The [expert in religious law] wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor” – Luke 10:29 (NLT)
Here I am, reading along and preparing for my Sunday sermon, feeling good about myself because I’m the pastor and a handful of people will get out of bed early and listen to me expound upon the Word of God, when it starts to occur to me I’m not as good as I like to think. In fact, sometimes I’m too religious for my own good, and it took a long-dead lawyer to get me to take a hard look at myself.
In the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), a lawyer challenges Jesus with the question, “What should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replies, “How do you read it?” And the lawyer goes on to give the acceptable church answer: Love God with all you heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. “Great,” responds Jesus, “do it and live.”
The lawyer should have left well enough alone, but he goes on and tries to justify the way he treats others. Eugene Peterson says, “Looking for a loophole,” the lawyer asks, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ answer tells the lawyer he is asking the wrong question. We should not be concerned with writing a short list called, These Folks Are Acceptable Neighbors. Instead, we should ask the question, “What kind of neighbor am I?”
I’d like to think this parable gives the lawyer a tough time, and it does, but it is actually tougher on me than I like to admit. If I’m really honest, I’ll admit that I’m more like the lawyer than the Samaritan. I’m selfish enough to want to believe that loving my neighbor means loving people who love me. That loving my neighbor means doing nice things for people who will probably do nice things back. That visiting the sick means someone in the church will find out and tell others what a good pastor I am. That’s probably what the lawyer thought, too, and he felt pretty good about how he’d fulfilled that command.
But Jesus’ story about the Samaritan does to me the same thing Jesus intended it to do to the lawyer. It makes me uncomfortable, reaches up and smacks me in the head, and makes me admit my compassion can sometimes be very small and limited.
Then I saw that the life of Jesus is the true example of the Good Samaritan. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus covers our nakedness and binds up our wounds. He puts us in a place of safety, provides for our needs, and promises to return and take us to Himself. This parable is, in many ways, the essence of the Gospel message, spoken and lived by our Savior Jesus Christ.
I find it interesting that the lawyer quoted Lev. 19:18 when he said we should love our neighbor as our self. However, the Samaritan didn’t just quote the Scripture, but like Jesus, he fulfilled it. This parable shows us that we measure the love we have for God and ourselves by the way that we love others. The priest and Levite may have professed their love for God, but they didn’t really love themselves because they didn’t show love to their neighbor.
This is why Jesus finally turns back to the lawyer and says, “Now, which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” (vs. 36). The lawyer now sees his original question, “Who is my neighbor?” turned back on him by Jesus’ question. Because, as I said, the real issue is not, “Who is my neighbor?” but “Am I a good neighbor?” The lawyer says, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus says, “Yes, now go and do the same.”
Jesus the Good Samaritan is a good neighbor. He saw my wounded soul and gave me a place to rest. Now it is up to me to follow the words of Jesus to the lawyer when He said, “Now go and do the same.”