Parable of the Good Samaritan: Luke 10:30-37
Jesus tells the parable of the good Samaritan in response to the questioning of a lawyer who asks, "And who is my neighbor?"
The Jews had a very negative perception of the Samaritans, so when Jesus uses this character in contrast to the spiritual elite of Israel, it is viewed as extremely counter-cultural.
In context, a lawyer wanting to test Jesus has just asked him, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 10:25) Jesus responds with, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" (Luke 10:26)
The lawyer answers, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." (Luke 10:27) Jesus responds, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."
However, the lawyer apparently wants to justify himself, so he asks Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:30) Jesus replies with the parable of the good Samaritan.
Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead." (Luke 10:30)
A Priest, and then a Levite, pass this man on the road, but they walk on the other side of the road and continue on their way. Then a Samaritan, who is despised by the Jews, sees the man and has pity on him. He puts the man on his own animal and takes him to an inn to take care of him.
The Samaritan also pays for the man's stay at the inn, and promises to repay whatever more the innkeeper will need to spend on the wounded man.
Jesus then asks the lawyer, "Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" (Luke 10:36) The lawyer responds, "The one who showed him mercy," to which Jesus says, "Go and do likewise." (Luke 10:37)
The Samaritan was the only person who considered the wounded man to be his neighbor, as seen by his actions. The Priest and Levite did not love this stranger in need as the Samaritan did, so the only one who was a neighbor to the wounded man was the Samaritan.
message Jesus communicates is that the meaning of "Love your neighbor as yourself" is to show mercy and kindness to everyone. The Samaritan and wounded man were neighbors because they are both human and created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).
The fact that the priest and Levite did not stop, wouldn't have been too surprising. It would be unlawful for the Priest and Levite to touch a dead body, which may explain why they decided to not even check to see if the man was dead. They also may have decided they didn't have the time to check on the man because of the inconvenience. After all, they needed to get to where they were going.
However, even though there are a number of possibilities to explain why these two spiritual leaders didn't stop to help, it isn't the 'why' that's important in this parable.
The point is just that they didn't stop and also that a position, title, or social status doesn't fulfill God's commandment to "Love your neighbor as yourself." The only thing that fulfills this commandment is the action of showing mercy towards everyone we come across in life. This is how we are to be a loving neighbor to our neighbors.
For more information on loving our neighbor, read Understanding the Golden Rule.
The idea that "Love your neighbor" means everyone is also in the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures).
Many times, such as in Leviticus 19:9-10, God makes sure the poor and foreigners are being considered: "...you shall not reap to the very edges of your field...You shall not strip your vineyards bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien..."
God instructed the Israelites to allow for foreigners and the poor to have free food from their crops. It is in this section in Leviticus 19, that God says, "but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord." (Leviticus 19:18)
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