others with true and good deeds.
But “good deeds” can become a distraction. Our own “good” can be a way of avoiding committing our lives to the Lord himself. Our own “deeds” can be our way of holding at arm’s length the God we are called to love with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength. Certain churches have made “good deeds” their motto, and have managed to abandon the Lord entirely.
So the next story in Luke 10 is a helpful corrective. Mary and Martha welcome Jesus to their home for a visit. Martha immediately occupies herself with “good deeds”—making sure everything is done that needs to be done. But Jesus is not there for Martha to give things to. Jesus is there to know and be known by Martha. Jesus is there for a relationship, a relationship of humble love, just as we’re called to give him in our worship and our whole lives.
This is what we find in Scripture again and again: both/and, not either/or. We tend either to “do good” and forget God, or to study about God and forget to put our faith into action. Luke 10 is a great reminder of how we ought to read: to come to true knowledge and love for God, and to put that love into action in our lives.