But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’
In reply Jesus said: ‘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 priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came to 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 neighbour 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.’
Up to now we have considered the introduction to the parable, the verses that set the scene and that reveal why Jesus told this parable. Today we begin to examine the parable itself.
I once read a very detailed commentary on this parable, and the writer tried to argue that the man who was attacked had put himself in danger. It was argued that there was a clue in the word ‘down’ and that he was going away from God’s presence, represented by Jerusalem, the city with the temple, and that he was tempted by worldly things, represented by Jericho. And so he was in rebellion and out of the protection of the Lord.
First, I do not believe god works that way. He is a Father to us, and if we are out of the normal range of protection, he comes looking for us to bring us back to safety. There is also the parable of the good shepherd who leaves the 99 to retrieve the one, and this reveals the true nature of the Lord who cares for His children.
Second, that whole premise is surely not the reason Jesus told this parable. It is even a premise that is out of context with the passage as a whole – and I am always wary of ideas that are out of context.
This false interpretation, I feel, is the result of the wonderful nature of scripture which sometimes enables God to speak to us personally. He can give us a sudden inspirational thought when we read a scripture that we have maybe read a thousand times before. But often those thoughts are not in keeping with the context and are just a way for the Lord to speak with you personally. This is not the kind of thing on which doctrine can be based, and often, I feel, is not really even for public consumption.
One can read too much into scriptures sometimes. Watchman Nee made the example of what might happen if a typical letter of today survived a thousand years or more, and how it may be read if it was now considered to be scripture.
Well, we begin our letters these days with saying ‘Dear ……’ So maybe the religious commentary on the letter would take note of this. There would be comments about how the writer really loved the person he was writing to. How the things in the letter, therefore, must come from a heart of love and concern for the person being written to.
How ridiculous this becomes when we know, today, that we would begin the letter in the same way if we were writing to our enemy, or our boss, or even when leaving a note for the postman.
I believe I have spoken before about having a text taken out of context and then used as a pretext for false doctrine – and these kinds of over-detailed studies of scripture can tweak out meanings and interpretations that can be far from the original intentions of the writer or the historical persons spoken about.
The main point is that Jesus was just setting the scene that would test the behaviour of the three main other characters of his story. And so this first man is attacked, robbed, left naked, beaten, and half-dead. And so if ever there was a person who needed the help of another then this was it.
The challenge that is set before us is to consider the types of people that passed by the man and who did not help.
I think that Jesus was making the point here that literalism was taking people away from what God wanted with regard to the second love commandment. If you remember, last time I explained that it could be understood from the context of the original quotation from Leviticus that the love of your neighbour referred only to those within the covenant of Judaism. And those who particularly represented the religious aspects of Judaism were the Levites. And from the Levites were the priests. So, it could be said that two Levites passed by the man.
You may also remember from the previous study that there could be two different reasons for the question, a positive and a negative one. And if the expert in the law was using the negative reason for asking the question – to try to catch Jesus out, one can see the reason for Jesus choosing to be a bit negative about Levites. Because, among other things, it was quite likely that this expert in the law was himself a Levite, and one appointed to be a scribe. Being over-literal on the Leviticus text could even tempt a person to only consider those of his own tribe to be a neighbour.
So whether or not Jesus was making a particular point against the expert in the law, he certainly seems to have indicated two Levites passing by the man, one of whom was a priest.
But it goes to show what Jesus had already taught elsewhere, and something he had a constant battle with through his life – that religious people proved that they were religious and not of true faith by how badly they treat other people. By how lacking in love and care. By wanting to appear ‘respectable’ and by seeking approval of men rather than of God.
This is also true in the present day, because certainly we have religious leaders wanting to be seen with prominent politicians, presidential candidates, and being willing to be seen to support the most awful policies. Policies that help the rich to be richer while making the poor poorer, and by abandoning support for the most vulnerable and helpless members of society. They bring shame on the name of Christ by ignoring Christ’s values of love and care and help.
It is love put into practice – practical love to open people’s hearts to a practical and real gospel. The gospel and evangelism are left powerless without love.
Jesus continually spoke of a practical love, practised in your life every day and for the benefit of all – including your enemies. Our Christian walk is not just ‘pie in the sky, by and by.’ It is a practical demonstration of the life and love of Jesus to the world, so that they may know who he is, and that they will know the meaning of true and real love.
So you can be born into the preacher’s family, and not be able to demonstrate simple love and care for someone who needs it. You can be the preacher himself, and surely you would help? Well not the one in this story…
And this is what happens when your religion is only about what you believe and the rules you should follow, and is not what it should be: a relationship with the Father who loves us and who through us will reveal His love to the world.
Let us all begin to reveal that love now!