Although many of us have probably read and reread the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke we might not have noticed its context. I mean it’s one of the most familiar stories of the Bible. And sometimes the more familiar a story is the more we tend to gloss over the details. People who know almost nothing about Jesus or the Bible know this story or at least know enough to call a kind person a Good Samaritan. There are Good Samaritan hospitals, non-profits, societies and centers all over the world. Most dedicated to some extent to helping the poor and needy.
All based on a parable Jesus told to a lawyer in the gospel of Luke in answer to his follow up question.
Because lawyers ask follow up questions. We do. Blame it on our faulty education. I think it’s not because we have bad intentions, but rather the reverse. I think its because we are taught to get to the heart of things, to turn over every stone, to understand what is behind the law, what is behind the things we are defending, the things we are prosecuting. So maybe that is what our guy was doing that day. Maybe not. But I do think sometimes the guy (the lawyer) in this story gets a bad rap. Maybe trying to trap Jesus or get an answer that was easier to do than the one Jesus gave him, but I look at the story and I think his question was kind of legit. It was a typical clarifying question. He had started by asking what he needed to do to inherit eternal life (similar to a question I’ve been wrestling with as I lead groups through our Micah six:eight experiences – there it goes like this: what then does the Lord require of me). Not a bad question. Wouldn’t anyone want to know the answer to that? Jesus, being Jesus, doesn’t give a simple answer. He turns the question back on the lawyer. He asks him what is written in the law. The lawyer, as a lawyer, is familiar with the law and gives a complete answer. Love the Lord with everything. He includes the list – heart, soul, strength and mind. Then he adds – love your neighbor as yourself as well.
Jesus gives him an “A” telling him to do this and he’s good to go. Like this is so easy!
The lawyer then asks his follow up question – who is my neighbor? Seriously, I get this. Because loving someone as yourself is not a simple, easy thing and so I also want to know who gets this kind of love from me. I am thankful he asked for all of us. Who gets this kind of love, Jesus? Who do I love this deeply, this unconditionally, this fully? I want to know.
Again, Jesus being Jesus, does not give him a list – a radius shooting out from his house that can measure who qualifies, a relationship flow chart or a book to read to be able to discern the people who deserve the title neighbor, a group of people who are just enough like him that make it. No, he tells a story. The story of the Good Samaritan.
So this famous parable where a man is robbed and beaten on the road to Jericho, left to bleed and possibly die by not one but two religious leaders of his day who pass on by and who is eventually saved by a social outcast (a Samaritan) came in answer to two questions. The first being what must I do to inherit eternal life. The second meant to clarify part of the answer to the first which was love your neighbor as yourself asking who is my neighbor – who do I love with this kind of love?
The Good Samaritan loved his neighbor by seeing a need on the road he was traveling on, getting right down in the middle of what was going on and using his resources to meet the need he found there. So, what must we do? What is required of us? Who is our neighbor? I think we answer by asking questions of our own – who is on my road? What are my resources? How can I bring them to bear on the needs I see?