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Who is my neighbor?

About 2,000 years ago an excellent lawyer, who was likely a professor of Jewish law (the Torah), came and tested Jesus.  In seven sections, this will be an exhaustive examination of the Parable of the Good Samarian and ‘who is our neighbor.’  So, Jesus was traveling from Bethsaida and north of the Sea of Galilee, through Galilee and Samaria into Judea and to Jerusalem, where just days earlier He had told he disciples how at Jerusalem He would “suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and teachers, and be killed and on the third day be raised to life (Luke 9:22).”

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So the lawyer asked Jesus, who he only saw as a teacher and prophet, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life (Luke 10:25)?” This is the most important question our soul can ask concerning our self.  Many others, with true sincerity, would soon ask that question to Peter in Jerusalem (Acts 2:37).  However, to the theologian counselor, Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law; how do you read it (Luke 10:26)?”

And the lawyer answered, “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27).” The brilliant lawyer was quoting what he had learn from the law through Moses in the scroll or book of Leviticus (19:18) and Deuteronomy (6:5).   To which the Lord Jesus replied (Luke 10:28), “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live (eternally).”

Yet, the lawyer wanted to justify himself, so he also asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor (Luke 10:29)?”  And perhaps because of the lawyer’s prideful heart – that he honored the Lord with his lips, but his heart was far from Him (Matt. 15:8); and for those that would learn the story in the future, Christ answered in a parable.  Jesus said:

Parable of the Good Samaritan

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers.  They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A (Jewish) priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.   And also, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.  Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’  Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?  The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’  Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise (Luke 10:31-37)’.”

Brief Commentary on previous Verses

Just days earlier recall Jesus told His disciples of His death soon to come.  But immediately after He told them that He would be killed and rise on the third day; the Lord Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be My disciple (follower) must deny themselves and take up their cross DAILY and follow me.  Whoever wants to save (hold on selfishly to) their life will lose it, but whoever loses (gives) their (temporary) life for Me (My namesake/work; Matt. 5:11) will save it (eternally)… whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when He (Lord Jesus Christ – Son of God) comes in His glory… with the holy angels (Luke 9:23-; Rev. 14:14-; Matt. 24:30; Jude 14).”

Thus the apostle Peter said, “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed; for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you… If you suffer if should not be as …a criminal or even as a troublemaker or gossiper.  However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name; for it is time for judgment to begin with the family/house of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel (words; commands) of God?  ‘If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner’ (1Pet. 4:18)?”  So these things must also be considered when examining the parable.

Examination of the Parable of the Good Samaritan
  1. A man’: Jesus does not identify the race, color or class of this ‘man’ who was attacked and nearly killed. In this manner, Christ shows us as always that the Lord God, “Lord of lords and Almighty God… shows no partiality (Deut. 10:17).” And following Christ, the apostle Paul said, “the gospel is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes… the Jew and …the Gentile… for there is no partiality (no arbitrary favoritism; no respect of persons) with God (Rom. 1:16; 2:11).”  Thus Peter said, “God shows no partiality, but welcomes all who fear Him and do what is right… (Acts 10:34-35).”  However, because of the location, the man was most likely a Jew of Judea.

