Jesus’ Life and Ministry
A Neighborly Samaritan
JESUS is perhaps near Bethany, a village about two miles [3 km] from Jerusalem. A man who is an expert on the Law of Moses approaches him with a question, asking: “Teacher, by doing what shall I inherit everlasting life?”
Jesus detects that the man, a lawyer, is not asking simply for information but because he desires to test him. The lawyer’s aim may be to get Jesus to answer in a way that will offend the sensibilities of the Jews. So Jesus gets the lawyer to commit himself, asking: “What is written in the Law? How do you read?”
In reply, the lawyer, exercising unusual insight, quotes from God’s laws at 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.’”
“You answered correctly,” Jesus responds. “Keep on doing this and you will get life.”
The lawyer, however, is not satisfied. Jesus’ answer is not specific enough for him. He wants confirmation from Jesus that his own views are correct and hence that he is righteous in his treatment of others. Therefore, he asks: “Who really is my neighbor?”
The Jews believe that the term “neighbor” applies only to fellow Jews, as the context of Leviticus 19:18 seems to indicate. In fact, later even the apostle Peter said: “You well know how unlawful it is for a Jew to join himself to or approach a man of another race.” So the lawyer, and perhaps Jesus’ disciples too, believe that they are righteous if they treat only fellow Jews kindly, since, in their view, non-Jews are not really their neighbors.
Without offending his listeners, how can Jesus correct their view? He tells a story, possibly based on an actual happening. “A certain [Jew],” Jesus explains, “was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among robbers, who both stripped him and inflicted blows, and went off, leaving him half-dead.”
“Now, by coincidence,” Jesus continues, “a certain priest was going down over that road, but, when he saw him, he went by on the opposite side. Likewise, a Levite also, when he got down to the place and saw him, went by on the opposite side. But a certain Samaritan traveling the road came upon him and, at seeing him, he was moved with pity.”
Many priests and their Levite temple assistants live in Jericho, a distance of 14 miles [23 km] on a dangerous road that descends 3,000 feet [900 m] from where they serve at the temple in Jerusalem. The priest and the Levite would be expected to help a fellow Jew in distress. But they do not. Instead, a Samaritan does. The Jews hate Samaritans so much that recently they insulted Jesus in the strongest terms by calling him “a Samaritan.”
What does the Samaritan do to help the Jew? “He approached him,” Jesus says, “and bound up his wounds, pouring oil and wine upon them. Then he mounted him upon his own beast and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii [about two days’ wages], gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him, and whatever you spend besides this, I will repay you when I come back here.’”
After telling the story, Jesus asks the lawyer: “Who of these three seems to you to have made himself neighbor to the man that fell among the robbers?”
Feeling uncomfortable about attributing any merit to a Samaritan, the lawyer answers simply: “The one that acted mercifully toward him.”
“Go your way and be doing the same yourself,” Jesus concludes.
Had Jesus told the lawyer directly that non-Jews also were his neighbors, not only would the man not have accepted this but most of the audience would probably have taken his side in the discussion with Jesus. This true-to-life story, however, made it obvious in an irrefutable way that our neighbors include people besides those of our own race and nationality. What a marvelous way Jesus has of teaching! Luke 10:25-37; Acts 10:28; John 4:9; 8:48.
◆ What questions did the lawyer ask Jesus, and what evidently was his purpose in asking?
◆ Who did the Jews believe were their neighbors, and what reason is there to believe that even the disciples shared this view?
◆ How did Jesus get across the correct view so that the lawyer could not refute it?