The lawyer who asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life in Luke 10.25 knew the commandments well enough. But when he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” we are told that he was “wanting to justify himself” (v. 29). It revealed the man’s self-righteous character, as well as his desire to test Christ.
The prevailing opinion among scribes and Pharisees was that one’s neighbors were the righteous alone. According to them, the wicked—including rank sinners (such as tax collectors and prostitutes), Gentiles, and especially Samaritans—were to be hated because they were the enemies of God. They cited Psalm 139.21, 22 to justify their position. As that passage suggests, hatred of evil is the natural corollary of loving righteousness. But the truly righteous person’s “hatred” for sinners is not a malevolent enmity.
It is a righteous abhorrence of all that is base and corrupt—not a spiteful, personal loathing of individuals. Godly hatred is marked by a brokenhearted grieving over the condition of the sinner. And as Jesus taught here and elsewhere (6.27–36; Matt. 5.44–48), it is also tempered by a genuine love. The Pharisees had elevated hostility toward the wicked to the status of a virtue, in effect nullifying the second Great Commandment. Jesus’ answer to this lawyer demolished the Pharisaical excuse for hating one’s enemies.
Contrasting the Levite, a religious person who assisted the priests in the work of the temple, with a despised Samaritan, who rescued the wounded person, Jesus reversed the lawyer’s original question (v. 29). The lawyer assumed it was up to others to prove themselves neighbor to him. Jesus’ reply makes it clear that each has a responsibility to be a neighbor—especially to those who are in need.