Part 1 (verses 25-29)
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered: “‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
The question posed is spiritual not biological. The lawyer has asked about aionios zoe – soul without beginning or end – in the original Greek.
The lawyer and Jesus agree on the essential requirements. Both know the fundamentals of the law set out in the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy.
But being tendentious in the way that lawyers and those religiously inclined often are — and perhaps a bit of a show-off as well — the lawyer asks a crucial follow-on, “And who is my neighbor?” More literally, the Greek asks, “And who is near to me?”
At the core of Jesus’ message is love of God and neighbor. In the New Testament Greek we are to agapao: to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly. In the Hebrew of Deuteronomy, we are to ‘ahab: to hunger after, seek out as a friend, and be intimate with.
In answering who is our neighbor, Jesus tells us of the Good Samaritan.
Part 2 (verses 30-37)
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coinsand gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
The power of the parable depends on the lawyer’s – and our own – disdain for the other: Samaritan, Muslim, Jew, Catholic, liberal, conservative or whatever.
Jesus can make a sacrament even of our bigotry.
Again, Jesus does not deny the difference. The priest is different from the Levite and both are very different from the Samaritan.
Two do not recognize their neighbor and do not love their neighbor. The Samaritan – despite his religious affronts and error – personifies what the second great commandment means.
Love God. Love neighbor. “On these two commandments depend all the laws and the prophets.” (Matthew 22)
SATURDAY AFTERNOON ADDITION: Please see very relevant story from today’s New York Times:
BALAD RUZ, Iraq — As the suicide bomber clutched the detonator to his explosive belt, preparing to spray fire and shrapnel into a religious procession here, an Iraqi police officer named Bilal Ali Muhammad faced a choice between his own life and something larger.
If he ran and took cover, Mr. Muhammad, 31, had a chance to save himself, to continue supporting his widowed mother, to help put his younger brother through college and to watch his three young daughters grow up.
Instead, the officer — a Sunni Muslim — threw himself onto the bomber, blunting the explosion’s impact on the Shiite worshipers.
“He gave his soul to the country,” said his mother, Alaahin Hassan, holding two of his daughters in her lap as dozens of black-veiled women filled her living room this week with ritualized wails of grief. “He believed in God. That made him great.”
In a country fractured by sect and ethnicity, from villages like this all the way to the government that is finally forming in Baghdad, Mr. Muhammad’s last act was a burst of heroism and humanity set against the viciousness that still stalks Iraq.
This is the sixth post in a weekend series that will conclude on December 24. The purpose is to examine possible principles for inter-religious relations emerging from six scriptural texts.
The first post on December 3 was Tis the season… to deal directly with religious difference.
The second post on December 4 was Avoid Samaritan Towns.
The third post on December 5 was The Woman at Jacob’s Well.
The fourth post on December 11 was Jesus accused of being a Samaritan.
The fifth post on December 12 was A Samaritan town rejects Jesus (including several reader comments)
Tomorrow: The Thankful Leper