Gospel: Luke 10:25-37
The Loving Neighbor
Has anyone ever helped you when you were in trouble, especially on vacation? What happened?
25 Suddenly, a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher, what do I have to do so I can receive eternal life?" the lawyer asked.
26 "What's written in God's Law?" Jesus shot back. "How do you understand it?"
27 "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all you soul, all your strength and all you mind. Love your neighbor as yourself," the lawyer answered.
28 "Correct!" Jesus told him. "Do this and you will live forever."
29 But, the lawyer wanted to win the argument. So, he asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?"
30 Jesus took up the challenge with a parable. "Once, there was a man who went down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho," Jesus began. "Robbers jumped the man, stripped his clothes off, beat him severely, and left him for dead. 31 By luck, a priest went down the same road. But when he saw the half-dead man, he passed by on the other side of the road. 32 Next, a Levite came on the scene, saw what happened, and also passed by on the other side. 33 Then, a Samaritan traveling along the road saw the man and felt sorry for him. 34 The Samaritan cleaned and bound the man's wounds, set the man on his mule, and took him to an inn to take care of him. 35 The next day, the Samaritan took some money out of his wallet and gave it to the innkeeper. 'Take care of him,' the Samaritan told the innkeeper. 'When I return, I will repay you whatever you spend beyond this.' 36 Which of these three men treated the robbed man like a neighbor?"
37 "The man who was merciful," replied the lawyer.
"Go the same way. Do acts of mercy," Jesus told him.
The parable of the Good Samaritan built upon Jesus' commissioning monologue from last week. Jesus sent seventy missionaries before him with travel instructions. On their return, they glowed about the power of Jesus' name. And he praised God for his revelation to the disciples.
Suddenly, the scene shifted. A lawyer (read "scribe") stood up in the midst of the followers to challenge Jesus. He wanted to know about duties necessary for salvation. "Love God" was the easy part. "Love neighbor" was more controversial. After all, who was "neighbor," a fellow Jew or a complete stranger? Jesus answered with a parable of dangers on the road. And changed the identity of the neighbor.
25 Look! A lawyer stood up, testing HIM, saying, "Teacher, having done what (act of faith) will I inherit eternal life?" 26 But HE said to him, "What is written in the Law? How do you read (it)?" 27 Having answered he said, "You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, in all your spirit, in all your strength, in all your mind, and (love) your neighbor as yourself." 28 HE said to him, "You answered correctly. Do this and you will live (forever)." 29 But, wanting to justify himself, he said to JESUS, "Who is my neighbor?"
10:25 "Look!" Here, the word is not used for emphasis but for a change of scene.
"having done what (act of faith) will I inherit eternal life?" The question the lawyer asked meant to pin Jesus down on his interpretation of the Law. Unlike Mark or Matthew who asked for the most important commandment, Luke has the scribe ask for the most important act of faith that would garner God's favor. As a Gentile writing for Gentile Christians, Luke may have viewed the focus of Pharisee spirituality on acts that fulfilled religious duties. So the scribe in Luke was really asking: "What's the most important duty I can fulfill that will please God?"
10:27 The verb "love" governs both commandments in the scribe's statement. The second verb was added for clarity sake.
10:29 "Who is my neighbor?" The scribe's question cut to the heart of the matter, for, on the question of "neighbor" hinged the question of spirituality. Some Pharisees had an exclusive sense. They wanted the phrase "neighbor" to only include fellow Jews. They believed Jews not only could live separately, they could feel justified in their prejudice against non-Jews. The God of the Jews was only for Jews, not for all. This sense was not universally held at the time.
Christians were more inclusive. The term "neighbor" was universal. The God of Abraham was the God for all peoples. And all peoples should enjoy a relationship with their Master. In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus implicitly pushed the view that the God of all was for all, not for some.
In the context of last week's gospel (and the intervening verses), the seventy returned with some success. But, Jesus warned them about rejection. Some would not receive the Good News. Between the curses and the praise, a lingering question remained. Why did these groups reject the gospel?
