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Luke 10:25–37

10 July 2022

Exploring the Scripture

Who is my neighbor? The question is timely and timeless. This parable is one of the most familiar in the Gospels. So familiar, that perhaps we no longer hear the message. Who is the neighbor in this story? What was Jesus trying to help us learn?

The story has four characters: the man who was robbed and beaten, the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan. The notoriously dangerous road from Jerusalem to Jericho is the setting. As the track winds down the mountain, it twists and turns many times. The journey was physically difficult. There were places for robbers to hide every few hundred meters. Those traveling the road did so with fear.

Much has been said about the priest, the Levite, and Jewish purity rules. But Jesus does not mention any of this. No, his point is found elsewhere. While the priest and Levite did have rules about purity—as did all male Jews of the time— exceptions could be made in times of need. An injured man on the roadside surely would be one such time. But they did not stop. Why?

We do not know who the injured man was. Was he a Jew? Maybe. We are not told because the man’s identity is not important to the point of Jesus’ parable. Many people besides Jews and Samaritans traveled the road. He could have been anyone, from any nationality, faith, or ethnicity. All we know is that he was bloodied, lying in the dirt at the roadside, stripped of his clothing.

Consider the perspectives of the priest and the Levite. They are hustling through the bad part of town, trying to reach their destination safely. The road is a known danger zone. They see someone at the roadside. Should they stop? The world can be a dangerous place. How do they know the injured man is not a decoy? How do they know muggers are not hiding nearby, waiting for someone to come along? They pass without helping.

Now to the Samaritan. Samaritans lived in what had been the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Samaria, that kingdom’s capital, sat between Galilee and Judea. The Samaritans were of mixed Jewish and pagan ancestry. Like the Jews, they worshiped Yahweh, but they accepted only the first five books of the Bible. Because of their “imperfect” adherence to Judaism and their partly pagan background, the Samaritans were despised by ordinary Jews. Why was the Samaritan traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho? We do not know. But the Jewish audience would have reviled him.

Imagine the scene with the lawyer and a group standing around Jesus listening to this parable. For them, it would have been unthinkable that the Samaritan stops to help the injured man. Given the way Jesus relates the story, the lawyer who asked, “Who is my neighbor?” has no choice but to respond that it is the Samaritan who showed mercy to the injured man. Imagine how difficult that must have been. A person thought of as worthless and outside the acceptable norm is the one who shows mercy.

What does this mean for us? Being a neighbor is a two-way engagement. We need to be neighbors to others with whom we may not feel “safe” or acceptable. In addition, we need to be willing to receive neighborliness from others who may be outside our group of acceptable persons. How do we receive what others offer? Jesus calls us to be aware of our prejudices and divisions and be capable of ministering to and with all “neighbors.”

Central Ideas

  1. Neighbors are found in unexpected places, among unexpected people.
  2. Being a neighbor involves a willingness to minister with others outside our usual, acceptable group, as well as accepting the ministry of those same people.
  3. Christ-like love is born of compassion; kindness is the true mark of a neighbor.

Questions to Consider

  1. Who needs us as a neighbor? What keeps her or him from being your neighbor?
  2. The world can be a dangerous place. How can we overcome our fear and be a neighbor to those who need us most?
  3. How can we overcome our fear and let those whom we need most (but may not know it) be our neighbors?
  4. How has your congregation shown the way of love and compassion for others?
  5. Who in your community unexpectedly has been a neighbor to others?

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