Have you ever used the "skill" of answering a question with another question? In some circles, such as counseling, this is a common occurrence - the questions asked are designed to get the person to consider the answer themselves and to begin to problem solve through the situation. There are times when the most appropriate answer is another question. For example, when a child asks you why they have to eat their vegetables, do you think answering, "Because I told you to", is the best answer? Answer in this way, and the child will allow those veggies to just grow cold on the plate. Yet, if the parent tried a different tact, such as saying, "Johnnie, what do you think is the reason you should eat your vegetables?", I wonder what they might receive. Perhaps you'd hear the response, "Because if I don't, I will never get to watch TV this evening." If the parent hears this, what is it Johnnie is saying? He is equating doing something very unpleasant for him to some form of pleasant pursuit in return. In asking the right question, you see the underlying focus. Johnnie is not concerned with the great nutritional intake, but that he misses out on the next episode of his favorite TV series!
Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?” He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?” He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.” “Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.” (Luke 10:25-28 MSG)
Jesus often took the tact of answering a question with another question, not because he was avoiding an answer, but because he was interested in having the one asking the question finally see the true motivation of their heart in asking in the first place. The passage we consider today begins with the "motivation" of heart laid out for us - the scholar stood up with a question to TEST Jesus. His intent was not in really discovering the way to get eternal life - it was to attempt to expose something in Jesus which was contrary to the Law of Moses. What a disappointment he must have experienced when Jesus turned back to him with another question and he basically hung himself out to dry with the answer he was forced to give. Jesus was not going to say to the scholar, "Let me interpret the scripture for you, since you are only mortal." He "honored" this man's studies in the scripture and asks how "HE" interprets what the Law requires. I think the scholar must have been a little taken aback by Jesus "honoring" him with the opportunity to answer the question.
Jesus' reply, "You have answered this very well, Mr. Scholar - now, get busy doing it and you will have this eternal life," really did not sit well with the scholar. You see, the scholar felt "boxed in" a little by his own answer - so he looks for a "loophole" to give himself an "out". His next question to Jesus is really designed to find the loophole - "Hey, Jesus, who is my neighbor?" Isn't it just like us to want a loophole? We clearly show we understand the requirements, but then we want a way out! We just don't want to eat our vegetables because we don't like lima beans! We know they are good for us, containing the "right stuff" to help us stay strong, but those pesky lima beans just give us cause to pause. Maybe it is a texture thing, or just maybe we cannot stand the smell. Regardless, we want a "loophole" that will not "bind" us to our "understanding" of the value of their intake.
By definition, a loophole is a means of escape or evasion. Sometimes we use a question to attempt to evade the true disclosure of our heart. At others, we use it to cover up our lack of understanding. Regardless, we are attempting to find the way of escape. We want to evade the "rule" or create enough "ambiguity" with the rule so as to "water it down" enough to avoid the consequences of the rule. It is like when the child asks, "If I eat five lima beans, may I watch TV?" The intent is to "bargain" his way out of eating the entire serving - so he can move on with what he finds more enjoyable. We often use questions to "bargain" our way out of some understanding we have, don't we?
The man's answer reveals much to Jesus. The first thing is this man's understanding of the Law goes beyond the surface of just being a good person. The scholar answers he would love God with all his passion and prayer. When passion gets behind our action, we find ourselves just a little more "vested" in the action, don't we? In answering this way, the scholar was pointing out he "knew" the principles of serving God - with depth of heart and honesty. When we love God with all our passion this is depth of heart - when we love him with all our prayer, we are opening up to him in honesty. When the scholar says you put a little "muscle" into your love, he is probably saying that man needs to put feet to their words. In other words, you don't just say you love God and want to serve him - you show it in your choices. As if this were not enough, the scholar points out that the mind plays an important part in serving God - bringing what we "know" about God into practice in our own lives.
The scholar really boxed himself in when he added the last statement about loving his neighbor as himself. Now he had no real way of escape because Jesus was prepared for the next question - "So, how would you define neighbor, Jesus?" His reply, "Let me tell you a story and then you decide who PERFORMED the acts of heart, mind, and service which exemplify a neighbor." Jesus used the man's own answer to present the answer the scholar thought would trip Jesus up somehow. In telling the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus then turns to the scholar and asks the scholar to point out who was the "neighbor" in the story. The scholar's answer? "The one who treated him kindly." Uh oh! Exposed by your own question!
He came to Jesus, not in kindness, but in an attempt to TEST Jesus. In turn, Jesus uses the "testing" questions of the scholar to "test" the scholar's own heart! This is so like Jesus! He uses the "testing" questions of our own heart and mind to "test" the real intention of our hearts and the wisdom of our minds. Amazing! The next time you ask Jesus a question and hear a question in reply, just know he is asking because he knows we already know the answer - we just need to recognize that we do! Just sayin!