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Justifying the Lawyers

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Sermon for Quinquagesima

Why do lawyers get such bad press?

For many people, the lawyer is an "ambulance chaser", someone who has grown fat charging an exorbitant amount of money to interpret the Law to free the guilty and punish the innocent.

But it's not true.

What is a lawyer for?


We have the Law - a system of rules which allow human beings to live together in some form of harmony. But human beings are complicated, so the Law is complicated.

The fact of the matter is that, if human beings weren't so predisposed to sin and doing the wrong thing, there would be no need of the Law: as St Paul would remind us, the Law is there to tell us what is right and what is wrong. That's its function.

And we should be thankful for it.


Look at the end of the captivity in Babylon. When the Jews are allowed to leave and rebuild Jerusalem, they need to rebuild their society too. When Ezra and Nehemiah find the books of the Law, the people are thrilled. They weep when the Law shows how bad things have become and they commit themselves to making their society better. The lawyers - people trained to understand the Law - become important. 


So we see this Lawyer, one who seems to be well known to the community, listen to Jesus. He has clearly been listening to Jesus for a while because he is able to repeat the commandments that Jesus treasures and bids us follow.

But Jesus is a controversial figure, one whom the Scribes and Pharisees believe is disrupting the harmony and order of Society. This Lawyer seeks to test Jesus, to hear how subversive He is. 

And Jesus turns the tables on him. What should we do to inherit eternal life? Love God; love your neighbour. It's almost obscenely simple. If we all kept these two commandments, there is no need for the Law and no need for Lawyers.

And this becomes uncomfortable for the Lawyer for, out of his own mouth, he has made himself redundant.

Think fast! How can the Lawyer demonstrate that he is a vital, good and wholesome contributor to Society? Seek for the technicality. The Law will still be needed to judge who the neighbour is. "And who is my neighbour?"


The answer is that parable.The famous parable. The parable that puts the epitome of the law-abiding, the priest, the Levite, beneath the lawless Samaritan.

And yet, the Samaritan is keeping the very law that the Lawyer has given. Jesus is not destroying the Law: He is preaching it. He shows so clearly that the Law of Eternity is written not in books but in the Word of God. The letter flattens the law to human thoughts which can become obsessed with tiny details so that gnats are strained out and camels are swallowed. 

The parable of the Good Samaritan shows us that we are all to become lawyers - lawyers from the heart. In order to do so, we need Our Lord there in our hearts to give His Law its fullest meaning.


Human lawyers do the vital job of interpreting a wildly complicated system of rules so that we can live this life in harmony with others.

We Christians are to be lawyers of the higher law, to expose evil and reveal the good, not to prosecute but to stand alongside the sinner in the knowledge that God Himself will give all good things in order that sin might be destroyed and the human being freed from evil. 

Lent gives us the opportunity to grow the law of God in our hearts, to commit ourselves to living out that Law and to prepare ourselves to reveal that law to a world that is obsessed with legalism and petty detail.

The good lawyer is to be respected, but then the good lawyer is a good Samaritan.

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