Luke 10:25-37 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read?” 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.” And he said to him, “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.”
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, 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, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed mercy on him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Here is a story about a man who lived, as many of us do, a good life. He tried hard to be as good as possible, and to live according to the Law to the best of his abilities. Don’t we do the same? We try not to treat others badly, go to church on Sunday’s and as many Holy days as we can. Haven’t killed anyone, haven’t stolen anything more than maybe a Snicker’s bar when we were children. All-in-all we’ve done the best we can, so we’re bound for Heaven, right?
Now, this is not a lawyer in the sense of a public defender, rather he is of the religious cast and trained in the Law of Moses. He knows the Law inside and out, which is why he was able to give such a succinct interpretation of the 600+ statutes. His ego was given a boost when Jesus told him that his explanation was right, and that if he kept it up he would inherit eternal life. But that wasn’t enough, he sought clarification to prove that he was doing things right, “Who is my neighbor?” What a ball of worms he opened up.
Samaritans, the bane of Jews. In some ways they were more Jewish than the Jews themselves, holding to a strict adherence to the Law of Moses (they accepted only the Torah from the Old Testament) in every way except for the ban on pronouncing the name of God (Yahweh). Relations were so bad that Jews traveling between Judah and Galilee would cross over the Jordan and travel through Gentile lands, then cross back again once past Samaritan lands, rather than travel through Samaria. Now that’s bad.
The lawyers’ question was loaded, and he was ready to jump on Jesus based on his presumed response. The lawyers considered only those as righteous as themselves to be “neighbors”, so if Jesus were to answer with anything else the lawyer was ready to respond. But, the parable throws the lawyer off his game, how does he respond with the people around him?
The parable itself was loaded with hidden meaning as well. The priest and the Pharisee would have several concerns about the wounded man. First, beaten and bleeding, any attempt to minister to him would make them ritually unclean, and thus unable to attend to the synagogue without going through purification rituals. Second, it was not uncommon for criminals to fake injuries, wait for someone to attend to them, then their cohorts would spring out and set upon the unsuspecting person. Passing on the opposite side of the road was a way of reducing the chance of falling to a ruse.
Along comes the Samaritan. Since the man was stripped it would be obvious that he was Jewish, and an enemy of the Samaritan. Samaritans took the Law seriously when it came to attending to the sick and injured, and saw no difference between themselves and anyone else, he was obligated to help the man. But this Samaritan goes beyond what is required by the Law. Not only does he tend to the man’s wounds, he takes him to a local inn, stays with him the night to assure that he survives, then pays the innkeeper the equivalent of four day’s wages for a unskilled worker and assures him further compensation when he returns. Consider this for a moment. You’re driving on a trip, you come across someone lying in the road, beaten and naked. You stop, bandage his wounds as best you can and clothe him, then you take him to the hospital, stay up with him all night, then assure the staff that you will pay for whatever care he needs. This goes far beyond even our own feelings of duty to our fellow man. Now, let’s add in a twist, the man is a Taliban terrorist – do you still attend to him?
One more comment on this, something that is rarely preached upon, but which Jesus deals with head-on. As I said, all three actors in this tale (priest, Pharisee, Samaritan) are bound by the same ritual concern – coming in contact with blood makes the caregiver ritually unclean, and therefore unable to attend synagogue until after they have been cleansed. Jesus has the Samaritan break the rules of ritual purity to attend to the needs of his enemy. This would not have been lost on the audience as it is with us. The message is clear – the needs of our fellow man supersede any religious or societal rules or obligations. Our duty to our neighbors is more important than attending church or social events – people come first!