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  1. Traveling ‘down from Jerusalem to Jericho’: Jesus knows this road, and at the time was traveling from the Galilee region, through Samaria to Jerusalem by way of Jericho. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was known to be dangerous.  Jerusalem is more than 2,400 feet above the Dead Sea (Earth’s lowest elevation; level has dropped 130’ since 1950) and Jericho about 850 feet below sea-level (maybe the oldest and lowest city in the world); thus travels do go ‘down’ there from the mountains.  First century Jewish historian Josephus informed us that the road was approximately 150 Roman stadiaoi (1,800 miles).  Many parts of the long road were narrow and provided places for ambush from the rocks.  St. Jerome called the road, ‘the Red’ or ‘Bloody Way.’   Dr. Lockyer said “this untenanted (vacant) part of the wilderness” was called “Adummim (Joshua 15:7) or The Pass of Blood.”  Even in the 1800s local Sheiks gave safe passage on parts of the road for a fee.
  1. He was attacked by robbers, stripped, beaten and left for dead or half-dead: Albert Barnes in his Notes on the New Testament: Luke (Barnes Notes 1884), concerning this stated, he “fell among ‘robbers;’ the word ‘thieves’ means those who merely take ‘property.’ These were highwaymen and not merely took the property, but endangered the life… At this time… Judea abounded with robbers. Josephus says that at one time Herod the Great dismissed 40,000 men who had employed in building the temple, a large part of whom became highwaymen (Josephus ‘Antiquities of the Jews,’ XV. 7).”   Barnes added, “Every circumstance in this parable was full of significance to those who heard it.  The Savior delivered it near Bethany, on the border of the frightful desert.  Jericho was a sacerdotal (priestly) city.  The passing of priests and Levites between that place and Jerusalem was an everyday occurrence…”
  1. The Priest: This Jewish Priest ‘when he saw the man, passed by the other side’ of the road; for several reasons. According to Barnes and Lockyer, there were more than 12,000 priests and Levites in Jericho that that time. Now the priest knew the man was dead or beaten and bloody to the point of near death, and in either case the Law of Moses stated, “A priest must not defile himself and make himself unclean for a dead person among his people, except for a close relative… (Lev. 21:1-).”  Also a priest could not touch “a discharge of bodily fluids” without becoming “unclean (Lev. 15:2: Hag. 2:13).”

The priest would have to “wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening (Lev. 15:7).”  And if he put the wounded man on his mount, the “saddle… with the discharge of the rider becomes unclean… (Lev. 15:9).”  Thus, it was an inconvenience to the priest; whereas if he became unclean the priest could not enter the Temple or perform his duties until he became clean again.  To the priest, this wounded Jew was neither his relative, nor his neighbor; and for sure was not worth a very little sacrifice on his part.  Some commentaries state that the priest could have feared that the robbers would do the same to him; and that robbers could be lying in wait – whether or not using the man as bait.

  1. The Levite also passed by on the other side: Lockyer says, “The Levite was of the same tribe as the Pharisee (priest), but of one of the inferior branches.  He was a servant of the Temple and as a minister of religious worship and an interpreter of the Law should have been eager to assist the distressed soul.”  The priests were of the tribe of Aaron, but Levites were of all other descendants of Levi (Num. 8:19), and were common in Judah and were servants or assistants in Temple duties.  They were musicians, gate keepers, guardians, craftsmen, tithe collectors, prepared the offerings and performed other duties (2 Chron. 31).

The Levites were also experts in the Law, and would have known both of the requirements concerning uncleanness; and to ‘love your neighbor’ and care for the stranger.  Many of the prophets, such as Samuel, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah were Levites.  Chabad.org notes, “Originally, the firstborn sons were to be the priests… to serve in the Tabernacle” which was to be built; but “after the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, the Jewish people made and worshipped a golden calf… The only tribe that did not participate in this shameful act was the tribe of Levi.  At this time, the firstborn lost their special status, and it was transferred to the Levites (Exodus chapters 12 & 32; Numbers 8).”

Jesus, by using a Levite in this parable, shows the accountability of a Jew that knew the law, and a commoner among Jews that should have been a neighbor to his fellow Jew.  Yet Martin Luther King, Jr. suggested that both the priest and Levite asked themselves, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?”

  1. The Samaritan: The Samaritan was ‘traveling,’ so he too can be assumed to have had the same desire or urgency to get where he was going as the priest or Levite. Likewise, the Samaritan had the same reasonable suspension that he could be attacked if he went to aid the injured man.  But Christ said this one who passed by ‘took pity,’ and had compassion.   The Levite prophet Jeremiah said in Lamentations, that one time (and even the Temple mount today) “Jerusalem fell into enemy hands… and there was none to comfort her…” So the prophet asked, “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?  Look around and see… the suffering (Lam. 1:7,12).”

