“A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.” Luke 10:30-34
This parable is connected with a question addressed to Jesus by a lawyer, probably an expert in Jewish Canon Law. The question was one of theoretical and not practical interest, nor was it a matter of deep personal concern–as it was to the rich young ruler who, not long afterwards, addressed a similar inquiry to the Lord.
“Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” At the foundation of this question lay the notion that eternal life was the reward of merit, of works. The only question was what these works were to be. The idea of guilt had not entered his mind because he had no conception of sin within. Jesus responds using the common Rabbinic expression, “What readest thou?” which pointed him to the Scriptures of the Old Testament. “Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus answers him, “You have answered rightly. Do this and you will live.”
Why did Christ seem to give his assent to the lawyer’s answer as if it really pointed to the right solution of the great question? We reply, no other answer could have been given him. On the ground of works, if that had been tenable, this was the way to heaven. To understand any other answer would have required a sense of sin, and this could not be imparted by reasoning but must be experienced.
The lawyer replies, “But who is my neighbour?” He wished to vindicate his original question, showing that it was not quite so easily settled as the answer of Jesus seemed to imply. And here it was that Christ could, in a parable, show how far orthodox Judaism was from even a true understanding, much more from such perfect observance, of this Law as would gain heaven. Thus, might he bring even this man to feel his shortcomings and sins and awaken in him a sense of his great need.
The parable is familiar to us all. The priest and Levite both passed by the stricken man. The Samaritan, on the other hand, not only tended to his injuries but brought him to an inn, paying for his care. The lawyer is then himself made to enunciate its lesson. Jesus asks, “Which of these three seems to you to have become neighbor to him that fell among the robbers?” Though unwilling to take the hated name of Samaritan on his lips, especially as the meaning of the parable and its anti-Rabbinic bearing were so evident, the lawyer was obliged to reply, “He that showed mercy to him.”
The parable implies a complete change of Jewish ideas. It is truly a Gospel parable, for the whole old relationship of mere duty is changed into one of love. Thus, matters are placed on an entirely different basis from that of Judaism. The question now is not, “Who is my neighbor?” It is, “Whose neighbour am I?” The gospel answers the question of duty by pointing us to love.
Would you know who is your neighbor? Become a neighbor to all by the utmost service you can do them in their need. The parable points to Christ who, in our greatest need, became neighbor to us, even at the cost of all he had. -Alfred Edersheim