Adlai: A Lawyer

My name is Adlai. This past spring I turned sixteen and, at the same time, graduated from the academy for Pharisees. Most Jewish boys are in the synagogue school through their twelfth year. I had always wanted to be a Pharisee and a lawyer like my father and grandfather, so I studied hard all through school in order to be accepted into the academy.

For the last four years, I have studied the scrolls of the Pentateuch and the prophets and the addendum to the Law. The first two studies were interesting. The addendum to Moses' Law was boring to me because I thought the authors had created the Law for the trivial things of life. I kept this boredom to myself, of course, since I was a Pharisee and wanted to be considered an expert in the Law. So I memorized the addendum to the Law with the same fervor that I performed all of the tasks assigned to me. Lest one think I am not a respecter of the Law, let me hasten to say that the basic Jewish Law is, and always has been, essential to our survival as God's people.

Even before my study at the academy, my father and grandfather had told me about the importance of the Jewish religion and the Jewish Law. Our religion has been the source of our Law. Throughout Jewish history our survival as a people has depended on our religion and our Law, rather than any territory the Jews may have held. The tie between our religion and our Law was why I wanted to be a lawyer among the Pharisees and continue my family's tradition.

During my upperclassman years at the academy, I would go with other students into the area around the temple, where we would discuss the Law with anyone who would enter into a debate with us. I would often try to get a Sadducee and a Pharisee to debate each other. I always secretly enjoyed a good altercation. The Sadducees doubted immortality and accepted only the Torah, the written Law as found in the Pentateuch. The Pharisees, on the other hand, believed in life after death and in adding details to the written Law. Over the years the Pharisees had added thousands of laws, most of which seemed trivial to me.

On this spring day a group of recent law graduates had gathered near the temple. Everyone was talking about the teacher from Galilee named Jesus who entered Jerusalem two days ago riding a donkey. The crowd had placed leafy branches all along the road in His path and exclaimed, "Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord."

I wondered about this Jesus who claimed to be the Son of God. We heard that He had just subdued the Sadducees with His reply to their question about life after death. Since I had been the leader of my class at the academy, I was elected to approach Jesus where He sat on a large rock and ask Him a question we had all been wondering about, "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"

My eyes met those of Jesus as He began to speak, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And a second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the teaching of the prophets."

There was something about the tone of His voice that carried with it a sense of final authority. Even though I had spent years studying the Law, I had never thought of it in quite that way before. The rest of the commandments do follow naturally from these two, and the Pharisees' addendum to the Law could be thrown out, as I secretly had suspected all the time. His words were so simple yet so true that I decided to take it one step further and ask Him another question, "Who is my neighbor?"

Then Jesus paused and looked me squarely in the face then leaned back and began to tell me a story about a Jewish man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho who was beaten by robbers and left for dead. Three men in turn came along: a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan. The first two walked by on the other side of the road while only the Samaritan stopped to help the injured man.

With his eyes still fixed on mine, Jesus asked, "Which one was a neighbor?"

"Of course," I quietly answered, "the one who showed mercy towards the man."

Then He leaned forward and said, "Go and do likewise."

When He stood to his feet, another one of the Pharisees approached Him. As He turned to walk with him in the midst of the crowd, His words continued to echo through my mind, "Go and do likewise. Go and do likewise."

Then I thought of all those in my community and even those not so bright in my class whom I had considered inferior to me and not worthy of my love. I knew I had been wrong in thinking of them in this way. I had always determined to be an expert in the Law. Now I was instead to become a master of love—for both God and for man. From this day forth, I will go and do likewise.

Based on Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-37; Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18.

Copyright 1997 by John C. Westervelt

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