Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.” — Luke 10: 30
Love makes us neighbours and leads us into the proximity of God. The parable of the good Samaritan explains what it means to love one’s neighbour and what form this love might take in practice. From the conversation between Jesus and the lawyer it becomes clear that love for one’s neighbour is a high priority: it is an important expression of faith, which leads to eternal life (Catechism 4.8.2).
A lawyer tested Jesus with the question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded with a question, “What is written in the law?” The lawyer makes mention of the dual commandment of love which Jesus had emphasised as the quintessence of the law (Luke 10: 25–27; Mark 12: 29–31). Now the man knows what he must do. But then he still wants to know how he is to fulfil this commandment, because his next question is, “And who is my neighbour?” It is in response to this question that Jesus tells the parable of the good Samaritan.
A man who went down to Jericho from Jerusalem was attacked by robbers. They took his clothing, beat him, and left him lying there half dead. A passing priest saw the man and simply continued along his way. A Levite also saw the wounded man and went right on by. A Samaritan—a man belonging to a nation despised by the Jews—felt compassion for the wounded man, and went and bandaged his wounds. He placed him on his own animal and brought him to an inn, where he cared for him further. The next day, he gave the innkeeper two denarii and instructed him to continue caring for the man. Any additional expenses would be reimbursed at his return.
Jesus closes His narrative with a question to the lawyer, “Which of these three do you think was neighbour to him who fell among the thieves?” Thereby He demonstrated another perspective: our neighbour is not necessarily the person who is in distress. It might also be the one who provides help. The lawyer answered the Lord’s question by saying, “He who showed mercy on him.” Jesus concluded the conversation with the admonition, “Go and do likewise.” This means: be a neighbour to those around you by reaching out to them and helping them, and by doing more than is required!
Being a neighbour
The parable opens up several insights for us.
- Might one not have actually expected the priest and the Levite to be a neighbour to the man who had been robbed and left half dead? Let us be careful not to judge! The parable also shines a light on our own weakness: we likewise fail to live up to the high demands of the commandment of love. No one is able to fulfil it perfectly.
- The Samaritan who was so despised by the Jews—actually he would never even have been considered a neighbour—here becomes the exemplary fulfiller of the commandment. His active love surpasses the usual measure. He even stays with the injured man overnight and spares no expense to ensure that the man receives help. This is a work of love that has no equal! Someone we would never have suspected might actually be a neighbour to us!
- Love for one’s neighbour is expressed through deeds. It is not enough to merely feel compassion. It is not for nothing that the Lord admonishes, “Go and do likewise!” (verse 37).
* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle, adapted for service held on Wednesday, 18 March 2015 at Midrand Congregation