Lately I’ve been thinking about the verses that form a prequel to the Parable of the Good Samaritan – the ones that lead up to Christ telling the parable.

Luke 10:25-27:

25  On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27  He 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.’”

28  “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

An expert in the law.  Most likely a Jew, this man wouldn’t have been an expert in the Roman law but Jewish religious law.  He wasn’t there to learn from Christ.  He was there to show off.  How do we know that?  “[He] stood up to test Jesus.”  He wanted to show everyone, including Jesus, how much he, Mr. Expert, knew.  He wanted to strut his stuff.

But how often are we already guilty of this kind of religion?  For so many of us, the rules and regulations that accompany our faith become the core of our religious practice.  We know the rules about who is saved and who isn’t.  We’re crystal clear on the regulations concerning who is a child of God and who isn’t.  Ask us who can preach,  what constitutes a valid baptism, what clothing is Christian and even where we should go to church and we can trot out a rule (or thirty) to prove our point.

And  you know something I’ve noticed about these rules and regs?  They’re never used to hold someone up but to keep someone down.  Want to beat your wife?  There’s a verse and no doubt several rules to back that up.  Against mixed race marriage?  Or maybe you’d like to declare that various people aren’t even fully human.  Let’s sit around and debate whether or not they have souls.  After all, we have rules and creeds and more.  We can do it and in our not-so-distant past, we have.

But  what we aren’t doing when we’re staging these almighty debates is holding our hearts and prayers up to God.  We aren’t gazing up at Him in awe of His Grace. We’re looking down at the rule books, keeping score.  In trying to keep other people small, we are taking our eyes off Him.

It  seems to me that when we take such a legalistic approach to religion, it shows that we lack a full understanding of God’s Grace.  We are saved by our belief in God and His love for us.  We don’t earn Grace through good works or religious rites.  It simply is not something that we can earn.  It is not something we can buy through tithes.  It is a gift.  And it isn’t ours to give.  It is God’s.  Ultimately?  Its His call, folks.

Until we fully understand that, we are missing the point and it is a very big point indeed.