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 10:29-37
The story of the Good Samaritan is very interesting in terms of the contrasts in it and how the contrasts move in opposite directions. The Jewish priest and the Levite are cut from the same uncaring mould and both seek to avoid the beaten man despite the fact he is a fellow Jew. Both are men familiar with the Law but refuse to DO it. They seem to value their separateness. The description of them is entirely negative and they are depicted as being decidedly un-neighbourly.
The Samaritan, on the other hand, comes out of the story with a glowing report and looks like the Saint of Good Neighbourliness. The contrasts are enormous. You saw them listed for you yesterday in the escalating list of what this SAMARITAN man was prepared to DO for a JEWISH victim of violence and robbery. It wasn’t just a fleeting involvement. His involvement was ongoing to the point of truly ministering to the man’s need. He stayed with him that night. He provided food and clothing for him. Sacrificed his own comforts for the JEW. Put him on his own riding donkey and walked. This inferred he had other donkey(s) but they were being used for goods. He gave the innkeeper enough money to cover this victim for almost a month. That is impressive in anyone’s terms. Wow, generosity personified. But it doesn’t stop there. He basically gives the innkeeper a blank cheque. (Yes I know they didn’t have cheques back then; its just a way of putting it.) He says, “Keep taking care of him, do whatever is necessary for him and I will cover it when I come back.”
But there is more to focus on yet. Imagine the disciples looking on during this encounter with the expert of the Law and responding to what Jesus is saying to him. In the most recent encounter with Samaritans, they, the Samaritans, didn’t come out with such a good report. You could imagine the disciples saying to Jesus, “Lord, why are you praising the Samaritans for good neighbourliness? Look what they just did to you. They refused to let you stay and asked you to leave town.” So they are not worthy of the ‘Good Neighbour Of the Year’ award, anymore than us Jews are. Why are you so unfair Lord?”
Notice that Jesus didn’t actually answer the Law expert’s question. He asked, “Who is my neighbour?” Yes, he asked it because he wanted a definition of neighbour. But he couches it in terms of ‘my neighbour’. Who is a neighbour to me? Jesus question was,”Who was a neighbour to the man?” Do you see the direction is entirely different? A subtle change but with huge implications. Do I look for a person to be a neighbour to me and to meet my needs and desires for neighbourliness or do I consider how I might be a good neighbour for somebody else? It all depends on the perspective, doesn’t it?
Disciples, don’t quibble about who started this with the Samaritans, you just concentrate on ending it with love. Love them out of their reactive responses given the centuries of Jewish domination and spite. You be the ones to offer the olive branch of good neighbourliness. Look for ways you can start the process. Change your perspective. If you want to find a good neighbour, go be a good neighbour! Who could resist being a good neighbour to the Samaritan man in the story if he is going to do that?
Over the years I have had numbers of neighbours where we had relationships like I had with John, the fellow in the JW story I told you about in Gem 939. To the extent that we had a gate in the side fence so we could easily go back and forth. I have had good relationships with most of my neighbours all my life. With many of them I would cut their front lawn at the same time I cut my own. On occasions venturing in to their backyard as well and doing it all for them. Don’t wait to find a good neighbour, go and be one. Take your example from this Samaritan man who Jesus talked about in His story. This is a story, not a parable. There is debate about whether it actually happened or is created to exemplify good neighbourliness. It matters not. What does matter is that you go and do likewise.
Which one of these three showed mercy? He has three choices, two of whom are Jewish and one of whom is a Samaritan. The answer is not in doubt is it? This is not a close contest. When you weigh up the actions of all three, there is only one choice that can be made. Notice how the expert in the Law answered the question. He does not say, “The Samaritan.” That would be hard to take for both speaker and hearers alike. To confess that the Samaritan man won the contest. How humiliating to have to confess that a Samaritan was the better neighbour to a Jew than the fine upstanding Jewish contestants who took part in the contest and lost. But he is honest enough to tell it like it is. He answers, “The one who showed mercy.” There are many who think this was a circumlocution to wriggle out of saying, “The Samaritan”. I am not so sure. His first question posed to Jesus was, “What must I do?” He felt the acquisition of eternal life was based on DOING something. I think he now realized it was BEING something. Being merciful. Being kind. Being loving. Being caring. Being a good neighbour.
Jesus then responds and says, “Go and DO likewise.” You want to know what to DO to inherit eternal life, then go DO mercy. Be merciful. The verb indicates habitual practice. Make a habit of being like this Samaritan in the story. Go the extra mile to help a neighbour. Make it a life long action. Go and be a good neighbour to someone else and don’t wait until they show good neighbourliness to you. You be the first. Do it to anybody, Hebrew or Samaritan. Just do it.
A recipe for having friends: Be one.Anon
Many people are good in starting a friendship, very few are great in maintaining it.Alvi Radjagukguk
Be the stronger neighbour; you say sorry first.Ian Vail
If someone takes your coat, give him your cloak as well. If he makes you go a mile with him, go with him two.Matthew
There are no traffic jams in the second mile.Anon
The greatest of all mistakes is to do nothing because you can only do a little – do what you can.Sydney Smith