October 15 – Luke 10:25-37

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Luke 10:25-37 – The Good Samaritan

Jesus’ description of the whole will of God for humanity is not necessarily new. Throughout Israel’s history, there had been attempts to describe what it was that God asked of us.

In Deuteronomy 6:4-5, we read: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

In Leviticus 19:18, we are told “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” 

The Deuteronomy passage was recited daily and the words from Leviticus were part of the ethics of Judaism. Love God. Love your neighbor. It is as simple as that.

An expert in the Law decided to challenge Jesus. What happened was that his words were turned around on him and he, in turn, was challenged. The two commandments that Jesus recited were well-known, though not generally used together until this point. This is how we must live. This is a practical way to honor God.

The lawyer lost the first round in the discussion and went back with another question. Luke tells us that it was to make himself look good.  It was more than just a question about who was his neighbor, it is a question we continue to ask. What are the minimum requirements for showing neighborly love? What are the restrictions on this? Who must I consider as my neighbor?

The Jericho that Jesus mentions in the parable is different from ancient Jericho. It is further south. Josephus, the early historian writes that it goes through desert and rocky country. With all of the rocks, it is very suitable for robbers on the road. Travelers would often be on this road – back and forth from Jerusalem to Jericho because of the temple and their responsibilities there.

Luke doesn’t give us many details about any of the characters in this situation. We don’t know whether the man was Jewish or not, or even whether his attackers were Jews. All we know is that his need was great. He had been beaten and left to die, naked and alone.

A religious man – a priest came upon him. It would seem that the man was saved. Was he concerned that the man was dead and so, to keep himself from having to go through ritual cleansing, he stayed away? Who knows. But, he was used as the first example, because everyone would have expected a religious man to care for someone in need.

Jesus has given away the point of the story at this point, and even though he heightens the tension with the arrival of a Levite, there is some expectation that this person should help the traveler. Levites were lower in rank than priests, but served in the Temple.

Jesus introduces a Samaritan into the story and no Jewish listener would expect that this person would assist anyone. Jesus has made this a distinctly Jewish story and a Samaritan is simply a passerby. Everything changed, though, when Jesus told his listeners that the Samaritan “took pity on him.” This is the moment of transformation in the story.

A neighbor is anyone who needs compassion or love. It does not matter whether they are part of the religious community or not. The victim welcomes the Samaritan as a neighbor, even though he is despised by the Jews. This person will help him.  The audience is embarrassed by the actions of the priest and Levite and are grateful for a good conclusion to the story.

Which of these men was a neighbor? The lawyer was forced to respond to Jesus’ challenge. “The one who had mercy on him” (Luke 10:37). He was commanded, as are we, to have mercy on whomever might need it, no matter the case.