In this familiar story, an expert of the Law of Moses decides to test Jesus by posing an important question. “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 25) Jesus responds by asking the lawyer to answer his own question, which he does. And then Luke tells us that the lawer wanted to justify himself, he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” (v. 29) This is a case of someone knowing what is the right thing to do, but not willing to do it, not completely.
Jesus exposes his hypocrisy by telling a story of a man who is robbed on the road to Jericho. Both a priest and a Levite, respected members of the community, see the man lying on the side of the road, but pass by and do not help him. In their defense, they may have thought the man was dead and didnt want to become unclean by touching a corpse. However, we have learned that God is less concerned about ritual cleanliness than about kindness and mercy. Now, by this point the audience would be expecting to hear what a lay Israelite would do with this poor man, but Jesus throws a massive curveball by introducing a Samaritan. Samaritans and Jews did not like each other in the first century. To hear that this Samaritan would show the robbery victim such extravagant kindness would be even more astonishing to the Jews in Jesus’s day.
So, which of the three characters was a neighbor to the man? The answer is obvious, and you can hear the reluctance in the voice of the lawyer when he answers. Then Jesus pins him down by telling him to go and live his life in the same way: loving your neighbor extravagantly, even when they aren’t part of your in-group, even when it’s inconvenient, even if you are effectively in hostile territory. Beloved, this is simple to understand, but oh so hard to do. Even if you are thinking, “I’ve done heroic things, and helped people out of real trouble. I’m good!” I would challenge you to not to look only at your successes, but at all the times you failed too. No one is consistent with this kind of radical love, every moment of every day, with every single person they come upon.
Help us to love everyone around us with the same love You have showed us.