PassageIn this passage, Jesus gets tested by a lawyer (but turns the table and tests the lawyer instead). The lawyer starts the conversation by asking Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus, in turn, asks the lawyer: What does the law say? How do you read it? So the lawyer responds:
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.” (verse 27 (ESV))Jesus tells him that yes, this is correct. If you do this, you will live. But verse 29 (ESV) tells us that the lawyer wants to justify himself, so he asks Jesus a clarifying question: “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus doesn’t respond to the question directly, instead he tells a parable:
- A man is attacked by robbers, and left for dead by the side of the road.
- A priest happens by, but instead of helping the man he passes by on the other side of the road. A Levite also passes by, and does the same thing.
- Then a Samaritan passes by, and has compassion on the man. He binds up the man’s wounds, and brings him (on the Samaritan’s own animal) to an inn, where he takes further care of him.
- The next day, though he has to leave, the Samaritan gives the inn keeper two days’ wages to take care of the wounded man, with a promise that if it takes more money than what he provided, the Samaritan will pay it back to the inn keeper.
ThoughtsIf you attend a Christian church, you’ve probably heard numerous times that you can know all the right things and still not be saved. This lawyer is a perfect example, because when Jesus asks him how he interprets the law, when it comes to salvation, he gets right to the point. He cuts through the literally hundreds of laws that were handed down by God through Moses, goes straight past the Ten Commandments, and gets to the heart of Scripture: Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. This is a quotation of Deuteronomy 6:5 (ESV) and Leviticus 19:18 (ESV). If you were to summarize the entirety of the law, that’s how you’d do it, as evidenced by the fact that Jesus commends the lawyer for his answer. And yet… although he gets it, he still doesn’t get it.
As for the three men who happened upon the injured man in Jesus’ parable, it’s pretty clear that the fictitious priest and Levite were avoiding the man because they didn’t want to be made unclean. Especially since he was so close to death: if he’d happened to die while they were there, they might have ended up touching his dead body. These two examples would have been enough for Jesus to have made a significant point: it would be wrong to consider religious ritual to be more important than caring for one’s fellow brothers and sisters. (Would that statement be seen as contentious? It’s possible. But it shouldn’t be.) It would have been better, from God’s point of view, for the priest or the Levite to have cared for the man, regardless of what it might do to make them unclean.
But then Jesus took the point even further, by making the one who did the right thing in his parable a Samaritan. We read about the Samaritans previously, when a Samaritan village rejected Jesus. The Jews did not like the Samaritans, they considered the Samaritans’ version of religion to be displeasing to God—and they were correct in that assessment. The Samaritans didn’t like the Jews any more than the Jews liked them. By telling a parable in which a priest and a Levite displeased God, and a Samaritan did the right thing in loving his neighbour, Jesus is trying to get us to see past the things that divide us, whether real or imagined. So the short answer to the lawyer’s question—“who is my neighbour?”—would be: “Everyone.”
As for the point that the Samaritan brought the man to the inn on his own animal, I have no idea if it’s significant or not, but I would guess that it is. Jesus made a point of calling it out; I just don’t understand why. Again, perhaps it comes down to uncleanness: by putting the man on his animal, if the man had died, what would that do to the animal? Would it be considered unclean? Would it have to be put down? I don’t know Old Testament law well enough to answer that, but the fact that Jesus calls it out means, to me, that it’s probably significant in some way along these lines, showing it to be a selfless act on the part of the Samaritan.