HOW TO INHERIT EVERLASTING LIFE
A NEIGHBORLY SAMARITAN
While Jesus is still near Jerusalem, various Jews approach him. Some want to learn from him and others want to test him. One of them, an expert on the Law, presents the question: “Teacher, what do I need to do to inherit everlasting life?”
Jesus detects that the man is not simply asking for information. He may be trying to get Jesus to reply in a way that will offend the Jews. Jesus realizes that this man already has a definite viewpoint. So he wisely responds in a way that gets the man to reveal what he is thinking.
Jesus asks: “What is written in the Law? How do you read?” This man has studied God’s Law, so he bases his response on it. He quotes from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, saying: “‘You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole strength and with your whole mind’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:26, 27) Is that the answer?
Jesus tells the man: “You answered correctly; keep doing this and you will get life.” But does that end the discussion? The man does not want just a factual answer; he is seeking “to prove himself righteous,” to have confirmation that his views are correct and that he is thus justified in how he treats others. So he asks: “Who really is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:28, 29) That seemingly simple question has deep implications. How so?
The Jews believe that the term “neighbor” applies only to those who keep the Jewish traditions, and it might seem that Leviticus 19:18 supports that. In fact, a Jew may claim that it is even “unlawful” to have fellowship with a non-Jew. (Acts 10:28) Thus this man and possibly some of Jesus’ own disciples view themselves as righteous if they treat fellow Jews kindly. But they may treat a non-Jew unkindly; he is not really a “neighbor.”
How can Jesus correct this view without offending this man and other Jews? He does so by telling a story: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell victim to robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went off, leaving him half-dead.” Jesus continues: “By coincidence a priest was going down on that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the opposite side. But a certain Samaritan traveling the road came upon him, and at seeing him, he was moved with pity.”
The man to whom Jesus tells this story certainly knows that many priests and Levite temple assistants live in Jericho. To return from the temple, they must travel down a road some 14 miles (23 km). That route can be dangerous, with robbers lurking along it. If a priest and a Levite find a fellow Jew in distress, should they not help him? In his story, Jesus relates that they did not. The one who did was a Samaritan, a man from a people whom the Jews despise.
How did the Samaritan help the injured Jew? Jesus goes on: “He approached him and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. Then he mounted him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said: ‘Take care of him, and whatever you spend besides this, I will repay you when I return.’”
After telling the story, the Master Teacher, Jesus, asks the man this thought-provoking question: “Who of these three seems to you to have made himself neighbor to the man who fell victim to the robbers?” Perhaps the man feels uncomfortable in answering “the Samaritan,” so he replies: “The one who acted mercifully toward him.” Jesus then makes the lesson of his story unmistakably clear, urging: “Go and do the same yourself.”
What an effective method of teaching! Had Jesus simply told the man that non-Jews also are his neighbors, would the man and the other Jews listening have accepted that? Likely not. However, by relating a rather simple story, using details that the listeners can identify with, the answer to the question, “Who really is my neighbor?” becomes obvious. The person who proves to be the real neighbor is the one who exercises the love and kindness that the Scriptures command us to show.
What did Jesus mean when he said that we must love our neighbor? How can we do this?