There is an unmistakable vulnerability implicit to the question, “What shall I do?” It bespeaks the futile soul-searching of one who has reached the limit of their resources. “What shall I do?” paints a picture of a desperation.
When the lawyer in Luke ten asks Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25), he admits that for all his knowledge, he cannot figure this one out. His education has failed to provide the answers to the weightier questions plaguing his heart. There is a peace that eludes him in spite of the status his accomplishments have brought him.
That Jesus’ response simply points him back to his area of expertise, the law, alludes to the fact that this lawyer has within his grasp the information necessary to answer his own question. It is not just what “is written in the law?” but also how he is reading it that is a factor (v. 26). Is he studying the Bible as a text book to fill in the blanks on his next pop quiz—to win the next theological debate? Or is he allowing the meaning of the text to permeate his thoughts and transform his life?
It’s one thing to know the right thing to do. And it’s quite another to do the right thing! Often the real question isn’t what should I do, but how do I do what I know I should. Paul had this problem. He laments, “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I…For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Rom. 7:15, 19). A want of knowledge may not be our plight; we need a heart transformation.
The lawyer’s response to Jesus’ question needed no modification. “This do, and thou shalt live,” Jesus affirmed (Luke 10:28). There was an apparent disconnect between what the lawyer knew to do and his doing it. The Bible says that the reason he asked the next question of Jesus was not because he didn’t understand the import of Christ’s words. Quite the contrary! He understood perfectly. “But he, willing to justify himself, said…” (v. 29). He asked “who is my neighbour?” to distract from the conviction that he needed to change his life.
I love how kind Jesus is in His response. He could have laid bare the tumult of soul that the lawyer’s line of questioning evinced—Jesus could have called him out. But gently, and oh so tenderly, does Jesus deal with our weaknesses and struggles! He tells a parable to draw out the conviction already laying heavy on this lawyer’s heart. The parable of the Good Samaritan is given to help this man face his conviction and submit to the change of heart he desperately needs.
“Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?” (v. 36) Jesus asks at the end of the parable. Prejudice, which is antithetical to the love the lawyer already confessed as necessary for salvation, keeps him from using the term Samaritan in his response: “He that showed mercy on him” (v. 37) he says. And there it is: Jesus’ parable tells him, You know what to do, i.e. love, but you clearly do not do it. Will you let the Master change your heart?
It is good and right to study the Bible and garner its wisdom. But we cannot experience the peace it promises unless we admit that its requirements far exceed our ability to comply and allow God to work a miracle transformation in our hearts so that we can keep His law. Let Him take your prejudice, your anger, your pride, your heart of stone to enable you to do what is right. Allow Him to change your heart.