Yesterday’s blog was about being neighborly. This morning I’m thinking about the Jewish expert who asked Rabbi Jesus a question. Actually, he asked two questions and the second one was about neighbors.
The First Question
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus asked a question in return, which was the Rabbinical style. When someone asked the teacher a question, he answered with a question. The student discovered the answer to his question through the process of answering the Rabbi’s question. It was brilliant. Jesus asked him, “How do you understand the Law of Moses?”
The man answered by saying to God completely and to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus affirmed his answer and was ready to move on. But the man wanted to justify himself, for Jesus had responded with such wise simplicity that the man was a little embarrassed. So he asked a second question.
The Second Question
“And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus told him a parable about neighbors. A traveler was robbed, beaten, and left for dead. Two men walked by but didn’t help, one a priest and the other a Levite. All priests were Levite’s but not all Levites were priests. Both would have wrestled with purity laws, about remaining undefiled by doing nothing to make them unclean; like touching a dead body or having contact with blood. It wasn’t a lack of compassion, but how they kept the law of Moses, staying undefiled was higher than helping someone who was dying.
Next in the story, a Samaritan stopped and did everything to help. He didn’t make defilement more important than being a good neighbor.
Jesus asked the expert, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Yet another question from a wiser Rabbi. The man had no recourse, so he answered, “The one who had mercy on him?”
We typically miss this. We think the parable is about helping the helpless. It isn’t. Not that Jesus wouldn’t want us to stop and assist, of course he would. The Samaritan chose to make the injured man his neighbor, and so he loved and cared for him, by being a neighbor.
The parable was Jesus’ answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Look closer at what Jesus asked him, “And which of the three men was the neighbor?” Not which of the three men helped their neighbor, but who was the neighbor? The answer was obviously, the Samaritan, he was the neighbor to the injured man.
Jesus wanted the expert to understand that the Samaritan was the neighbor, and the question of, “And who is my neighbor,” was answered, the Samaritan is your neighbor.
The turn of words placed the burden of neighborly love right on the expert’s shoulders. A tough lesson, for his was a culture steeped in racism; the Jews hated the Samaritans.
Jesus used his Rabbinical skills to teach a strong truth. We aren’t to busy ourselves deciding who we will love and who we won’t. We shouldn’t debate which people to be neighborly with. We are everyone’s neighbor, especially those we want to hate, despise, and reject. We are to love the Samaritans, not pass them by to keep ourselves clean and undefiled.
Eternal life goes to those who love God and love their neighbors. The Samaritan is your neighbor, love him.
Some pretty tough love wouldn’t you say? Do you have any “Samaritans” in your life?
What did Jesus tell the religious expert, “Go and do likewise.”
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