I’ve heard the good Samaritan story many times before. I even blogged about it a couple times because of the important message it contains about salvation. But this weekend I’ve gained some new perspective on this account and wanted to share it.
First some context…
The good Samaritan story is the answer Jesus gave to a legal expert who had asked him how to obtain eternal life.
In Luke’s account we read that Jesus, rather than attempt to explain, answered the legal expert’s question with some other questions:
“What is written in the Law?”
“How do you understand it?”
To that the legalistic man answered by quoting Scripture:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”
“Love your neighbor as yourself…”
Jesus tells the man that he had answered correctly and further affirms with a statement: “Do this and you will live.”
However, the expert was not satisfied. Luke tells us that he sought “to justify himself” and inquires further: “And who is my neighbor?“
Here’s the twist…
I’ve never realized the full connotation of that question. The question actually came loaded with more arrogance and elitism than is reflected in our modern reading of the language. The word “neighbor” was understood to mean a close associate and thus the question asked was more to the effect: “And who is like me?“
In other words the expert wanted Jesus to affirm his own understanding of Biblical text that gave him a legal loophole and means to escape the inconvenience of a broader interpretation of the law. The expert wanted to love only those who added up according to his own religious standard.
Jesus, now having exposed the real intent of the expert’s questions, responds with a story about a traveler who suffered misfortune. He had been beaten, robbed and was lying by the side of the road. Two religious elitists approached and then crossed to the other side of the road and passed without making any attempt to help.
Jesus goes on to describe a Samaritan (a tribe who the legal expert would not associate with) who went above and beyond to help the wounded man and then asks the expert: “Which of these three was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
Jesus turned a question “who is like me” into an opportunity to reorient the questioner…
The expert, obviously trying to justify his own selective love, had asked who to love. But Jesus does not directly answer the expert’s question. Instead he takes the conversation from a question of who to love to a question of how to love and described a love without preconditions or prejudice.
To love God means to look past differences of race, social status or religion and love like the Samaritan. It is a message extremely relevant in a time when we are told some lives matter and others not so much.
Following Jesus doesn’t mean sanctimiously calling out those who we deem to be racist, sexist or otherwise bigoted—as a means to wash our own hands of responsibility for those things—and then being on our way feeling smugly justified.
It means laying our own tribal identities at the foot of the cross, loving those different from us as freely as the good Samaritan did, and being a fulfillment of the ideal in Galatians 3:28…
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”