25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus 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. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He 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. 35The 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.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
What I Am Learning:
This is one of the best known stories of the New Testament. This is so because it is such a powerful and evocative story. I think it is even more powerful than we give it credit.
Human beings have spent most of our history in small groups. These groups likely saw other groups as dangerous. Those who dressed differently, spoke differently, believed differently, ate different foods and so forth were nearly instinctively seen as a threat. This is a part of who we are and for most of our existence as human beings it helped us to survive.
Human beings are the only creatures capable of seeing people of their own species as less than human - a capability that many tyrants and fear mongers have used to their own benefit.
As our world has gotten smaller, this tribal instinct is no longer a survival benefit. In our context we don't have to go far to see people who look or talk differently from each other. The UN estimates that 240 million people were immigrants as of 2013. We can see that this number is rising fast as economic, governmental and climate conditions are degrading in many countries, including those in the Middle East.
We are going to have to get used to living with people from many backgrounds. They are our neighbors, literally.
The Lawyer asked Jesus "Who is my neighbor"
This sounds like a normal, logical question. However this is really not the question the lawyer was asking. The question he was really asking was "Who is not my neighbor?" In other words, who can we see as less than human, who can we ignore, dehumanize, hate or do violence to?
The Lawyer wanted to hear Jesus implicate God in our tribal desire to exclude other people from being a part of the human race.
Jesus would have none of it.
He tells this familiar story in a way that both answers the question and addresses the our tendency toward tribalism. Jesus doesn't just tell a story about the call of God for Jews to love their neighbors, but a story about a member of a hated group who was a neighbor to a Jewish person, when a priest and a Levite did not.
A part of this critique is that the priest and the Levite likely did not help the man because if they touched a bleeding half-dead man, they would be ritually unclean and would need days to purify themselves.
Other part is a racial critique: Imagine Jesus in a Neo-Nazi group telling a story about Klan members who don't help a fellow white person in trouble, but a black person who does.
There is both a racial a religious critique here: race, religion or any other difference is not a legitimate reason to deny neighborly love to another person. The word "love" in this case means working for their well-being.
Jesus makes this case even stronger when his story suggests that the "other" person is not only deserving of our neighborly love, but capable of being a neighbor to us.
Monotheism has three basic insights that we often do not live up to:
- There is only one Creator of human beings and the universe of which we are a part
- We are therefore all sisters and brothers, part of one family, no matter our other differences.
- Therefore we do not get to kill other members of our family, but rather are called to neighborly, indeed, familial love with them.
It is sad and amazing that we continue to struggle to learn a lesson being taught for 4,000 years.
God asks us not only to have compassion for someone we perceive as other, but to have the vision to see them as truly human, as having compassion for us.