Being Neighborly: Luke 10:25-37

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Part way through Jesus’ ministry, the religious leaders began being extra tricky with their questions. While they could not deny that Jesus was able to work powerfully, they simply did not trust someone who was unwilling to be as judgmental as they were and they did not believe someone sent from God would surround Himself with people who were the worst in society.

However, part of me wonders if not all the religious leaders were as opposed to Jesus as the stereotype that we often see. While many, perhaps even most, of the leaders did not like Jesus, I am curious if there were many leaders who simply remained secret, or undercover, followers. While I’ll save my thoughts about undercover disciples for another time, with how the gospel of Luke records the passage we are looking at in this episode, it is unclear whether the question being asked of Jesus is a setup for a trap, or if it is simply a religious leader looking for clarification on an idea.

We can find this event in the gospel of Luke, chapter 10, and we will be reading from the Contemporary English Version. Starting in verse 25, Luke tells us that:

25 An expert in the Law of Moses stood up and asked Jesus a question to see what he would say. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to have eternal life?”

26 Jesus answered, “What is written in the Scriptures? How do you understand them?”

27 The man replied, “The Scriptures say, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.’ They also say, ‘Love your neighbors as much as you love yourself.’”

28 Jesus said, “You have given the right answer. If you do this, you will have eternal life.”

If the passage and conversation were to have ended right here, this would have been a powerful, but also simple lesson on how we should orient our lives. Even though the conversation moves forward with a follow-up question, too often we get caught focusing on the powerful details of what comes next that we miss the simplicity of what Jesus just confirmed in the religious expert’s words.

Jesus has just described eternal life being possible if one has followed these two principles flawlessly.

However, perhaps the religious expert answered in this way because he had heard Jesus give this answer before, or maybe this religious leader wanted to justify himself regarding who he chose to love, but whatever the reason, Luke continues in verse 29, giving a hint at self-righteousness from this religious expert. Luke tells us:

29 But the man wanted to show that he knew what he was talking about. So he asked Jesus, “Who are my neighbors?”

30 Jesus replied:

As a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, robbers attacked him and grabbed everything he had. They beat him up and ran off, leaving him half dead.

31 A priest happened to be going down the same road. But when he saw the man, he walked by on the other side. 32 Later a temple helper came to the same place. But when he saw the man who had been beaten up, he also went by on the other side.

33 A man from Samaria then came traveling along that road. When he saw the man, he felt sorry for him 34 and went over to him. He treated his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put him on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. 35 The next morning he gave the innkeeper two silver coins and said, “Please take care of the man. If you spend more than this on him, I will pay you when I return.”

36 Then Jesus asked, “Which one of these three people was a real neighbor to the man who was beaten up by robbers?”

37 The teacher answered, “The one who showed pity.”

Jesus said, “Go and do the same!”

In this illustration, Jesus describes a situation that was very believable – well, until you get to the part about the Samaritan helping the man. Actually, this might not be too unbelievable. While the Jews and Samaritans hated each other, the ethnicity of the man who was left dying on the road is open for debate. Perhaps because this man was not clearly of Jewish descent was the reason the priest and temple helper ignored him.

However, the more likely reason was that helping the man who was dying would cause these religious men to be unclean, and it would impact their responsibilities in a negative way. They ignore the situation because it would negatively affect them personally.

On the other hand, the Samaritan was not overly concerned with keeping himself clean. Instead, he saw an opportunity to help and he had the means to do something. Not only did he have something to treat the injured man’s wounds, he also had money to pay for the care of the man when leaving to continue his journey.

In this event, Jesus defines the role of a neighbor as someone who acts like a neighbor rather than one who is literally a neighbor. Being a neighbor in God’s eyes is based upon how we act towards someone else and not simply who we happen to live next to.

I have heard speculation that the religious expert answered the way he did at the very end of this illustration because he could not bring himself to say the word Samaritan in a positive light. It is possible, even likely, that this religious leader was among those who were most condescending towards those who were Samaritans, and it is possible that this leader had asked for a definition of neighbor in hopes of getting some type of pass or loophole out of helping those in the social group that he most despised.

But no such response came, and regardless of if the religious leader answered the way he did because he didn’t want to say the word Samaritan or whether there was another reason that we don’t know, the way he does answer is pretty profound in itself. This religious expert’s answer is entirely framed on the notion of practical, active help. Everything Jesus described that the Samaritan did could be summed up in the descriptive phrase “showing pity” and showing pity for those we come in contact with is how we can be neighborly like God intended. “Showing pity for others” as described by Jesus in this illustration, is the same as loving others as we love ourselves because this love is active and it interrupts our plans for the benefit of others.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I want to leave you with:

Choose to obey the best you can the two commandments Jesus validated in the religious leader’s response. Intentionally love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and love others as you love yourself. Choose to act like a neighbor to those who need help regardless of whether you are actually their literal neighbor or not.

Also, continue studying the Bible for yourself, and let God touch your life, open your eyes to the world around you, and give you the love for others you need to be able to be the neighbor He created you to be.  

And as I end every set of challenge by saying in one way or another, never stop short or back away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Season 3 – Episode 26: Cam discusses the illustration where Jesus shares about a man who was robbed on his way to Jericho and what we can learn from this illustration, and the discussion that prompted it.

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