“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 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.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:25 – 28)
If you have ever been to any kind of public presentation, you know many times there is someone in the crowd who thinks they know as much or more than the presenter(s). And many times this supposed know-it-all will subtly or not so subtly challenge the professed know-it-all.
“But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Verses 29)
And so begins one of the most quoted, used, and misused parable that Jesus spoke. Several facts (and I am not trying to be a know-it-all, gentle reader, but provide you with some background and context) are helpful and illuminating for this passage. The Samaritans and the Jews came from similar religious backgrounds but because of history and geography there had been a parting of the ways, and not very amicable. So that it was a Samaritan that came to the aid of a Jew (that is, was shown to be a “better” neighbor, and expanded the definition of “neighbor” being someone close by and part of “us” rather than “them”) was not lost on the crowd, and most certainly not lost on the lawyer. In Jesus’ time a lawyer was someone who had intently studied Jewish law, and while they might not have had a position in the Temple, they would have been closely aligned to it. And would have considered a Samaritan as someone outside of the law. In our contemporary times, a Samaritan has come to mean something entirely different! Let us look then at the story Jesus told.
“Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ “ (Verses 30 – 35)
Compassion, caring, going out of one’s way and above the expectation – not what one would expect of a Samaritan, according to the Jews of Jesus’ time.
“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Verses 36 – 37)
It is not so much who is our neighbor as it is how we should treat and interact with everyone that we meet – regardless of who they are. We are all neighbors to each other, if we share existence one to another.
This lawyer who studied the law wanted to find out what Jesus’ legal/theological/religions understanding was. And when Jesus demonstrated his knowledge of that the heart of Jewish law was, the lawyer wanted to regain the upper hand. But instead he was given a lesson in what the true heart of Jewish law was, and is. I am hoping he went away from the experience a man wiser in correct living. And I hope you too, beloved reader, know what being a neighbor really means! Selah!