Like the religious teacher we read about yesterday, the teacher in today’s story also understood that the most important commandments were to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves. If a person did those things, he would, according to Jesus, inherit eternal life. The religious teacher in today’s story obviously felt guilty for not loving his neighbor as himself. He wanted to justify his lack of love by embracing a very narrow definition of what a neighbor is. If God was speaking of us only loving our next-door neighbor, then perhaps this teacher could justify his lack of love and even hatred for so many other people. So he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29), and Jesus told him the story of the Good Samaritan.
The lesson of the story is that anyone and everyone is our neighbor by God’s definition, even people of other races or religions who are usually despised by those with whom we identify. As you probably remember, in Jesus’ day, Jews and Samaritans hated each other. But the Samaritan in Jesus’ story showed love to a Jewish man, probably saving his life, while other Jews showed him no love at all.
When Jesus asked the religious teacher, “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” (Luke 10:36), his hatred of Samaritans surfaced in his answer. Not wanting to admit that the one who obeyed God’s second most important commandment was a member of a race he despised, he simply replied, “The one who showed him mercy” (Luke 10:37). Jesus then told him, “Go and do the same” (Luke 10:37). This seems to indicate that he had not been showing mercy to those who needed it, thus not loving his neighbor as himself. Now he was confronted with his own sin and need for repentance.
Q. In the story of the Good Samaritan, why do you suppose that two very religious people, the priest and the Temple assistant, didn’t help the dying man?
A. Because they were religious but not actually saved. They were hypocrites, claiming to be followers of God’s law, but breaking His second most important commandment. They no doubt justified their actions in some way, because everyone who sins justifies his actions in order to salve his conscience.
Q. If Jesus told this same story today in the United States, do you think He might change the identities of the characters in the story? If so, how?
A. He would probably use characters that would be more applicable to the prejudices of our own society. Perhaps the two who passed by the dying man would be pastors or Sunday school teachers. Perhaps the dying man would be black or white, depending on the color of Jesus’ audience.
Application: In many ways, Jesus was like a good Samaritan to us. We were attacked by the devil and demons, robbed of the truth, and left spiritually dead and destined to die physically. No religion or person could save us, but Jesus felt compassion for us and saved us from death. Praise God for His love for us!