An Expert in the Law

An expert in the law stood up to test Jesus, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the law?” He replied. “How do you read it?”

The man answered: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

This was a common answer in Rabbinic teachings. Lev. 19:18 and Deut. 6:5 were their sources.

“You’ve answered correctly,” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live.”

But, seeking to justify himself, the man asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Many Jewish teachers taught that one’s ‘neighbor’ was one’s fellow Jew, and, therefore, non-Jews were exempt from this command. The man sought to confirm this interpretation.

Jesus answered the man’s question with a story:

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him up, and fled, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down that road. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way, a Levite, when he arrived at the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion. He went over to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him. When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend.’

Jesus asked the expert in the law, “Which of these three do you think PROVED to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

Jesus shifts the responsibility from the one receiving neighborly goodwill to the one who acts neighborly. He challenges the expert in the law to identify the person who treated his neighbor as himself. He was a Samaritan. An outsider.

The expert in the law replied, “The one who showed mercy to him.”

Then Jesus told him, “Go and do the same.”

Jesus commands us not to make distinctions between who is deserving of mercy and who isn’t. Instead, we are to be agents of mercy. Jesus’ mercy crosses racial barriers, religious divisions, socio-economic borders, political parties, and gender classifications. In Jesus’ interpretation of the law, it is on us to BE the good neighbor, at all times, to all people. Anything else is a perversion of Jesus’ message.


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