Although I have read and reread the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke I often don’t even notice its context. I mean it’s one of the most familiar stories of the Bible. People who know almost nothing about Jesus 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 mean sometimes this guy gets a bad rap like he was 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. 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 to also love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus gives him an “A” telling him to do this and he’s good to go.
Then the lawyer 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. 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 of who gets the love or a book to read to be able to discern the people who deserve the title neighbor. No, he tells a story. The story of the Good Samaritan.
So this famous parable where a man is robbed and beaten, left to bleed and possibly die by the two religious leaders of his day who pass on by and saved by a social outcast 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 question and answer both remind me of the ones found in the book of Micah. Chapter six verse eight asks what the Lord requires of us. The answer is to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. The parable Jesus gives the lawyer in answer to his questions seems to be very much likeMicah 6:8. A New Testament echo or affirmation of this idea. This is what the Lord requires of us – to really see those who are in need, to not let our ideas of religion keep us from them, to get dirty helping and to use our resources to do so. This is what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves, this is what the Lord requires of us. Jesus gives us a picture of what doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly looks like. We can make it complicated and talk about it in classrooms and lecture halls. We can analyze various approaches to poverty, hunger and disease. We can debate the merits of this method versus that. And there is value in doing this, value in the talk, the analysis, the debate, it should absolutely take place. But make no mistake – the justice, the mercy and the loving come when we see the brokenness, pick up the suffering man, spend what we have to ensure he is cared for and see his healing through.