We all know the parable of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10:25-37. The context of the story is an expert in the law wanting to test Jesus by asking Him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asks him, “What is written in the Law?” and “How do you read it?” The man correctly replies with Scripture from Deut. 6:5 to “love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your mind, and all of your strength” and from Lev. 19:18 to “love your neighbor as yourself”.
Luke 10:29 – But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Things to think about:
· Those six words from the man strike at the heart of an important aspect of human nature – “but he wanted to justify himself”
o Sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously, we look to excuse ourselves from taking responsibility for the well-being of others.
§ In this case, the man uses a time-tested ploy of getting technical with the definition of the word “neighbor’. Remember Bill Clinton’s famous, “That depends on what the meaning of the word is is?”
§ Whether we are trying to get out from under a responsibility or assuage our conscience, clever manipulation of a plain truth doesn’t pass muster with God.
· We have a responsibility to see to the needs of others. In this parable, Jesus identifies three types of people and thus three kinds of responses that we can have with respect to loving our neighbor as ourself.
o The priest – I’m a busy professional and I don’t have time. Let someone who’s not as busy (and important) take care of it.
o The Levite – I’m just a layperson, this is a job for a professional.
o The Samaritan – I’m here and they need help – I’ll do it.
§ Even though we’re from different social strata and may not have a lot in common
§ A literal interpretation of neighbor may cloud our response since our next-door neighbors tend to look more like ourselves.
· Ironically, the one coming to the aid of the injured Jew was viewed as inferior (a half-breed) by the Jews. So it wasn’t even a matter of the Samaritan deigning to reach down the social ladder but quite the opposite. The Samaritan could have said, “Serves him right, that pompous Jew!”
o Alternatively, he could have reacted by saying, “Somebody like me can’t help him. He has more social status than me. It would be awkward and weird to help.”
o Depending on the circumstances, do we sometimes play the part of the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan?
§ At work, not taking the time to help a junior associate who would benefit from your guidance
§ With ministry, opting out because of a lack of formal training
§ Socially, not participating because of social norms or general discomfort with folks who don’t look or act like you?
· What are other factors that might have us not count someone as a neighbor?
o Political affiliation
o Sexual orientation
o Country of origin
o Relative wealth or poverty
o Personal style (preppy, hip hop, cowboy, etc.)
· It would be great to hear the rest of the story
o Did the two men and their families become friends?
o Did they model for their respective people what God’s love really looks like?
o Did they cause people who may have been raised with biases and prejudices to rethink their ways?
· By abdicating responsibility, assessing blame, or making excuses, we justify ourselves. Jesus clearly paints a different picture of what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself”.
o So, who is our neighbor as Jesus would have us understand it?
o How do we model loving our neighbors to not justify ourselves but bring honor to God?