“Resolve to be tender
with the young,
compassionate with the aged,
sympathetic with the striving,
and tolerant of the weak and the wrong. Sometime in life you will have been
all of these.”
“If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.”
John F. Kennedy
One day while hanging out in a local Starbucks with a mixed group of intellectuals and religious people, Jesus and a Lawyer got into a little neighborly discussion.
A certain lawyer stood up, saying, Master, What shall I do to inherit eternal life?
The question was simple and straightforward, but the intention behind the question was not. It was a trap. This Lawyer was trying to lure Jesus into a debate. Jesus wasn’t in the mood for contention, so he turned the tables and answered the Lawyer’s question with a question.
What is written in the law? How readest thou?
And he [the lawyer] 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 neighbor as thyself.
With charismatic precision, the Lawyer recited ancient law to perfection. The Scribes smiled. The Pharisees nodded. The people applauded. Everyone in the room was impressed.
And [Jesus] said unto him, Thou hast answered right.
No doubt, Jesus’ commendation made the pompous Lawyer more smug…that is, until Jesus added –
This do, and thou shalt live.
Hold it right there, Jesus! Mr. Hoity-toity expected a debate, but instead got a sermon? “This do, and thou shalt live”? Well, there seems to be a method to the madness, friends, because with six words from Jesus – BOOM – argument aborted. The room grew silent. Everyone looked at Jesus, then at the lawyer. Let’s see how Legal-ease talks his way out of this one.
Hoping to salvage his reputation, justify bigotry, and revive debate, the Lawyer sparred with a more pointed question.
And, who is my neighbor?
Who is My Neighbor?
For us, the answer is clear: Everyone. In ancient Jerusalem, however, the answer was a little muddy. By Christ’s time religion had become so tarnished with ritual, it no longer resembled God’s will. The commandments had been so polluted with prejudice and pomp that it ceased being a code of godly behavior. This drove Jesus nuts.
In the case of defining “neighbor” the interpretation of the Law was, for the most part, this:
The Rabbi’s wrote:
“We are not to contrive the death of the Gentiles, but if they are in any danger of death we are not bound to deliver them… If any of them fall into the sea you need not take him out, for such a one is not thy neighbor.” (Dummelow, Commentary on the Bible, 751)
Bruce R. McConkie:
“To the Jews their neighbors were the members of the congregation of Israel; the Gentiles and all who opposed the Jewish people not only failed to qualify as neighbors, but were, in fact, enemies.” (The Mortal Messiah, 3:178)
In the second attempt to spark debate, the Lawyer pressed, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus was rather pleased at the question. Now would be the time to reveal their hypocrisy. Now would be primo opportunity to illustrate how far they had gone from True religion.
Jesus’ answer was in the form of a parable. A parable fit for their time…and ours.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
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.
A Jewish man was traveling on foot toward Jericho when he was suddenly attacked by thugs. They beat the snot out of him and took everything: his clothes, his money, his dignity, and left him for dead.
But this was a busy highway. Certainly someone would come by shortly and help. Weeeeell.
By chance there came down a certain Priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
The first to come along was a Priest. A Priest’s religious duty was a mediator between his people and God. He was, by virtue of his office, supposed to draw others closer to God. One would think that a priest, of all people, would demonstrate neighborly love. Surely he will stop and help the victim.
But no. He went out of his way to avoid contact.
Then a Levite came by. Levites assisted priests in preparing holy things. It was the Levite’s responsibility of ministering in the sanctuary. Working in the Temple. Of course, he would understand the significance of service in the Lord’s kingdom. Certainly, a Levite, of anyone, would exemplify love toward his neighbor.
And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
One verse even says, “they desired in their hearts that it might not be known that they had seen him” (emphasis mine). Both the Priest and the Levite pretended that they hadn’t even laid eyes on the guy, and went on their merry way. Sleeze balls.
But alas, not all is lost. Our victim may be bruised and bloody, he may be passed out and near death, but someone else is coming – in the nick of time.
But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
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.
The Samaritan treated his wounds and promptly brought him to the nearest Inn where he nursed him to health and then gave the inn keeper money to feed and care for the man further until he could return and pay the rest of the bill.
What a stand-up guy! we say. How kind. This is one good man. But what’s really going on here is something truly extraordinary.
Samaritans were hated by Jews. Haaaated. Samaritans were not considered neighbors of the Jews. Samaritans were unworthy. Crossbreeds. Worse than Gentiles. Of anyone walking and breathing on God’s green earth, a Samaritan would be least likely to stop and help anyone, least of all a Jewish person…in need.
Yet, of the three, it was the “low-life” Samaritan who took the highroad and helped a suffering Jewish man. And his help saved the man’s life. He found the man safe lodging, nursed him to health, and paid for further care and clothing.
He alone loved his neighbor enough to forgive their differences, and love and serve and sacrifice.
Go, and Do Thou Likewise
As Jesus concluded his story, all eyes in the room were on him. The parable was captivating.
The answer to the Lawyer’s 1st question, regarding eternal life, was merely a matter of Quoting Law.
The answer to the 2nd, regarding one’s neighbor, involved something far more difficult: Living the Law.
Their minds were blown. Attention riveted. This is right where Jesus wanted them. Now the Master was ready to teach. Jesus faced the Lawyer and quizzed.
Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
And he [the lawyer] said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
S. Brent Farley wrote of the parable:
“Many pages could be written to interpret and apply principles in this parable to the lives of others. But out of it all ought to come one lesson more grand than all others: it was a declaration of the Messiahship of Jesus, a truth veiled in parabolic form to be discovered by those who were willing to learn the language of the Spirit.
“Just as the Samaritans were not regarded by the Jews as a chosen race…it was to the often unpopular race of Jews that Jesus was born. As in the parable, the Savior (as a Good Samaritan to all men) stopped and stooped to help the wounded… [Then] as the parabolic Samaritan offered unconditionally to pay the cost for his friend’s recovery, so the Savior paid a price unlimited by time or amount when he atoned for his fellow beings in the Garden of Gethsemane.”
(Studies in Scripture, The Gospels, 5:318-19)
In response to the Lawyer’s initial question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus referred to the two great commandments:
1. Love God.
2. Love thy neighbor.
When asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ answer to the lawyer, and us, was layered in story.
Traveling the road of life – we have fallen and are left in need of rescue.
Many promise to help but can’t or don’t or won’t. Our Good Samaritan has cared enough to stop and stoop to rescue.
And because we’ve been rescued, we should look to be good Samaritans to others:
And most of all – Loving
Loving as the Savior loves.
This is, most certainly, how we will inherit Eternal Life.
President Howard W. Hunter:
“We need to remember that though we make our friends,
God has made our neighbors – everywhere… We should have
no narrow loyalties… Love should have no boundary.”
(Ensign, November 1986, 35)
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