The Parable of the Good Samaritan is unique to the Gospel of Luke (Luke 10).
Often misunderstood as a story about helping the needy, the primary point of this parable was to define the ‘neighbour’ that the Torah commanded one to love (Leviticus 19:8). However, before the parable is used to explain a teaching, there is a discussion between Jesus and an expert in the Torah.
These opening questions are almost always overlooked...
Jesus is asked a question
As is common in the Jewish world of teaching, Jesus is asked a question.
He is asked by the expert, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (הבא עולם - ‘Olam HaBa’ - the World to Come!). It’s a very important question, one that everyone on the planet should ponder. Seeing as how Jesus has been asked this, the most important of questions, now would have been a perfect opportunity to answer… “Believe in Me, the one who has come from the Father to save the World.”
After all, that is the message of the Church through the ages.
Western Christianity, under the heavy influence of the early protestant reformers like Luther and Calvin, who were lawyers as well as theologians, has too often reduced Christianity to a legal transaction. That is, we are sinners, sinful from the womb, dead in our sins and we are saved and redeemed by the payment made through the blood of the Messiah.
This is very true of course, but the transaction is only one part of the message and teaching of the Messiah. Christianity and the Faith in the Messiah is so much more.
So he asks one back
When asked how to guarantee a place in the World to Come, Yeshua (Jesus) responds with a very important question of His own, “What is written in the Torah and how do you read it?” (Luke 10:26). That question is for all of us.
How do you read what is written?
How we read the Bible influences our behaviour in the world. The expert in the Torah responds by quoting the Greatest of Commandments, "to love God and to love your neighbour". Jesus replies that he has answered correctly.
So how do you love God and your neighbour? How do we read and understand the command to Love?
Faith, hope and love
After Paul reduces the Faith to three words, Faith Hope and Love, he declares that the greatest of these is not faith, it’s love. Absolutely, faith in the Messiah is important, very much so, and yet Scripture declares that love is even more important.
How do we read what is written? We are commanded to Love the Lord our God with all our Heart, all our Soul and all our Strength. From this we can deduce that love is a choice. It is not an emotion, not something beyond our control. If love was simply an emotion then the commandment makes no sense. God does not say, Love the Lord your God... but only if you feel like it, only on weekends, only after two cups of coffee in the morning, only if you manage to fall head over heels in love with God.
Love is a command and we can choose to obey that command or not. God Himself thinks we can do this and choose wisely, for He says in Deuteronomy 30:11 “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.”
Love is a choice
Faith may indeed be a gift from God, however love is a choice and from the Parable we learn that too often we hide behind rules in choosing not to love, especially in not loving our neighbour.
In the Parable of the Good Samaritan the Priest and the Levite have excellent excuses as to why they cannot assist the beaten, bleeding man on the side of the road. They are going to the Temple. God has commanded that they be unblemished, untainted by death and disease. They must be clean before the Lord.
They choose not to assist, not to act in love and they have Biblical reasons for not helping.
Just like the Priest and Levite, we too often hide behind rules and Christian legalism. We choose not to love our neighbour by convincing ourselves that “it’s not my department, that’s a job for another ministry but not mine, it’s not my calling or my ministry’s calling, God wants me to look after my family first…”
Those are not the attitudes, nor choices, the Lord would have us make. Jesus uses the parable to teach in context of His initial question, “What is written and how do you read it?” Jewish preaching and teaching is always practical. We have been shown by the Messiah how to read the command to love, the Greatest of Commandments.
Now we need to “Go and do likewise!”
“Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.”