WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?
A religious scholar approaches Jesus with a question. It seems sincere enough, but we know this scholar is out to expose Jesus as a phony. So, he poses his question. “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, sensing the man is not sincere but is trying to make him look bad, answers with a question of his own. “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” The scholar quickly answers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus congratulates him. “you have given the right answer; do this and you will live.”
The religious scholar is not ready to give up, so he poses another question, “Who is my neighbor?” Inside he is chuckling, thinking I got him now.
Jesus then tells him a story we call the Good Samaritan.
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He fell among thieves who robbed him, stripped him of his clothing, and left him for dead.
Soon a priest came down the road. When he saw the injured man, he passed by on the other side, ignoring him.
But wait, next came a lay leader in the synagogue, and he also passed by on the other side.
Both men totally ignored the man who was in grave need.
Then a despised Samaritan came by and helped him, binding up his wounds, putting him on his donkey and taking him to a nearby inn. He was the man’s caregiver all night. When the morning came, he went to the desk and left some money to cover his care until he would be well enough to be on his own. “If it costs more than I have given you, I will cover the rest the next time I pass through.”
Then Jesus, instead of answering the question, asks his own: “Which one of these three do you think was neighbor to the man who had fallen into the hands of robbers?” The man knows the answer, so he says, “This one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Let’s look deeper into this parable. We have already seen the scholar did not want an answer. When that failed defensively, he responded with loving God and your neighbor as yourself. Next, he wants to know who his neighbor is. Is it a family member? Is it someone in our village? Does the limit come when we are talking about non-Jews?
Jesus does not take the bait. He responds with the parable. Before continuing, not who Jesus chooses for criticism and who his praises. He critiques the priest. Since he was returning from Jerusalem and any religious duties had already happened, he was probably on his way home. He had no excuses not to stop and help.
Next was an active lay person. He had no excuses, either.
Something not mentioned in the parable that we should note: The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was hilly and treacherous. One could fall off one’s donkey and get hurt or killed. Robbers used several places on the road to ambush people. No intelligent person should travel this road alone. The man who was robbed and almost killed was taking chances by travelling alone along the road.
Now for the surprise. Years before Judah was conquered by Babylon and the brightest and best were taken into exile. The people who were left behind came to be called Samaritans. They built a new temple in Bethel and worshipped God in that location. They intermarried with the Babylonian soldiers. A generation later a remnant of the families who went into exile returned to Jerusalem. The Samaritans offered to help them rebuild the city. The returning exiles rejected the help and called them no longer Jewish because of the intermarriage with their conquerors. From that day forward they were rejected.
Another source of enmity was the building of a sanctuary in Bethel. How dare they have a temple anywhere but Jerusalem.
So Jesus, using a Samaritan traveler as the hero, must have caused the religious scholar much anger. How dare he make a traitor of our people the hero!
This is where we should allow ourselves to be confronted. With whom would you replace the Samaritan? Who do I despise the most? Who would you despise the most?
So for me there are two challenges.
All human beings are children of God. Christian or not; believers or atheists; enemies or not. All human beings are children of God. Jesus would have us exclude no one from our caring.
A person becomes our neighbor when they need our help. No exceptions. No excuses.
Help me, Jesus, to love my neighbor as myself. Amen.