25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
26 "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"
27 He answered, "‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
28 "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
Profound question: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Assumption: there is life after death here on earth that will last for eternity. The master of the law quoted from Deut. 6:5 "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. and then part of Lev. 19:18 "love your neighbor as yourself."
Jesus explained to the man of the law that he had answered well. The man responded in an attempt to perhaps trap Jesus into an argument on how to interpret the neighbour but also recognizing that eternal life is not cheap grace but costly love for all neighbours.
The tables are reversed and the expert in the law knows he is imperfect in his application of the law and seeks to justify himself by a clearer definition of who a neighbour is. The Jews would only see the law as relating to the Jews but Jesus sees a bigger picture in Leviticus - neighbours are those that live in our global village. God had told Abraham that in him all the nations of the world would be blessed. This means that the Jews were to care for the world around them including the gentiles.
Jesus responds to the man's question with a parable which many of us are all to familiar with but let us go through it and see how it might apply to our lives today.
The road between Jerusalem and Damascus and places to the east first went down winding trails from Jerusalem that is 2300 feet above sea level to Jericho which is on the banks of the Jordan river just before the Dead Sea which is 1,300 feet below sea level. This treacherous 17 mile rocky road twisted and turned on the way down the mountain side. It was called "The Red or Bloody Way" because of the bandits who lurked in the crevices waiting for an unsuspecting traveler to rob.
The Jews in Jesus day traveled from Galilee in the north along the east side of the Jordan River to the festivals and religious ceremonies in Jerusalem because they did not want to pass through Samaria. Samaritans were considered pagans by the Jews because they had intermarried with gentiles and they had set up their own religious system in Samaria so that they would not go down to Jerusalem for sacrifices and festivals as God had commanded.
As he traveled down the narrow, dangerous path robbers attacked this lone traveler leaving him stripped of clothing and half dead. Robbers often left people lying on the side of the road as decoy to lure others to help the distraught and injured person.
Jesus sets up the story with a priest and a Levite passing by. Perhaps the man of the law would totally understand why these men would not help. Priests in Jesus day would have one week per year to serve in the temple. If he touched a dead person, he was unclean and was not able to serve in the temple for 7 days. (Lv 21:1ff; Numbers 19:11) Helping this injured near dead man would mean he would have to sacrifice his only chance to serve in the temple that year. We can only guess but to this priest, serving in the temple was more important than helping a dying man.
Likewise a Levite was on his way to the temple to serve God! He could not take a chance of being attacked or becoming unclean. Could you imagine having to carry an injured man up the mountain side to a place where he could get help? He too did not want to get caught by nightfall in the dangerous hillside, caring for this man. He rushed past fearful of the bandits. Often the Levites would bring tithes and offerings to the temple in Jerusalem from their home town so they would not want God's tithes to be robbed would they!
Going up to Heartland Camp for a Seminary orientation retreat up the steep mountain roads in California. Seeing someone by the side of the road with steam pouring out of their hood. We pulled over and found out this was a fellow seminary student family. We had a camperized van at the time with a portable sink with water. We attempted to fill the radiator with water but the engine damage was done and we took on a car full of campers up to the retreat with us. How do you think we would have felt if we had not stopped and then later found that we were unwilling to help a fellow student in distress because we had to hurry and help set up for the retreat because we were a part of the organizing committee?
I can remember a time when I was about 17 that I had gone to a weekend retreat and my folks had lent me their car. On the way home, on the 401, the universal joint on the drive shaft gave way. This was mid afternoon on a Sunday. A car pulled over and offered to call CAA for which we had a membership. He had us pulled into a garage that had a mechanic on duty and we were able to get the parts and be on our way in a couple hours. When I wanted to give the roadside helper something for his kindness, he just said to pass it on. That I did 10 years later for our seminary friend.
Next came along a Samaritan businessman who treated this man's wounds and hoisted him on his own donkey having to now walk down the mountainside keeping the man safe. After arriving at the bottom where there was an inn for night, the businessman told the inn keeper to care for the man. Perhaps a denerii was about 12 days ration in those days so the Samaritan man was offering to care for 24 days. If that would not be enough time for the man to recover, the Samaritan was then willing to even pay more if necessary when he returned that way in the future.
The priest and Levite did not have compassion. They were pre-occupied with their righteousness and jobs. No time for people. How many ministers, priests and church leaders are busy keeping up to the program? How many are reaching out to people in need? Maybe you think that you are just an ordinary Christian. Can you see the needs in the world around you?
36 "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"
37 The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." (He refused to answer directly that it was the Samaritan that was the true neighbour.)
Compassion is not good enough if not followed by action. James - faith without works is DEAD.
James 2:26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
After Jesus tells his parable, he asks the man of the law which of the three men was a neighbour to this man who had been attacked. The expert in the law replied - the one who had mercy. Do you have mercy on those who are hurting? It is a question that haunts me. How self centered am I?
Where is your global village? Is it family, church people, other Mennonites, community people, anyone in need, or hurting? Is it brothers and sisters in other countries like the Nicaragua EMC church or Bolivian Mennonite church? Who is God laying on your heart to help today? We are not prejudiced against people who we would never help are we?? Like the Jews would have never helped a Samaritan.