In the book of Luke, Jesus is asked a very important question. He instructed a man that he must love God with all his heart, soul and strength and love his neighbor as himself. This man asked Jesus what a lot of people were probably thinking. Who is my neighbor?
That’s a very important question. Who exactly is Jesus talking about when he says to love your neighbor as yourself? Is He referring to the people who live next door to you? Is He referring to those who live on your street or in your community? Is He referring to those who look like you, think like you and act like you? It’s easy to think that. In our world neighbor usually means someone who we’re close to either by where we live or by the relationships that we have.
Jesus, like we’ve already established, had some very radical ideas. He was pushing the boundaries of what the religious experts thought. His answer was absolutely Earth shattering.
Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, 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, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’
Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
This may not seem that crazy to you and I. Trust me, this was about as far outside the box as you can get. There are several reasons why.
First of all, a Samaritan wasn’t seen as a true Hebrew. In this passage the term that the lawyer and Jesus both use for neighbor is plēsion. That term is usually reserved for people who are Hebrew. The fact that Jesus extends this courtesy to a Samaritan probably sounded almost blasphemous to those who heard Him that day.
The second reason is that the “hero” of this story is, in fact, the Samaritan. Today we use the term Good Samaritan as a compliment and a praise. A first century Jew looked at that term very differently. Samaritans were scum.
Do you remember the story of the woman at the well? Jesus talks to a Samaritan woman at a well just outside of her town. The woman is initially shocked that Jesus, a Jew, would even speak to her, a lowly Samaritan woman. Why? Its because Jews didn’t interact with Samaritans if they didn’t have to.
There are several reasons why the Jews held animosity for the Samaritans. One of those reasons was blood. The Samaritans were decedents of a group of Jews from the northern kingdom that had intermarried with no Jews. This was a violation of what God had commanded. The Old Testament chronicles some of these tensions all the way back in Ezra and the rebuilding of the temple.
Another reason for this animosity was worship. The Jews believed that they had maintained and preserved the true ways to worship and serve God. The Samaritans had allowed other faiths and cultures to influence what they believed, how they worshiped and how they lived. This can also be seen as far back as Ezra and Nehemiah.
The ancient Jewish historian Josephus writes of many violent conflicts between the Jews and Samaritans around the time that Jesus lived. The Dead Sea Scrolls refer to the Samaritans as fools and enemies. We know from history that neither group was permitted to have dealings with the other. The Jews believed that they had very strong Scriptural reasons for seeing the Samaritans as enemies.
How Radical Is This?
For a moment try to put yourself in the shoes of someone hearing this for the first time. Imagine that you’re in first century Israel and that you’re a first century Jew. Jesus tells this legal expert that we need to love our neighbors as ourselves. He says that this is just as important as loving God. Then He tells a story that says that a Samaritan is your neighbor. A Samaritan is the one that you’re supposed to love. A Samaritan is the example to live by.
How radical is this? How insane would this sound? Often the love of God shows up in ways that seem radical, crazy and insane.
I hope that by now you’re getting the idea of just how extreme this example is. Just in case the audience might have missed the point, Jesus added another layer to this. Jesus said that a priest and a Levite both saw this man and passed him without helping him.
This part of the story probably wasn’t that fantastic to those listening that day. The clergy of that day would have had to remain ceremonially clean. This man was already half dead and more than likely not worth saving. They would possibly have to forgo their religious duties to “cleanse” themselves if they had stopped to help. Plus they probably wouldn’t have done any good since he appeared close to death.
Jesus condemns that notion by elevating the “heathen” Samaritan above the “holiest” people in the land. Jesus implies that, regardless of inconveniences, those clergy should have stopped to help. Regardless of the traditions and the law, there is no law greater than loving one another. This is what Jesus says sums up the law and the prophets.
There are a couple ways to look at this. Jesus answers the question, “who is my neighbor?” with the answer of the Samaritan. The Samaritan is your neighbor. You know that guy who you’ve been raised to hate. That guy who is full of wickedness and sin. That guy who is foolish and your enemy. That’s your neighbor. That’s who you’re supposed to love as yourself.
There’s another way to look at this story. You can see the way that the Samaritan treated the beaten man. The Samaritan didn’t do what was convenient. He took his own time. He used his own oil and wine. He used his own animal. He went out of his way to find a place where this man could be cared for. He paid out of his own pocket. He sacrificed in every way he could for this man who may have been beyond help.
So that leaves us with two questions. Who is my neighbor? Your neighbor is the one on Facebook who you just blocked because they posted something that you disagree with. Your neighbor is the one who is standing for a political idea that you think is evil. Your neighbor is that coworker you can’t stand, that family member who’s gone crazy, and anyone who is your enemy.
It’s easy to love the people who love you back. It’s easy to love the people you like and can stand. Jesus calls us to do the more difficult thing. We must love those that we’re supposed to hate. We must love those who don’t agree with us.
We’re tempted to justify the reasons that we don’t love them. We use reasons like the Jews did. Maybe they have the wrong blood. I hope it’s not the case, but I know that there are people out there who don’t like others because of their nationality or race. Is that the reason that we are not showing love? If it is we have to change that now.
Maybe it’s because of religion. Many people argue and are divided over moral and religious issues. Some argue over gay rights, abortion and prayer in schools. Maybe you don’t show love to someone because of where they stand on these issues. I hope that’s not the case either. If it is, that needs to change.
You need to identify the Samaritan (or Samaritans) in your life. Who are you not showing love to? Why are you not showing them love? Jesus used the most extreme example to point out that your reasons for not showing love are worthless.
How do I show these people love? We addressed that in Part 1. You show them love by treating them the way you would want to be treated. By sacrificing your own self to serve them. Love in action will always cost you something. It may cost you time, energy, emotions or money. Either way, it will cost you. That is what Christ calls us to.
Are you loving these people in our country, right now? Are you using the current politics to widen the divide or are you trying love in spite of the divide?
Right now I pray that you can be honest enough with yourself to find the Samaritans in your life. I pray that you will have the strength to love them by your words and actions. Pray these things for yourself. I pray that God will heal this nation by strengthening it with this love. If you are a Christian, you are called to love like this. If every Christian loved like this, our world would look radically different. If you loved like this your home, work, church and community would look radically different.
God grant us the grace to love like you.