But ironically the Jews did not care for this one’s suffering, one who was likely their own countrymen; but the Samaritan who the Jews counted as ungodly dogs obeyed the Levite Law-giver Moses and had compassion, one could say he ‘loved his neighbor.’ In the past as Tertullian notes, the Samarians revolted against the Jews of Judah and carried with them many from the disaffected nine tribes (Israel: 12 tribes).

So the Samaritan invested his time, emotions, money and other resources into caring for this injured stranger of another country which was often at odds with the homeland of the Samaritan.  Not only did the Samaritan invest and do these things to care for this stranger; but he (who maybe was of enough position or wealth) was able to have credit with the inn keeper to say, ‘whatever it cost beyond that’ money I gave you, ‘I will repay.’  He did not give only a moment’s care and quick non-sacrificing gift of a denarii/dollar to the injured stranger in such a loss state, but he gave much that day and offered more for the future.  He did not consider the possible permanent unclean stain on his transportation – his saddle and animal (compare to one’s automobile’s seats); but considered the live of a soul more important.

  1. ‘Look after him… I will return’: This statement and or command required the one now compensated to care for the injured stranger and warned that the Payer of the compensation would return the check on his investment.  This is reminiscent of another lesson – the Parable of Talents (Matt. 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-28) where Jesus spoke of the Master (the Lord) entrusting His property (the world and people thereof) to His laborers (‘the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few’) and after giving various talents to the laborers returned sometime later to reward and punish those compensated servants based on their service and actions.  And as the Scriptures say, “each of us will give an account of ourselves to the Lord God… (Rom.14:12; Eccl. 12:14; Dan. 12:2; Gen. 4:7; John 5:29 – “those who have done what is good will rise to eternal life; and those who have done what is evil will rise to condemnation.”)” Who “will repay each person according to their works (Rom. 2:6).”
Symbols and Allegory as well as Truth

Some early church fathers (Clement, Origen, Ambrose, Chrysostom, etc.) and Eastern Orthodox teachers teach the parable in great part as only an allegory (parable; story or folktale with symbolism).  And it of course does have much symbolism and offers metaphors; but the truth goes far beyond allegory.  Some of these compare ‘the bandages, oil, and wine’ to the garment of baptism (as Augustine taught of the ‘oil and wine’); others added that the oil represented the Holy Spirit and the wine the Blood of Christ for salvation.  Some compared the priest to the Law of Moses; the Levite to the prophets and the Samaritan to Christ; and his promised return as Jesus’ promised Second Coming.

Some compared the injured man to Adam, Jerusalem to paradise and Jericho to the world – this is to far reaching.  Some also compared the Inn is the Church, and the inn keeper and the head of the Church.  Though allegorical teaching was used and taught throughout Christendom and through the centuries; Calvin and others felt many went beyond the pure truth and message.  John Calvin stated that the parable displayed “…compassion, which an enemy showed to a Jew, demonstrating that the guidance and teaching of nature are sufficient to show that man was created for the sake of man.  Hence it is inferred that there is a mutual obligation between all men.”

In Charles Spurgeon’s (1834-1892) sermon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle on ‘The Good Samaritan,’ he offers several observations.  “1. Our first observation will be that the World is very full of affliction… 2. Secondly, there are many who never relieve affliction… (even when some are) bound by their profession to have helped… 3. The Samaritan is a model for those who do help the afflicted… 4. We have a higher model than even the Samaritan – our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Thus, Paul says, “imitate me (follow my example), as I follow the example of Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).”

WHO IS OUR NEIGHBOR?

