Refer to the good Samaritan parable from the book of Luke 10:25-37
“25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
26 He (Jesus) said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?
27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.
28 And he (Jesus) said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. 33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, 34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him.
Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.”
King James Version (KJV)Public Domain
“Go, and do thou likewise.”
From the first time I heard this story in Sunday School and VBS about the good Samaritan, I have been intrigued by the characters and the roles they played in Jesus’ lesson on Christian behavior. In it Jesus defines the meaning of “neighbor”. Obviously it is not limited to what we in contemporary society would consider a neighbor, i.e., the couple next door or the man down the street.
In Biblical Jewish culture, the Samaritans were a race to be ostracized and avoided at all costs. At the well, the Samaritan woman drawing water was shocked and probably miffed that a Jewish teacher (Jesus) would ask her to draw water for him. John 4:7-26 In all probability, the Samaritans hated the Jews just as much as the Jews despised them.
So when Jesus uses a Samaritan traveler as the pivotal character in his parable, those hearing his message were undoubtedly shocked. And when Jesus takes this heresy further to cast a favorable light upon the Samaritan, we should not be surprised that the ruling hierarchy of Pharisees desired to be rid of him and his teachings. Their hatred and intolerance was justified by centuries-old racism supported by an archaic system of religious righteousness.
Jesus reckons with this racism by first stating that a priest and then a Levite came upon the traveler (we are not told anything about his background) and kept to the side of the road in order to avoid contact with him. Perhaps they feared for their own safety should the robbers still be nearby. Or perhaps they did not want to contaminate themselves by touching a corpse. The priest and the Levite, although holy men of the Jewish faith, lacked the compassion to lend assistance to the dying traveler. The Samaritan, however, even though a despised citizen of a neighboring country, felt compassion for the wounded man and gave immediate assistance to the point of ensuring his safe passage to care and recovery at a nearby inn.
“And who is my neighbor,” asked the lawyer of Jesus in the scripture, verse 29?
Jesus tells his story and then the lawyer in verse 37 answers his own question, “He that shewed mercy.”
Which character of this parable do I play? Am I the priest or Levite, men unwilling to be involved in saving another’s life? Am I the good Samaritan who cares enough to risk his own life for that of a stranger? Or perhaps I am the traveler, wounded and left to die on the highway of life, saved only by the grace of a compassionate savior.
Who is my neighbor? Certainly John next door, my tax accountant at the mall, the restaurant owner at my favorite Italian place, even the Muslim couple who smile to me whenever they walk by my house. I consider my pastor my neighbor, my car salesman, my insurance agent, and my local sheriff.
OK. What about the strident atheist at school, the repugnant Republican congressman, the white supremacist in Georgia, the drug dealer in the city, and the redneck who flies a Confederate flag on his pickup truck? Are they my neighbors?
Jesus was not categorizing anyone when instructing us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus does not see anything but a person’s heart and the innate love and compassion within that heart. Jesus wants us to do the same.
Who, then, is my neighbor? The Nazi who would kill a gay man? The racist who would lynch a black man? The Jew who would harm a Palestinian?
If I were to come upon an injured man on the highway and that man was Trump, would I stop to assist or pass by on the other side of the road? Yeah, it gets really funky now, doesn’t it?
I am supposed to love my neighbor. Love is not always a warm, fuzzy feeling that tingles all over. It is also a willingness to be actively compassionate toward every creature of God’s creation.
“Go, and do thou likewise.” I know that if I just carry the willingness, God will honor my efforts.