The Lord Jesus has just thanked His Father for hiding the truths about the kingdom of God from the “wise and learned” and revealing them to “children” (v. 21). Luke records a parable of Jesus to illustrate this point.
An expert on the law, trying to trap Jesus, asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 25). Jesus affirms the expert’s understanding of what is required: to love both God (Deuteronomy 6:5) and one’s neighbour (Leviticus 19:18). He tells the expert, “Do this and you will live” (v. 28). Aware that he cannot fulfil the law’s demand, the scribe tries to justify the lack of love for his neighbour by asking, “Who is my neighbour?” The Lord Jesus then tells a story about a man who made the 28-kilometre journey downhill from Jerusalem to Jericho, a road notorious for robbers. He was beaten and left for dead. A priest and a Levite, who knew that the law required them to care for the poor and oppressed, ignored the man.
Why did they keep on walking? Did they fear ritual contamination, or the return of the thieves? Jesus doesn’t tell us. He simply says that they walked by on the other side. In another parable, the Lord sternly condemned such behaviour: “I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was . . . naked and you did not clothe Me” (Matthew 25:42–43 NKJV). To this He could have added, “[I was] lying beaten by the side of the road and you walked on by”.
Then along came a Samaritan, despised by Jews for being a halfcaste and spiritually compromised. Yet, while Jewish teachers hardened their hearts, this man demonstrated God-like compassion. This is what made the story so shocking for the original hearers: that the one who understood and grasped the intent of the law, and expressed his love for God through love for his neighbour, was the outcast. Note the thematic link to Jesus’ earlier words, “not the wise and learned but the child”.
Under both the old covenant and the new, faith in and love for the God who has saved us is expressed through performing deeds of love. “What must I do?” asked the man. “Imitate the one who did mercy,” Jesus said to him. To all of us Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.” This is the revealed truth of God.
What are some of the “games” we play to justify ourselves so that we don’t have to express costly love?
Who is your neighbour? What can you do today to express love to someone, especially someone outside your circle of friends?