Last week, a lawyer asked Jesus, what is the greatest commandment? Jesus answered that it was to love God with everything, and love our neighbours as ourselves. Then, right after that answer, Jesus told a story:
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37 ESV)
Jesus set up a high standard, based on the Old Testament part of the Bible, that was undeniable for the lawyer. So, instead of challenging it, the lawyer tries to get around it. He tries to find a loophole, by asking Jesus to define neighbour. If he has to love his neighbour, perhaps he can choose who qualifies as a neighbour. Just the people next door? Just those of my race, religion, education or income level?
He’s asking the same question as many readers today – who exactly is my neighbour, so I can make sure I love the minimum number of people necessary?
So Jesus tells this story, known as the story of the good Samaritan. The two religious professionals, the Levite and Priest, are too concerned with ritual purity to stop. His first Jewish hearers might have been thinking this was an anti-clerical message about underdogs like them being heroes in contrast to prideful authorities.
But then Jesus introduces a Samaritan into the story as the hero. Samaritans and Jews avoided each other. There was lots of bad blood, that went back a long way. And yet Jesus makes him the hero. The Samaritan was a true neighbour, even to his enemy.
Jesus challenges the prevailing beliefs about what it meant to love God. Good piety includes loving care for others, not just purity.
Then he goes further, and tells the legal expert, “You go and do likewise.” He’s essentially saying, “Legal expert, be like this guy, who followed the law you claim to know. “
After hearing Jesus’ command to love our neighbour last week, how many of us tried to find a loophole? Is loving our neighbour really that bad? When I trained to be a paramedic, one of the first questions the class asked was, “When I’m off duty, do I have to stop and pull over if I see an accident?” The answer was no, you can drive past, but if you stop you need to stay until another professional takes over. There’s a loophole – a paramedic off duty simply can’t stop at every accident.
But as a Christian, is there a similar loophole?
Question: How have you tried to justify or rationalize not loving someone like yourself?