Who is my neighbor? 10:25-37
Jesus is approached by a legal expert in Biblical law who asks what a person must do to gain eternal life. As a discussion-starter Jesus asks the theologian what he thinks the scriptures say on the matter. The theologian gives the standard answer, "love God, love neighbor." Jesus replies "Indeed, do this and you will live." Yet, here lies the problem, doing God's law is no easy matter, but it does help if our neighbor belongs to a select group of people we like. So, the theologian asks Jesus "who is my neighbor?" Jesus doesn't actually answer the theologian's question, rather he illustrates what it means to love "your neighbor as yourself", he illustrates the nature of selfless love, of neighborliness. By this means Jesus exposes the impossible perfection of God's law and thus the truth that none are righteous by their own doing.
v25. "An expert in the law" asks how to gain "eternal life". He is a theologian, and wants to engage with Jesus on the mother of all issues.
v26. Jesus asks him what he thinks the scriptures say on the issue.
v27. The theologian thinks the answer lies in keeping God's law, summarized in the command to love God and love neighbor.
v28. Jesus agrees, "Do this and you will live". A person's standing in the kingdom of God is guaranteed if they keep the whole law.
v29. The theologian, wanting to confirm his righteous-standing in the sight of God, raises the thorny issue of "who is my neighbor?" He just wants to check on the details, especially as entry into the kingdom may depend on identifying who rightly deserves his love. Of course, it's the wrong question.
v30-35. As if answering the theologian's question, Jesus tells the story of a man attacked by thieves. Religious Jews, who see the wounded man on the side of the road, fail to show mercy, probably for good religious reasons (eg. the prohibition on touching a corpse). Yet, the Samaritan shows mercy, and that to a man who is probably a Jew.
v36. Jesus asks "who was neighborly?", ie. who in the story acted with love, acted with mercy? Of course, this is the right question.
v37. The theologian rightly identifies the neighborliness of the Samaritan. The difficulty lies with Jesus' command, "you go and do likewise." The trouble is, the theologian could never do likewise, for who can claim to love as the Samaritan loved?
The theologian was reminded that his right-standing in the sight of God and thus his possession of life in all its fullness, cannot rest on his own self-righteousness. Thankfully, the gospel reminds us that although righteousness cannot be earned, it can be ours in Jesus.
Be a Good Sam
I had a Bible picture book when I was young. I think it belonged to my mother. It had no covers. The usual crayon scribbling could be found on a number of the pages. I'm not sure whether this was my mother's doing or mine - probably mine!
I can still remember the classic picture of the Samaritan bending over the wounded man with the donkey standing beside him. It's a very powerful picture, and one many of us were brought up on. Such powerful images shape culture. Sadly, these are not the images children see today. The secular equivalents leave much to be desired. Still, for my generation, being a Good Sam", in the terms of Jesus' parable, still has the power to motivate kindness toward others.
The problem we face with this parable is that it has nothing to do with boy-scout philanthropy; it has nothing to do with being a Good Sam. The parable sets out to expose sin. The theologian asks how a person gets to heaven. Jesus tests his understanding of the Bible on the issue, and gets the works answer. As with so many into merit religion, the theologian thinks that the kingdom can be claimed on the basis of his own personal righteousness. The point of the parable of the Good Samaritan is to expose the worthlessness of the theologian's self-righteousness. He does not love his neighbor, he does not obey the law, and therefore he cannot claim membership of the kingdom.
The truth is, "God can only relate to a person who, having lost self-confidence, humbles himself in repentance", Earle Ellis. The good news of God's gracious mercy only applies to those who are broken before him; it is for the "lost", the "last", the "sinner", the "sick". Only in repentance can we find salvation, for righteousness is given, not claimed. To stand right before God and thus enter into his blessings, is "by grace through faith, and is not of works, lest anyone should boast."
Consider how you would apply the parable of the Good Samaritan to a junior Bible class.
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