Published December 2, 2010
Bible Studies for Life, Dec 12
The story of the Good Samaritan is one of the best known in the Bible. The phrase “Good Samaritan” is often used to describe someone who performs an act of kindness to a stranger. However, few people realize that the story was a parable Jesus gave in response to two questions: How does one obtain eternal life? and Who is my neighbor?
These two questions are among the deepest and most critical that a person can ask. So, how did Jesus answer these questions?
Throughout his public ministry, Jesus was often challenged by religious authorities. On this occasion Jesus was challenged by a Jewish legal expert regarding eternal life. The question is a valid one and is later repeated by the rich young ruler in Luke 18:18.
In verse 21 Jesus had stated that the things of God had been hidden from the wise, whereupon a lawyer steps forward to prove the point. Using a standard teaching technique, Jesus turned the question back to the lawyer.
The lawyer answered by quoting from the Law of Moses, first reciting Deuteronomy 6:5, also known as the Shema, which was recited by devout Jews twice a day. He also quoted Leviticus 19:18 regarding the treatment of neighbors.
Jesus affirmed that the answer was correct. In Matthew 22, Jesus declared that these two statements are an expression of the Law and the Prophets. Jesus pointed to the Old Testament as the source for understanding the will of God and His demands for righteousness. Jesus was not providing a way to earn salvation, but showing God’s standards for holiness.
Only Jesus was capable of perfectly obeying both commands because He is the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets. He is also pointing out the failure of the legal minds of his day: They know the Scriptures, but they don’t know the will of God.
Hearing that his answer was correct was not enough for the lawyer. He wanted to be acknowledged as just and righteous. To demonstrate his own righteousness, the lawyer asked the all-important question: Just who is my neighbor?
The simple definition for neighbor is someone in close proximity, someone who is nearby. However, Jews understood “neighbor” as being limited to other Jews. Proximity did not guarantee that someone was a neighbor.
An individual had to share certain traits to be acknowledged as a neighbor. For most Jews that meant that a person had to also be Jewish and share their same faith and culture. The standard was even more rigid for Pharisees and Essenes who demanded a certain level of righteousness to be considered a neighbor.
It is easy to cast stones at such rigid understandings of defining a neighbor. However, we should be careful and examine who we consider our neighbor. We may live next door to someone without ever speaking to them or having any sort of contact with them.
Day in and day out, we can avoid our neighbors and chose with whom we interact. Often we are comfortable with people who are like us. Unconsciously, we have defined who we want as our neighbor and the result is not unlike that of the Jesus’ audience.
In response to the question, Jesus offered a parable drawn from the area. Jericho was 17 miles east of Jerusalem, but while Jerusalem is about 2,500 feet above sea level, Jericho is about 800 feet below sea level. The steep pathway is ideal for bandits to stage an ambush and the traffic between the cities was good for their trade.
In the parable a man was ambushed and left for dead. The first passerby is described as a priest who quickly passed on the other side of the road. The second man was a Levite who also passed him by without rendering aid. Both represented the righteous, religious establishment and most Jews would have been proud to consider them a neighbor.
Excuses have been made for the men, such as they may have thought he was dead and it was forbidden for them to touch a dead body. However, that misses the point Jesus was making. These men were the best of Jewish society, but they failed to help a man desperately in need.
Jesus then provided the twist in the story with the appearance of a Samaritan. Samaritans were considered unclean outcasts whose heritage was questionable and their faith was considered heresy. Normally Jews would avoid Samaritan territory even though it added many miles to their journeys.
The mention of a Samaritan caused the audience to cringe and expect the worse. However, this Samaritan does the unexpected by coming to the aid of the injured man. He goes above expectations when he loads the man on his own animal, dresses his wounds, carries him to an inn and pays for his accommodations. Samaritans are not supposed to be the good guys in stories, but that is the parable Jesus offers.
Then Jesus put the question to the lawyer: Who was the neighbor? Being a neighbor is not just being near someone. Rather, Jesus wants us to actively be a neighbor. Being a neighbor is not a passive activity based upon proximity, but is interacting with others, especially those in need.
Jesus’ parable pointed out two men who knew the Law, but did not show love to their neighbor and in their failure showed that the love of God was missing from their lives. The Samaritan, whom Jews detested as lawless and heretical, showed both love to his neighbor and his love of God.
The question stands for us: Who is our neighbor?
Copyright © 2015, The Christian Index, All rights reserved.
6405 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth, GA 30097
770-936-5590 / 877-424-6339
Site developed and powered by Sonova Systems