In Luke chapter 10 verses 25-37, Jesus answers the question posed by a lawyer, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” In which Jesus responds, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” And so the lawyer responds with the two great commandments from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, saying: “‘You shall 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.’” Jesus affirms his answer by saying he is correct, in which the lawyer responds with another question, asking, “And who is my neighbor?”
The lawyer answers Jesus correctly on how to inherit eternal life: to love the LORD your God fully, and to love your neighbor. But as the Bible identifies, the lawyer had ulterior motives: “But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” Why would the lawyer want to justify himself in this situation and ask this question? Jesus provides us with the reason why through His parable, and He addresses the deeper root of the question rather than the lawyers intended purposes. We see Christ’s answer as this:
“A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side.
But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” (Luke 10:30-36)
1) Love God, and love other people
Christ’s parable directly addresses the deeper motive that the lawyer is trying to justify himself for: that there are certain people who are his neighbor and therefore should be loved, and that there are others who are not and therefore do not have to be loved by him. The parable that Jesus uses directly nullifies this frame of thinking, because it demonstrates that even someone who is supposed to be a hated enemy is still your neighbor. The “certain man” that Jesus references that “went down from Jerusalem”--an entirely Jewish city at the time of Christ--could potentially be a Jew himself. The idea can also be entertained that the lawyer who is being answered by Christ is also a Jew. From my perspective, it would make sense, since Christ makes the main protagonist of the parable a Samaritan; of which, Samaritans and Jews held an ancient hatred toward one another.
Since we know the lawyer was trying to justify himself in a certain way within his heart, it makes sense, then, as to how Jesus responds. By using a parable with the Samaritan as the main protagonist--along with a wounded person who is potentially a Jew--Jesus demonstrates that loving your neighbor even means loving your enemies. There isn’t much wiggle room as to what Christ is saying. And we see that this aligns directly with Christ’s other messages as well, in consideration of Matthew 5:44, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
It is easy for us to try and blur the lines as to what God wants, and confuse what He is saying. Of course, there are certain times when things can be difficult to understand and require deeper insight and study, but we must acknowledge the natural tendency we have toward sin. Like the lawyer, the root of our confusion usually stems out of a place motivated by our own intentions. The commandment is straightforward and really not difficult to understand: love God, and love other people. But what we do as sinful beings is twist what God desires, and manipulate it to serve our own purposes. In the lawyer’s case, it meant confusing the term “neighbor” out of a desire to serve his own agenda: to justify himself in his own lack of love towards certain people.
And like the lawyer, we all have justified ourselves like he did at one point or another, or will probably do so in the future. It was common knowledge that Jews and Samaritans were opposed to each other at the time; however, where the priest and the Levite failed--of whom were Jewish--the Samaritan succeeded. It didn’t matter for the Samaritan that the person wounded was potentially an enemy according to the world’s standards. From Christ’s perspective, all of humanity was His enemy in sin, yet He still suffered and gave His life for us out of love. If we are to follow the way of the Cross, then we are called to do the same. A scary and intimidating concept for sure--sometimes even impossible--but what is impossible with man is possible with God (Luke 18:27). Thus, according to the Word, the way to salvation is to love God and to love our neighbor.
2) Compassion moves us to love, and love brings life
Another easy way we might blur the lines on these two simple commandments can be in the word “love.” What is love? Sometimes we may ask ourselves this, looking for a cut-and-dried type of answer. If that is the case, then we’re missing the point. When there is someone you love in your life, do you look for a perfect way of defining them, or putting them in a box in your mind? Is a relationship of love not a living thing; something that you continue to grow in and nurture? Are you able to place a definition on a person, as if they are not growing and learning within themselves? Yes, we have attributes that we can characterize ourselves with, and these things play a role in understanding our identity. But to really know someone and build a relationship, it requires more than simply talking about what defines you--it takes spending time with them and showing compassion to one another.
The Samaritan in the parable was moved by compassion, of which enabled him to help the wounded man in the way that he did--and thus, show love. Without compassion, we are no better than the priest and the Levite, walking by people in need without doing anything. We may think, “Oh, I would never do that if I saw someone hurting on the side of the road!” Yet, this is the norm in the world we live in. We may not ever see people “half-dead” lying on the side of the road like the Samaritan did; but there are still countless people who are just as dead on the inside who need the same compassion. The very words and actions we give to others can create life or destroy it (Proverbs 18:21). When we gossip, insult, or deal harshly with someone else in all kinds of ways, we aren’t being like the priest and the Levite who walked by; rather, we have become the thieves who beat the man in the first place.
To continue, it may not seem like a big deal, but how we treat others defines how we love. Are we constantly talking behind people’s backs, gossiping about this or that--tearing people down when they are not with us? Are we quick to anger and deal harshly with someone when they disagree with us, or when they do something we are not happy about? What kind of words are coming out of your mouth? What we think and do behind closed doors defines who we are. And if we are living a lie trying to hide who we really are, the truth will come to light: “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.” (Luke 8:17). The only words the Samaritan spoke regarding the man he was taking care of were, “Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.” (Luke 10:35). What kind of words do we use when talking about people?
3) No greater love than this
When we consider the parable of the good Samaritan, we are acknowledging what it means to show love to another person. Jesus calls us to obey His command to love one another as He has loved us; live life with a love that is willing to die for another person, even an enemy. A love like this can do powerful things, and it is no wonder that the God who created the cosmos is the ultimate expression of such love. In Jesus Christ, we have the only example that we need: that love is more than a presentation to impress others or make ourselves feel better; it is a movement of compassion that brings life to someone, and demonstrates the goodness of God. That is what love does; it provides a face for the infinite God.
And this love leads us back to the Cross--the ultimate demonstration of love, in that Christ gave His life to save ours even when we didn’t deserve it. “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on them, and to our God, for He will freely pardon.” (Isaiah 55:1-7). God is closer than you think, and His hand is extended. And like the good Samaritan, God is moved with compassion and wants to show us mercy: “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Matthew 9:13). God loves us with a fierce, relentless, and unconditional love--And it's from His love that we can obey: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." (John 13:34).