“A certain lawyer.”
This is how the King James Version of the Good Book describes a chap who comes to hear Jesus teach. We do not know his real name, but we are made aware of his agenda.
So was he “a certain lawyer” because he was identical to the other lawyers around him, or was he referred to as “a certain lawyer” because he had a legal mind–already made up and sure of itself?
As the story unfolds, we find that actually he’s a bit of both. He’s on a mission. His job is to take his intellect, his knowledge of Mosaic law and his wit, and trip up the bumpkin would-be prophet from Nazareth.
He crafts a plan. It’s the classic trap. He asks Jesus “how to gain eternal life.” He figures this will cause the over-wrought preacher to launch into a series of crazed statements which are easily contradicted by existing spiritual philosophy. Imagine how astounded he is when Jesus defers to him.
“What does the law say? How do you read it?”
The lawyer was not expecting this response, but seeing the crowd of people, he thought it would be unwise to be absent a reply. He grabs a safe answer. (That’s what “certain people” do. Even “certain lawyers.” They grab safe answers.)
He said, “You should love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself.”
To which Jesus replied, “Fantastic! Go do that.”
The certain lawyer is embarrassed. He has been out-maneuvered by a former carpenter. He has been managed. He has been handled. He gained no additional information, and made the audience think he was completely in tune with the teachings of Jesus.
So he does something truly dastardly–he tries to justify himself. Every lasting malady happens when we come across a reality and explain why we’re already doing something else.
The certain lawyer (who is losing certainty by the moment) asks, “Who is my neighbor?”
In other words, there must be some restriction. Jesus is not talking about Gentiles, is he? He’s not referring to nasty whores and thieves?
“I need you to clarify. And in the clarification, it is my hope that you will foul up, so I can go back to those who hired me, and have a good laugh concerning me bettering the Galilean.”
Jesus doesn’t miss a beat.
He tells a story about a man who fell into a situation where he was robbed and beaten. He immediately establishes that those who “the certain lawyer” respected–a priest and a Levite–passed by and did not help the bleeding fellow. Instead, he offers a hero. He introduces a Samaritan–which by the way, to that “certain lawyer” was even worse than a Gentile–who comes to the aid of the gentleman, binds his wounds, takes him to an inn and then leaves real money behind to make sure he’s cared for until he recuperates.
Jesus directs the story. In politics, they refer to it as “controlling the narrative.”
A lawyer who thought he was so smart was side-stepped; trapped by question from Jesus which could only evoke one logical response. Upon finishing the narrative, Jesus asks the certain lawyer, “Who was neighbor to the damaged man?”
The lawyer was surrounded by people, and the answer was so obvious that any hem-hawing or parsing of words would make him look foolish, not thoughtful. So he splurted out:
“The neighbor was the one who showed mercy to the wounded man.”
And even though the “certain lawyer” had hoped that the end of his dialogue with Jesus would leave the Master speechless and him dominating, instead Jesus turns and as he walked away, says, “Go and do thou likewise.”
There must have been a chuckle throughout the crowd.
The humiliated, foiled, aggravated and convicted lawyer left to go lick his wounds.
Over the next few weeks, he devises his own story–a retort he should have given to Jesus. Why do I feel that? Because the Gospel writer never told us his name.
The “certain lawyer” didn’t matter. He was a prop–a vehicle to share wisdom.
A story for the ages: The Good Samaritan.