Rev. Katherine Todd
For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 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 given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, 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 while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
What do we do when we want to get out of something? We argue over semantics.
In this dialogue between Jesus and the lawyer, Luke lets us into the mind of the lawyer. He says that the lawyer asked this question of Jesus in order to test him. So we likely have a skeptic here. He is unsure about Jesus. Perhaps he is vetting Jesus, to see what Jesus knows. As a lawyer, he is trained to think critically about a matter. Perhaps this is his way of discerning whether or not this Jesus is to be trusted. Or perhaps he simply wants to trap Jesus. We do not know the lawyer’s reasons for this test, but he stands and poses this question to Jesus to test him.
And what does Jesus do? In infinite wisdom, Jesus turns the question back to the lawyer. Now the lawyer is the one being tested. If he doesn’t answer, it will make him look bad. This takes away whatever leverage the lawyer thought he had over Jesus – posing this question as a test – and turns it back onto him. Isn’t this what Jesus speaks of when he says, “the measure you give, will be the measure you get”?
Now of course the lawyers question, being the test that it is, is a question the lawyer knows the answer to – otherwise how would he be able to “test” Jesus based on his answer. …And that is revealing. If the lawyer already knows the answer, he is surely not asking the question out of an earnest desire to know the truth. And that is perhaps what separates him from so many of those who approach Jesus. This lawyer wasn’t approaching Jesus out of earnest desire to know the truth and to do good. No. He has other motivations.
So when the lawyer answers Jesus correctly. Jesus affirms him saying, “You have given the right answer. Do this, and you will live.” Notice, it is not enough to know the right answers. The lawyer knows that right answer, but that is not the important thing. What is important is what the lawyer then DOES with his knowledge: does he put this knowledge into practice.
Now, since the lawyer is not asking the question out of a sincere desire to know, it is also unlikely the lawyer truly cares about doing this commandment. And the lawyers next question to Jesus seems to press this point. He asks, “And who is my neighbor?” And this is why I asked, “What do we do when we want to get out of doing something?” It seems clear to me that this lawyer is looking for a loophole …because he begins to nitpick the semantics: “who is my neighbor.”
Now part of me truly gets this. If I know that something hard is being required of me, I also will ask the nitty gritty questions. If I am going to start a journey down a hard road, I first want to get my reasons, goals, and objectives clear. I want to know that I understand the mandate.
But I do think it is more likely the lawyer is looking for a loophole. Luke explains the lawyer’s question saying, “Wanting to justify himself, he asked ‘Who is my neighbor?’”
As we all do at times, this lawyer appears to be wanting to defend himself. We can all instantly think of many, many times we have failed to love others as we love ourselves. But we also usually have our reasons. So does God see our reasons and approve?
And to this question, Jesus responds with a parable, the parable of the good Samaritan.
Notice the word “good.” Nowhere in the story appears the word “good.” Jesus does not qualify THIS Samaritan as good, with respect to the all the other Samaritans. No. We have qualified this Samaritan as good. People through-out Christian history have put that qualifier on this Samaritan.
No, Jesus simply tells a story of a man who is robbed, beaten and left for dead on the side of a road. Two folks pass by this man. They are the ones everyone expects to be good: the priest, the Levite. But they do not help. In fact, they go so far as to cross the road to avoid him. And in juxtaposition to these “holy” men of Israel, a Samaritan man comes upon the wounded man and is moved with pity for him. As you may have heard, Samaritans were viewed by Israelites as unclean and unholy. They were definitely seen as second-class humans in Jesus’ time. So to have Jesus tell this story in which the Israelite spiritual leaders have become the disappointments and a Samaritan has become the hero…well it explains how this story got it’s qualifier, “good.” Because folks in Jesus’ day would have been shocked to hear of a Samaritan who was being lifted up for Israelites as their moral example. THIS must have been a gooood Samaritan!
Anyway, the Samaritan tended to the wounded man, using his own oil, wine, and bandages (that he had with him for his own needs) to clean and tend his wounds. And then, he takes it a step further: he puts the man on his own animal (that he had with him for his own needs) and takes him to an inn, where he takes care of the man.
And then we hear that the Samaritan needs to leave – well obviously! He was traveling a road for a reason, right? He needed to get somewhere. But he takes it another step further: he pays the innkeeper with the instruction to take care of the man. And as if that would not already have been more than anyone could have ever expected much less hoped for, he tells the innkeeper that if he spends any more on caring for the man, the Samaritan will pay him the balance upon his return.
This Samaritan – labeled good probably by those shocked that a Samaritan could ever be called good – this Samaritan has gone above and beyond. This Samaritan recognizes that any one of these actions will not be enough. This man has been stripped of all earthly belongings, without family or friends with him, and without the physical health to help himself. And so this Samaritan sees to it that the man is restored to the health he needs to get back on his feet.
This Samaritan is no less than a life-saver, a hero.
And this is the story Jesus tells the lawyer, to answer his question, “And who is my neighbor?”
The story Jesus tells goes so very far and beyond anything his hearers would have imagined. They, perhaps, were wanting to know whether or not neighbor was simply referring to those who lived in neighboring houses… Or perhaps they suspected, it was the folks in their community. Or perhaps neighbor meant your nation and people; that makes sense.
But no, Jesus tells them a story that crossed borders. It crossed racial borders. It crossed ethnic borders. It crosses religious borders.
Whatever borders they’d hoped to gain to justify their neglect of those they thought less worthy or less loved or less important…Jesus defies them. Jesus makes crystal clear that a neighbor is anyone in our human family, even those outside our neighborhoods and churches and families…and countries.
God calls us to love our neighbors – all people – as we love ourselves…
And this is a steep ask. All.
And so I ask each of us, myself included, where are our boundaries? We are certainly not called to help all. We cannot physically do it. Even Jesus defined his boundaries of service.
But what I think this passage challenges is our judgement boundaries.
We will all find ourselves face to face with those who have been stripped of their power, stripped of their resources, stripped of their voice, stripped of their dignity. And when we do, will we love them, as we love ourselves?