One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking Him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”
The man answered, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'”
“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”
The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”
Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.
Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’
Now which of these three would you say was a neighbour to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”Luke 10:25-37
I pointed out in the last Gem that “our lawyer” was an expert in the religious law and was doing what the teachers of the law loved to do. They would spend hours discussing a word or a nuance in the Law, each expressing their interpretation. This expert in the law wants to dialogue with Jesus on who obtains eternal life. When Jesus asks him what he thinks eternal life is all about, the lawyer couches it in terms of obeying (doing) the law. He repeats the First and Second Commandment as a summary of the Law and the Prophets. So Jesus picks up on his statement and emphasizes the “do” that the expert in the Law gives prominence. At this point the man seeks to justify himself. Clearly he is not really intent on finding out how to inherit eternal life. He is more interested in justifying himself. So he asks Jesus in typical fashion for these kinds of people, “Who is my neighbour?”
The whole point to the following story and therefore the answer to the man’s question which hinges on the definition of “neighbour”. The word used in the text here is the Greek word [plesion]. The normal word these “lawyers” would use is [perioikos] the ones around the house. Those surrounding your house; our normal sense of neighbour. The experts in the Jewish law used this latter term in the sense of those from the same group as you. People group, local community, religious affiliation or cultural grouping. But the word from the Old Testament the lawyer quotes is the word [plesion]. The meaning of this word is “the one close at hand”. Literally the “at your elbow one“. The one next to you.
When asked “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus told him a story. Is it a coincidence that the story was a story of a good Samaritan man? So often we read the story of the Good Samaritan (which we call a parable) totally unconnected to its context. But notice first of all that it is directly connected with the discussion with the expert in the Law. Note also it is chronologically and geographically connected with what has gone before it in the preceeding pericopes. Jesus and the disciples were heading through Samaria. The Samaritans refused to receive them and the disciples wanted to call down fire on their heads. I have told you I am not sure if they continued on through Samaria or turned north and followed the more usual route along the northern border. I suspect they may have turned North if indeed Luke’s chronological sequence for this encounter with the expert in the law is correctly placed. I don’t see that it would be likely that an expert in the Torah (the Law) would dare to enter Samaria. But that is not a problem to the veracity of this Lukan linkage because if it didn’t actually happen in the order that Luke records here you can bet he is placing it here to make the point even stronger.
I am now going to infuriate some of you and leave you again to do some thinking and put it all together. I have left you with the building blocks. Now it is time for you to draw the threads together and draw your own conclusions. I am sure I don’t have to hold your hand and make the points for you. But I will sum it up in the next Gem when we look at the details of the story of the Good Samaritan.
When strangers start acting like neighbours communities are reinvigorated.Ralph Nader
Hedges between keep friendships green.Old English Proverb
My neighbour asked if he could use my lawnmower and I told him of course he could so long as he didn’t take it out of my garden.Eric Morcambe
The Bible tells us to love our neighbours and also to love our enemies: probably because generally they are the same people.G K Chesterton
Loving the whole world is easier than loving your neighbour.Anon