Narcissist Case Study – Self-Justification Through Technical Loopholes

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Luke 10:25-37

25 And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” 27 And he answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”

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As was made clear by his answer, the lawyer already knew the Biblical answer to his question, implying that his question was not a sincere inquiry.  Luke called it a “test” – the lawyer was simply asking the question to see what kind of response he would get, with the chance perhaps that Jesus would say something that the lawyer could use against him – or possibly to show that he was somehow better than Jesus.  This is a typical narcissist tactic.

Rather than take the bait, Jesus wisely asked the lawyer what was his understanding of the law.  Upon giving the right answer and upon Jesus confirming that it was the right answer, the lawyer knew in his heart that he fell short and did not love God with all his heart nor his neighbor as himself.  He also probably knew deep down that it was obvious to others as well.  However, in his pride he was unwilling to admit that he was falling short of both God’s standard and his own understanding of the Old Testament definition of the requirements for eternal life.

The lawyer’s response was telling:

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Luke 10:29 But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

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Rather than admitting he was wrong, he instead tried to split definitional hairs for the purpose of justifying  to Jesus, others, and mostly himself that he was not in violation of the two requirements that he had himself just stated.  Rather than humbly acknowledge his shortcomings and ask Jesus to teach him how to love God and others, he instead sought a way to cover over his failings by finding a technical loophole which he could use to justify himself.  He was seeking a way to avoid the real truth of his heart, and find a way to avoid the consequences without changing his underlying heart attitude.

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These technical loopholes were the trademark of the narcissistic Pharisees.

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Luke 16:15

15 And He [Jesus] said to them [Pharisees], “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.

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Rather than rebuking the lawyer for his attempt to justify himself, Jesus simply told a story that blew away his technical hairsplitting with a vivid example of above and beyond love:

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Luke 10:30 Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. 31 And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, 34 and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’

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Jesus then brought it right back to the lawyer, by asking him to confirm his understanding of the point of the story.

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36 Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?”  37 And he [the lawyer] said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.

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The lawyer confirmed to Jesus (and himself) that he not only understood the great commandment, but also that he accepted Jesus’ blazing clarity of what it meant.  But, the lawyer would likely have recognized that he was more like the priest and Levite than like the Samaritan – shining a contrast in his own heart between what he acknowledged to be true and his own way of acting.  Jesus then brought the point home by challenging to the lawyer to change by going out and act on what he knew.

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Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”

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Rather than confronting the lawyer’s hypocrisy directly, Jesus kindly led him to see it for himself.  The Bible does not say whether the lawyer made any changes to either his underlying heart approach to loving God and man, or his attempts to justify away any shortfalls.  But neither the lawyer, us, or the narcissists in our midst can have any doubt as to the true requirement which God places on us in terms of loving God and man.

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Please see Putting “Biblical Perspectives On Narcissism” Into Perspective for an overview of what this blog is about

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