“But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”“ Luke 10:29.
One day as Christ was out teaching, a man approached Him with a question. “Rabbi,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This man was not the first person to ask Jesus this question, nor would he be the last, yet Christ took time to talk with this man. Christ replied, “What does the Law say?”
The man thought about this, and replied”Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.“ This man was very wise to quote these scriptures; these commands come from the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, and they are the basis of the entire Hebrew Law.
Christ replied to the man, “You are correct. Do this and you will live.”
But the man wasn’t quite satisfied with that reply, he needed more information. He wanted to make sure he got all the facts straight, so he asked, “And who is my neighbor?” He wanted to know who he needed to love as himself in order to be a good neighbor. He wanted to make sure that he was loving the right people and treating the right people properly, but that he could still ignore those who weren’t his “neighbors.” He wanted to know what the quota on neighborliness was.
So, as He had done so many times before, Jesus began to tell a story: One day a man was walking down from Jerusalem to Jericho. The road that leads from Jerusalem to Jericho was, and still is, very steep and treacherous; and it was a favorite place for robbers and thugs to attack travelers. As this man was traveling alone, a group of robbers surprised him, beat him up, took all his clothes and money, and left him for dead. The man was in great need and had no one to help him.
A priest happened to be walking down that same road– surely he would help the wounded man. But when he came to the man’s body, he crossed over to the other side of the road, and continued on his way.
Then a Levite, a high-ranking official who worked in the Temple, also walked down the road. But he did not stop to help the wounded man; he too crossed to the other side of the road and continued on his way.
Then, there came a Samaritan walking down the road…
Before we continue on with Christ’s parable, we must make note of some very important historical and cultural contexts. Simply put, Jews in the time of Christ despised Samaritans. The people of Samaria, where Samaritans come from, came into being during a time when Israel was occupied by the Assyrians; the Samaritans were the offspring of Hebrew-Assyrian intermarriage. Because of this “mixed” ethnicity, full-blooded Hebrews viewed Samaritans with disdain and disgust. There was very little, if any, peaceful interaction between the two groups in Jesus’ day. The Samaritans were people who, to borrow the modern-day phrase, “lived on the other side of the tracks,” and the Jews were quite happy to let them stay there. The people to which Jesus was telling this story were Jews and were well aware of the prejudice against the Samaritans; it was a well established aspect of Hebrew culture of that day.
Now, back to the parable.
A Samaritan comes walking down the road, and just like the priest and the Levite, he sees the wounded man. But, he does not ignore the man and continue on his way. Christ literally said the man “had compassion and stopped.” He got off his donkey, and went to the man. He washed his wounds with oil and wine, and bandaged the beaten man up. Then, the Samaritan put the wounded man on his donkey, and carried him to the nearest inn. He gave the innkeeper money to care for the wounded man, and even told the innkeeper he would reimburse anything extra that the innkeeper had to spend.
After finishing the parable, Christ looked at the man who had asked the question, and He asked, “Which of these men proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
The answer was clear to the inquisitive man, just as clear as it is to us today. “The one who showed mercy to him,” replied the man.
Christ replied, “Go and do the same.”
You see, your neighbors are not limited to those people who live in a certain proximity around your home. Christ expects us to treat everyone as our neighbors. This includes people that are not like us, and it also includes people that we may not like, or care, to associate with. But, Christ expects us to look past social, racial, ethnic, and religious barriers and prejudices. He expects us to treat all people equally and with humility. We are to treat all people, regardless of how our culture or society views that people group, the way we wish to be treated in return. We are to be good Samaritans to all people. We are to have compassion for all men, women, and children. If the followers of Christ don’t have compassion for all mankind, how can we expect the rest of the world to do so?
Have compassion for others, for Christ had compassion for you.