Wanting to justify himself… (Luke 10:29, NKJV).
When a lawyer questioned Jesus as to what were the most important of all the commandments/Jewish laws, Jesus told him to love the Lord with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind…and “your neighbor as yourself.”
What a picture of the Cross that lay in Christ’s future! Because of His coming sacrifice, human beings would be able to choose to reach upward and love God, but Jesus wanted them to know that they must also reach outward to love others—their “neighbors.”
That’s where the problem came in for the lawyer. Because he undoubtedly considered himself a “son of Abraham,” a faithful Jew who observed Jewish law and therefore loved God, he didn’t challenge the first part of Jesus’ answer. But the part about loving his neighbor? That’s where he took exception.
“Who is my neighbor?” he asked. In other words, whom must I love as unselfishly as I love myself? Other faithful Jews? Loved ones and friends and family? Surely not everyone! That would be impossible…wouldn’t it?
In our own strength and out of our own resources, of course it is. Let’s face it: there are some people who are just flat unlovable. The lawyer’s response tells us that he was well aware of those unlovable people and wanted to make sure there was a loophole (a major concern for legal types!) that precluded his having to love that sort of person. In other words, he was trying to “justify himself” and his lack of unconditional love for others.
Before we judge that lawyer too harshly, perhaps we should ask ourselves how often we argue with God in an attempt to “justify” ourselves. We know it’s wrong to lie, but aren’t there times when the end seems to justify the means? We have no doubt that it’s wrong to murder, and yet didn’t Jesus Himself say that the root of hating someone (even calling them a “fool” or some other such derogatory name) is the same as the root of evil that spurs us to murder? And yet we attempt to justify ourselves with worldly logic and earthly arguments. Like the lawyer who questioned Jesus, our words bring a response from our Lord that strips away our excuses and confronts our hypocrisy.
The lawyer couldn’t justify himself, and neither can we. The Cross—reaching toward heaven and out to others—is the only justification we will ever find on this earth. May we graciously and unreservedly follow hard after it daily, even as we offer its unconditional love and forgiveness to others!