Luke painted the controversy in terms of adversary: a lawyer vs. Jesus. The lawyer represented the Pharisees who taught ethnic separation and strict observance to the Law. They also smacked of exclusivity, an "us vs. them" mentality. Inside the group lay salvation, outside the group lay damnation. They rejected the Good News, simply because acceptance would change their mentality.
This exclusive attitude could not be confined just to the Pharisees, however. It could infect almost every organization, even the followers of Jesus! Hence, Luke set the parable in the context of the missionary envoys. In spite of rejection, would the followers be open to new missionary fields, or would they shy away and stay on known (and friendly) turf? This was the underlining theme found in the question, "Who is my neighbor?"
30 Taking up (the question), JESUS said, "(A man) went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell (in the midst) of robbers who, having stripped him, having inflicted blows (upon him), set off, having left him half dead. 31 By coincidence, a priest went down on that road and, having seen him, went on the opposite (side). 32 Along the same (way) a Levite, [having come (on the scene)], having come (on the place) and having seen, went along the opposite (side). 33 But a Samaritan, traveling by, came upon him and, having seen, felt compassion. 34 Having approached, he bound his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Having placed him on his own animal, he brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day, having grabbed (out his money belt), he gave two denarii to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him. Whatever you spend in addition, I will repay you on my return.' 36 Which of these three does it seem to you to be neighbor to (the man) having fallen among the robbers?" 37 He said, "The one having done an act of mercy for him." JESUS said to him, "Go likewise and do."
10:31-32 "priest . . . Levite" According to Leviticus 21:1:
The Lord said to Moses, "Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them that none of them shall defile himself for the dead among his people..."
Touching a stranger who appeared to be dead would defile the priest or Levite. They could not perform liturgical or leadership functions without ritual cleansing. In the parable, the priest and Levite (representing the Pharisees' view of strict observance) chose duty over compassion. Ironically, choosing duty over all undercut the authority to which the characters in the story aspired.
"[having come (on the scene)]" was an addition found in many manuscripts.
10:33 The Samaritan was the counter-image of the priest and Levite. As a hated heretic (from the Jewish point of view), the Samaritan was unclean by definition. But, he could choose compassion because he had no status that required the duty of strict observance.
10:35 Normally personal pronouns are understood in languages like Greek. In this case, Luke included the pronoun "I" for emphasis. "I will repay you on my return."
The road parable asked one question: what's more important, duty or hospitality? The success of the missionaries depended directly upon hospitality. Notice the hypocrisy of a Christian missionary who would choose duty over hospitality! Who would reject the virtue that helped insure their success? Hence, the Christian must place serving others over spreading the Good News. Indeed, serving others was a means of evangelization.
Hospitality and evangelization embraced an inclusive attitude. Welcoming strangers was the first step inviting them to join the followers of Jesus. Both, however, had a negative side. The exclusive rejected the inclusive. Those who invited others would be hated by those who didn't need others. The insider defined and detested those he considered outsiders.
The lawyer defined and detested the Samaritan so much, he could not call him by his ethnic background. He defined the helpful man by his character: merciful. Notice in his answer the lawyer undercut his own position. He made exclusive claims on God, the Merciful and Lord of all. Yet, it was his enemy that possessed God-like virtues, not the faithful lawyer!
Also notice how Jesus defined the neighbor, not as the victim but as the care-giver. The neighbor was the hospitable evangelist. This image, then, became the standard by which love of others was measured. To truly love others as self meant to act as the Samaritan, the hated man who went out his way to care for the needy.
Jesus' command summed up the moral of the parable: Go out like the hated Samaritan. Do acts of mercy for whomever you meet.
As we travel this vacation season, let us remember that, in spite of the risks, we are to care for others as much as we expect to be cared for. Acting with such mercy is the first step in sharing the Good News.
How can I be a good neighbor this summer? At home? On the road?