Luke 10:25-37

 Love as Relating

Luke 10:25-37  -  The Parable of a Good Samaritan

25 A scribe stood up and put a test question to Jesus.  
He said, "Teacher, what do I do in order to inherit eternal life?"
26 He said to him, "What has been written in the law?
How do you understand it?"
27 In answer, he said, "You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart,
with all your inner self,
with all your strength
and with all your mind;
and your neighbour as yourself."
28 He said to him, "You have answered correctly.  
Do this and you will have life."?

The geographic location of the incident did not interest Luke. As far as he was concerned, Jesus had set his face towards Jerusalem. Luke was dealing with issues of discipleship.

The lawyer’s/scribe’s question reflected on-going discussions between scribes, concerned to put some perspective on the 600+ precepts of the Torah. 

The assumptions behind the question were significant, though Jesus declined to deal with them at the moment:

  • The scribe focused on what he could do to achieve the result, as though it were possible by his own unaided human effort to control eternal life.
  • He presumed that eternal life could be inherited, that in some way it might be owed to him, rather than being sheer gift.

The question was hardly a serious test. Jesus was not interested in engaging in pointless discussions, so he threw the question back on the scribe, whose answer showed good insight, apart from his unjustified assumptions.

29 Wishing to justify himself,
he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?"

The scribe apparently thought that Jesus’ response had not taken his question seriously, so he asked what to him was purely a theoretical question. Jesus was not interested in theory. He was concerned about life, so told a story by way of illustrating a further point. (The story hardly qualifies as a parable, since the outcome, while virtually unthinkable in the situation, was not really impossible or puzzling.) At the same time, even the scribe’s question was improbable. For Jews, only Jews were neighbours. The question concerned more the cosmopolitan world of the cities of the Empire. 

Nevertheless, even though the answer to the scribe’s question was quite clear given the cultural assumptions of the day, it was not without practical significance. Within the culture of the time, fellow Jews did not necessarily love each other, any more than people in any nation today do so. There was gross exploitation and injustice towards whole segments of the population, much of it unreflectively and unquestioningly reinforced by official religious attitudes.

30 Taking up his question, Jesus said,
"There was a man taking the road down
from Jerusalem to Jericho.  
He fell into the hands of bandits,
who stripped him and beat him up,
and then went off leaving him half-dead.
31 By coincidence, a priest was going down that way,
and seeing him, passed by on the opposite side.
32 Likewise, a Levite came to the spot.  
He saw him and passed by on the opposite side. 
33 But a travelling Samaritan came upon him,
and on seeing him was deeply moved.
34 He came right up to him
and dressed his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them.  
He lifted him on to his own beast,
led him to an inn and took care of him.
35 The next day he took out two denarii
and gave them to the innkeeper, saying to him,
"Take care of him,
and on my return I shall make good any extra expense.

Samaritans and Jews were historical enemies. Not long before, one of the Samaritan villages had refused hospitality to Jesus and his disciples, provoking the predictable indignation of James and John. The behavior of the Samaritan in the story defied imagination.

The conduct of the priest and the Levite in the story would not have been unexpected to the Jewish ear. The half-dead man, from their vantage point, may indeed have appeared dead. To touch a corpse rendered a Jew “unclean”. For a priest or Levite to be “unclean” meant that they were unable to perform their duties, and (even though they were coming back from Jerusalem and the temple, rather than on their way there) to be rendered “unclean” would have been utterly repugnant to them. In their minds there was no doubting that liturgical ritual overruled compassion.

36 Which of these three does it seem to you
turned out to be neighbour
to the man who fell into the hands of the bandits?" 
37 He replied, "The one who had mercy on him".  
Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise yourself".

The issue for disciples was clear. There was no limit to compassion, no one beyond the pale. But Jesus was not concerned about theory. Love was not something for discussion but for action: Do likewise!

Next >> Luke 10:38-42