PASSAGE: 25 “Just 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.’
29 But 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’" (Luke 10:25-37 NRSV).
COMMENT: it's important to remember that this great parable is Jesus' response to a single, simple question: Who is my neighbor? Jesus demonstrates one of his favorite teaching techniques by declining to answer the question. Instead, he tells a story that will allow the lawyer to answer the question himself.
The situation is simple. A man going from Jerusalem to Jericho is set upon by robbers, who leave him for dead by the road. Three people pass by—each with a perfectly valid reason for not stopping to help. For a priest or Levite to interact with either blood or a body would be a significant defilement, requiring an extensive process of purification. So each of them carefully crosses the road to avoid any possibility of defilement and passes by.
Samaritans were those people considered to be less pure, less than acceptable to mainstream Jewish belief. They were descendents of Jews who had remained behind in the land at the time of the Babylonian Exile and had intermarried with other tribes and peoples in the land. They lived on the fringes of Jewish society and contact with Samaritans was strictly limited by religious law. So the significance of the Samaritan being the one person willing to stop and help—and willing to take on the expense and inconvenience involved in supporting the victim—would have been very significant to those listening to Jesus tell the story. And to the lawyer, backed into a corner and forced to admit that the lowly Samaritan had been the true neighbor. If Jesus had simply stated that priests and Levites weren't always the most hospitable or “neighborly” people and that even Samaritans sometimes behaved better, he might have found himself in real trouble with the Pharisees and Sadducees listening and eager to trip him up. But he just told a simple story, and left it to the lawyer to draw the inevitable conclusion.
The moral lesson is clearly that we should be neighborly to those in need. And the metaphysical implications go even deeper. It isn't enough to know our spiritual truth or to pay lip service to its implications. We have to be willing to put it into practice, freely and openly. And it is often in the less exalted dimensions of our consciousness that we will find the simple love and clarity of purpose that we really need.