And the lawyer answered, “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, love your neighbor as yourself . . . but, who is my neighbor?”
Leave it to a lawyer to muddy up the waters. After answering the question correctly, the lawyer muddies up the water by seeking clarification. Of course, Jesus is more than willing to tell a story to get the concept of neighbor across to the lawyer. The parable he tells is the Good Samaritan story. You know the story . . . about the guy making a trip, gets robbed, beat up, and left for dead on the side of the road. Three people encounter the man—a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan. The first two refuse to help and take a wide path around the wounded man; the Samaritan stops and helps. In fact, the Samaritan does more than help . . . he arranges for the man to be taken care of until he comes back. Then Jesus asks the lawyer, who was the neighbor in this story? The lawyer answered, “The one who had mercy upon him.”
Then Jesus responded to the lawyer, “Go and do likewise.”
Words . . . that is all we have of this encounter between the lawyer and Jesus. We do not know whether or not the lawyer went out and did as he was told to do . . . odds are, he did not. I imagine that he did not follow Jesus’ command because he could not twist and turn the meaning of those words around. Jesus was pretty straight-forward in what he meant. A neighbor is pretty much . . . no, is . . . who ever happens to be with a person at any particular moment in time. And, you are to love them . . . not in mere words, but in actions. Jesus doesn’t leave much wiggle room in this particular story . . . lawyers, and the rest of us, need lots of wiggle room in the words we hear and speak.
They are mere words . . . nothing but words. Words that are left up to interpretation. The two men—the priest and Levite—interpreted the words of their faith and world a certain way . . . they were not to interact with the robbed and wounded man to avoid becoming defile. Rules are rules. True their religious writings stated they should love others, but not at the risk of being ostracized by the rest of the community. It was a matter of interpretation that they choose to take the long way around the man. Priests and Levites were pretty important people in Jesus’ time . . . highly respected and looked up to; but they went with the letter of the law, not the “spirit” of the law. It was a matter of interpretation.
Without intention and action, words are just words. We all use words . . . every day, we use words. Our world and our lives are filled with words. They surround us like the air that we breathe. At times it feels as if the words will snow us under an avalanche . . . an avalanche that smothers us to death. They pile upon us, crushing us under their weight, until we can no longer move . . . the weight of the words confine us in fear of being able to truly understand, interpret, and live up to the words we hear and embrace. What are we to do?
Actions speak louder than words . . . and, I believe, words have their power in action. Jesus put it simply, “Go and do likewise.” Actually, he put it simply and bluntly . . . no more words, do something. There is nothing to interpret here . . . the lawyer had only one option . . . to put up or shut up. The lawyer chose to shut up.
The story is ironic in that it is filled with words. The lawyer, quite astute at using words for a living, uses words. Jesus uses words. The lawyer wants to play games of interpretation; Jesus wants action. Where is the power in the words . . . in more words? No, it is in doing as Jesus commanded, to go and love others. Action speaks louder than words . . .
Have you read a newspaper lately? What did you find? Words . . . lots of words. Have you watched the news on television . . . what did you find? Yep, more words . . . lots of words. The radio? More words. In our present reality we are hearing a lot of words . . . especially words from our politicians. Words, words, words . . . or what I like to call diarrhea of the mouth. Are any of us satisfied with the words we hear? Nope, because in the end they are nothing but words . . . nothing promised is being accomplished. In fact, the way that our nation’s politicians behave speak louder than any words that will ever be spoken. As they used to say on The Seinfield Show, “Yada, yada, yada.” The actions of most of those speaking betray their words.
Jesus used words well. He pretty much laid everything out so that any third grader could understand. In this particular story, the whole sum of what it means to be a child of God is shared . . . love God completely and love others. Then he says, prove it! Don’t speak words, do something! It cannot get any more simpler than that . . . what is not to understand?
Yeah, this preachy, but at the same time I think that we all need to understand the importance of words. I also think that we need to understand that words have no meaning . . . no real meaning . . . without intention and action.
Jesus was constantly being challenged by the authorities of his day. Constantly being put to the task. Challenged in his understanding . . . challenged in the words he used. Over and over again he assured the people and the authorities that he was not there to change the laws, but to fulfill them. It was a matter of interpretation. Jesus put it simply, “Put up or shut up.” That is the only way that words have power. If we are going to use words, let us use them right. Let our actions speak for us . . . more people will listen if we do.