The Good Samaritan: Reflections on Luke 10:25-37, Part 2

The Good Samaritan: Luke 10:25-37, Part 2

      Good afternoon Canton community and welcome back to our reflections on Luke 10! In last week’s post, we focused on verses 25-28 and Jesus’s affirmation that the Jewish Law was meant to be centered on love rather than legalism. Insofar as it pointed one to loving God and others, God’s Law for the Jewish people was a good thing conducive to abundant-life-living. As Paul makes us aware, we have now outgrown our need for the specifics of the Law — but its heartbeat, to love God and people, remains. This can be a helpful reminder as we read through the Old Testament as Christians.

      Today we’ll be looking at the latter part of the passage, verses 29-37. Since the law expert means to test Jesus, he is not content with Jesus’s affirmation that eternal life is wrapped up in loving God and loving neighbor. He pushes the question a step further — “And who is my neighbor?” As he does time and time again, Jesus launches into a story to answer the man’s question. “A man was going down from Jerusalem. . .” Let’s take a look!

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 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. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

      One thing we notice right away is that Jesus, in telling a story and making it the point of reference, has slightly changed the lawyer’s question. The law-expert wanted to know, who is the neighbor I must love as myself?; yet Jesus displays what it means to be a neighbor, both answering the question of who and turning the question back onto the lawyer in a way that invites action. The implication of the lawyer’s initial question seems to be something like this: “I am an Israelite, one of God’s chosen people; how far must I extend my love for others? Declare here in front of everyone that we Israelites are in the right and worthy of love rather than our enemies!” Knowing Jesus, we might expect him to tell a subversive story in which an Israelite loves even one of the “bad guys,” the Samaritans or perhaps the Romans. But Jesus goes even further — he tells a story in which one of the alleged bad guys is the hero. Suddenly we are not only challenged to love our enemies, but we are positioned to see the enemy as the good guy. The point is not that we mercifully stoop down to grace our foes with our presence; rather, the lens with which we see the “bad guy” is shattered. Not only is he humanized, but we are humbled so much that we need his help. He is not only worthy of love but capable of providing us something we need. The enemy becomes the model of love.

      At the end of the parable, Jesus returns to the question of who is “neighbor,” but now he has radically changed the context. The law-expert must acknowledge that the Samaritan, the enemy, really is a neighbor to be loved, but also that being a neighbor means both being worthy of love and being capable of love. The enemy has been totally humanized, and the law-expert is left with an exhortation to be like the perceived enemy and to love those outside the normal social boundaries, even though he is currently like a wounded man lying in a ditch. Equally shocking to Jesus’s listeners is the subtle implication that Jesus himself identifies with the Samaritan — he is the loving neighbor who, though perceived as an enemy, has compassion on helpless Israel; he is not a priest or a Levite, and yet he finds himself on the road to Jerusalem determined to bind up the wounds of the broken. 

      The questions we walk away with are challenging and a little unsettling: can we see our enemies as not only worthy of love but capable of love? Can we view ourselves as potentially being helped by our enemies? Can we see Jesus in the face of the enemy? I challenge us to ask ourselves seriously: who is our enemy? What people or people groups have we discounted that really are neighbors? Who is worthy and capable of love that we have written off? And what can we do to love them?

      The Law, though often taken out of context and twisted this way and that, was always meant to be about love — a love that humbles itself and extends itself to God, friends, and enemies. This is the law of love with which Jesus challenges his listeners — not an exclusive system based on “works” and boundary markers (as Paul shows us), but a law of love that reaches out to every person regardless of behavior or social status. May we be challenged to love like this!


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