In Luke chapter 10, beginning in verse 25, a lawyer asks the question “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answers in verses 26-29 that the law states you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and strength, and with all your mind, with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself. Jesus then says do this and you will live eternally. The lawyer then asks, in verse 29, “Who is my neighbor?”
The first question and issue to be addressed here is, what does Jesus mean loving your neighbor as yourself. Does Jesus recommend self-love and some sort of self-devotion. What, in fact, does the Son God mean here and what is he driving at in saying we should love ourselves and so love our neighbor? I think Jesus means that we should treat our neighbor with the same regard and respect and consideration as we treat ourselves. Jesus is not precisely recommending some sort of emotional attachment, but treating and regarding our neighbor as we want others to treat us: with kindness, mercy and forgiveness.
Jesus’ response to the question of the lawyer is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The story is familiar to many, but, in short, Jesus says that a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when fell among robbers who stripped him, beat him, and departed, leaving him half-dead. Jesus then says a priest was going down that road and when he saw him he passed down on the other side. Jesus then says a Levite, when he came down to the same place and saw him, he passed on the other side. Jesus then says that a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he injured man was and when he saw him, he had compassion and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring oil and wine, and then set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 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.” Jesus asks the question, “Which of the three do you think proved a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The answer of the la lawyer is “the one who showed mercy on him.” Jesus says, “go and do likewise.”
This parable has two significant thought streams. The first is that we cannot judge people by their societal status and titles, even their religious titles. We cannot make a judgment on a person because they are a priest or Levite. Jesus tells us that every person is to be judged individually and on their own actions. In particular in the parable, the high status religious leader showed no mercy in passing this wounded person stripped, beaten, and half-dead. Both the Levite and the priest not only passed by, but passed by on the other side. We are then told that the societal outcast of the time, a Samaritan, came to where his person lay suffering, and had compassion and showed mercy.
Samaritans were the outcasts of the Jewish community, virtually non-persons. They occupied a similar position that a black man might have occupied in the late 19th century and early 20th century. African-Americans at that time had few educational opportunities, few or little economic or job opportunities and, at least in the South, were kept in an underclass status. In fact, until the 1950s they were the subject of beatings and lynchings. Thus, when Jesus says in this parable that it was the outcast underclass person who not only showed compassion, but also went to the person, bound up his wounds, set him up on his beast, brought him back to the inn, took care of him, and gave the innkeeper additional money to take care of him, he is telling us who he true neighbor is. More significantly, he tells us the judgments of society and the world on persons is misguided and incorrect.
It was the outcast in this parable and the undesirable who was the neighbor that showed great love, mercy, and compassion. The Levite and he priest, despite their outward religious professions, had no compassion and mercy. The socially-undesirable person exhibited those qualities.
Thus, one can find a number of points in this parable. First, that our neighbor is the person who exhibits love and compassion in relation to us, wherever that person may be found, and whatever occasion or situation we are cast in with him. Second, that the world’s evaluation system on status, titles, and money are twisted and incorrect and that a person is to be judged on the qualities that the Good Samaritan exhibited in this parable, whether that person is in rags, living in the gutter, or is a CEO in an office building on Wall Street.
I make on last comment. Insofar we treat and have concern in the fashion and example of the Good Samaritan, we are all neighbors, and all men and women, whether in suffering and distress or not, are our neighbors, too.