Jesus asked, “’Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man…’  The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’  Jesus replied, ‘Go and do likewise.”  ‘Go and sin no more (John 10:11);’ ‘go and make disciples (Matt. 28:19);’ and so ‘go and do’ the will of God and obey His commands.  “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind (Eccl. 12:13).”   And here Christ says learn from this lesson and go and do likewise.

Barnes says, Jesus ‘compelled him’ (the Hebrew scholar, the expert in the law and all of us who hear this parable) “to acknowledge that a Samaritan – of a race most hated of all people by the Jews – had shown the kindness of neighbor, while a ‘priest’ and a ‘Levite’ had denied it ‘to their own countrymen’.”

Before continuing, note there are several words for love in the Hebrew and Greek; the requirement is not a love given between spouses – and intimate love that is associated with marriage; it is a reasonable brotherly, friendly and neighborly love.  John instructed us, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters (1 John 3:16).”  Here he was speaking of those in the body of Christ (the Church).  But John said in the next chapter, “God is love; yet, whoever does not love does not know God (1 John 4:8).”  A soldier lays down his live not only for his fellow soldier, but also for his countrymen; but not only for his countrymen, but for the cause of a better world – of freedom, peace and justice – and for all those strangers allied to his country, protected by his country and that would join his country.  Jesus does not allow any compromise; our fellow human beings – including lost souls and strangers – are our neighbors.

The Scriptures in many places remind us, “do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner or stranger; for you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt (Exo. 22:21).”  Or “remember that you were once separated from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world… you are no longer strangers… but members of the household of God (Eph. 2:12,19).”  Remember the heroes of faith, who “all died in faith… as strangers and exiles on the earth (Heb. 11:13).”

John Wesley adds, “Let us renounce that bigotry and party zeal which would contract our hearts into an insensibility for all the human race, but a small number whose sentiments and practices are so much our own, that our love to them is but self love reflected. With an honest openness of mind let us always remember that kindred between man and man, and cultivate that happy instinct whereby, in the original constitution of our nature, God has strongly bound us to each other.”

More over Paul tells us, “Carry (bear) one another’s burdens and so fulfill the Law of Christ (Gal. 6:2).”  In that same letter he says, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free men, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28).”  Paul is not changing the obvious and thinks that he spoke specifically to men or women; but he is telling us all that when it comes to our salvation and our relationship with the Lord God and Jesus Christ, then there is no partiality.

We all have a free-will (Heb. 10:26), He desires for all of us to be saved (2 Peter 3:9), and He requires that all of us love God with all that we are and have – soul, spirit and body; and that we ‘love our neighbor as ourselves;’ that is – as we should love ourselves desiring and enduring to the end (Matt. 10:22) for our salvation.   As Christ said, “a disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master… Confess Me before men and I will also confess you before My Father in heaven; but whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before the Father who is in heaven (Matt.10:24,32-33).”  What does the Lord your God REQUIRE of you (see Deut. 10:12 and Micah 6:8)?  It would do us all well to often ask what Jesus did, ‘what is written in the Law?’  No less than these two commandments recorded by Luke (10:27).

Who is our neighbor?  Some look as far as next door or their community; and others perhaps as far as their fellow members of their church, synagogue or mosque.  But how did the Lord Jesus look?  He ‘saw the crowds and had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matt.9:36).”  The nature of God is “if anyone compels you to go a mile; go with them two (Matt. 5:41).”  Jesus’ nature is that He “gives light to everyone (John 1:9);” thus He says to us, “These things I command you, so that you will love one another (John 15:17).”

Clement of Alexandria in his letter, Who is the Rich Man that shall be saved, says, “In both the commandments, He (Jesus) introduces love; but in order distinguishes it.  And in the one He assigns to God the first part of love, and allots the second to our neighbor.  Who else can it be but the Savior Himself?”  Only in the sense of the following:

Matthew 25:34-40:

“…The King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’  The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’.”

Let us hear James (2:8-9)

“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.  But if you show partially, you are committing sin…”

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