Reflections on Luke 10:21-28
And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?”
The lawyer sits there waiting. Irritated.
For the last hour, Jesus has been meeting with His disciples. He’d sent them out. Now they’re back –all ecstatic and happy – saying they performed miracles. He thinks he heard Jesus say, “I saw Satan fall from heaven!”
Then he hears Jesus pray, with a booming voice, “Thank You, Father. You hide these things from the wise and reveal them to little children!” Only to watch people turn and stare at him. This has got to stop.
“Teacher!” he commands, standing up.
One word and everybody goes silent. Just like he’d hoped. Jesus moves toward him – that face of His – as happy as the rest of them. It’s time to change that.
“Answer me this: What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
It’s the perfect question. How will He answer him? Will He point to God? Will He point to the Law of Moses and say publicaly that life after death is granted only to those who keep the commandments of God? Or will He point to Himself? That’s the gossip on the street. He says what no one should ever say: “You must follow (not the Law! Not the teaching of the elders!) -- Me!”
He’s got to hear it for himself.
But Jesus is shrewd. He comes closer. He volleys questions back. “What does the Law say?” and then, more pointedly: “How do you read it?” Which is exactly how his colleagues would have responded. They’d debate these questions for hours. They’d formulate their arguments – especially against the Sadducees. 1 But here? Now? After Jesus has just applauded the wisdom of “little children”?
No, he reasons. If He wants a child’s answer, He will get a child’s answer.
“To love the Lord your God,” he recites quickly, his voice solemn. “With all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. To love your neighbor as yourself.”
Is that Jesus’ hand resting on his shoulder?
Is the crowd applauding?
“You’ve got it!” Jesus exclaimed. “Perfect answer!” And He said it loudly -- like He wanted everybody to hear and rejoice, “He knows everything there is to know!”
It’s not what he was expecting.
He’s got to put more pressure on Jesus. This is not over. But before he can speak, Jesus commands the moment. He says what nobody has ever said before – ever. Not the rabbis of ages past. Not the scholars of his own day. This is not a child’s response. It’s more complicated than that. It’s confusing. It’s – beyond him.
Stunning him with surprising force. Shaking him at his very core.
“Do this!” Jesus urges. “And that life – that eternal life -- is yours. Now!” 2
* * *
I sat outside the bishop’s office. Waiting for him.
It was the fall of 1985. I was in my second year of seminary. I’d been born and raised in the Episcopal Church. My uncle had been a priest, then bishop, and I’m sure that influenced my desire as a child to become a pastor.
But evidently, I had “trouble” written all over me.
I belonged to a very different kind of Episcopal Church. The main reason, I’d say, is that the Bible was preached as the word of God. People were coming to saving faith in Jesus. In fact, so many were coming, the church had to rent out the local high school to fit everybody. I simply loved it. I always had the sense the Lord was there – presiding in His church – and wanting us to receive the fullness of His Spirit to worship Him. Serve Him. And tell others about Him.
It made me want to be a pastor all the more.
And so, with the church’s blessing, I met with the bishop for the first time in the summer of 1984. I quickly learned he didn’t like our church much – not exactly. He told me, if I was to be ordained to the pastorate, I’d have to go to a seminary of his choosing. Because, he said, I needed to be broadened.
I was too narrow, too rigid, in how I perceived the world.
Not knowing how to take this, my wife and I went to our pastor for counsel. “Do what the bishop says,” he advised. “Go to seminary, learn it all -- just be careful not to believe it all. The Lord will give you understanding.”
So off I went – nervous, if I were to be honest.
After my first year of seminary, I spent the summer of 1985 in a hospital chaplaincy program. This was required for all pastors in training. Not just me.
And I had done well. Really well.
So, that fall, when the bishop called me to come to his office to meet with him, I was, perhaps, overconfident. If anything, I was annoyed. It had taken almost two hours to get to his office due to horrible rains and a huge backup on the highway because of an accident. Thankfully, I’d left in plenty of time. I got to the bishop’s office with about a minute to spare.
And then sat there. For over an hour.
This was not going well. When he finally opened the door and called me, I did my best to compose myself and be gracious. He led the way into his office, went behind his desk and sat down. I found a chair in front.
“No need to sit,” he barked.
For a few minutes he did his best with small talk. He asked about my family. He wanted to know what classes I was taking this semester. His manner was abrupt, business like, and I kept my answers to a minimum. Finally, he put his reading glasses down, leaned forward in his chair, and looked right at me.
“I didn’t want to say this over the phone. I know you did your hospital chaplaincy this past summer. You’re going to do it again. Next summer.”
He paused. Waiting for my reaction.
“Why? I thought I did well.”
He didn’t respond. He just kept staring at me.
When I nodded my head and told him I’d do it, it ended the meeting. He told me to apply to the state mental hospital chaplaincy program and keep him informed. He then put on his glasses and resumed working at his desk.
He was done with me.
Honestly, I was done with him too. I didn’t say it out loud but I was angry. Nobody in my seminary class had to repeat summer chaplaincy. Why me? It felt like the bishop was punishing me for being part of a church he didn’t like. It was totally unfair. And, clearly, I had no option but to do what he said.
So I applied to the program.
In early spring, they accepted me and I began working at the state mental hospital in mid-June, 1986. There were six of us in total. During the days of orientation, I had a chance to meet privately with the supervisor.
“Do you know why I’m here?” I asked him.
Leslie was a tall, thin man in his early sixties with a kind, gentle manner. He’d been a pastor for years and, mid-career, made the change to chaplaincy. I could tell it suited him well. He had a kind of presence that engendered trust. He looked at me surprised. “Yes, I do. You mean you don’t?”
I shook my head.
“Well, why you do think?”
“Not sure the bishop likes me all that much.”
“No,” he said, definitively. “That’s not the impression I got.”
I looked out his office window at the deep blue summer sky. I wanted to be anywhere but here. Most of my colleagues were doing summer internships at churches. Others had jobs to bring in some needed cash for their families during these lean school years. Me – well, I simply felt sorry for myself.
Leslie looked down at his notes. “He’s concerned about you. He wants you to experience those difficult places in life where we don’t have all the answers. We can’t quote a Bible verse and make all our problems go away. He wants you to know more about the suffering in this world.”
“What?” I said, indignant.
“Yeah,” he said, looking at me like he understood what the bishop meant. And then he said words that stole the breath from my body.
“The bishop thinks you might know everything there is to know. He’d like to change that.”
1 See Luke 20:27 for example. The lawyer believes that eternal life is real and inheritable through things we do. The Sadducees, in contrast, did not believe in the resurrection to come or eternal life.
2 Our Lord puts the conversation of eternal life into a whole new framework. He announces it’s more than life after death. It is, for those believe and live the love commands, here and now.
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