Summary: If I asked you, “What was a distinguish mark to a Christian?” Jesus shows us that real believers are distinguished not by a drink, or their clothing, or even their speech, but their actions toward others.
Won’t You Be Our Neighbor? is a series designed to introduce our fall focus of connecting with the people closest around you. Throughout all of our Bible Fellowship Groups, you’ll be hearing about this follow-up over the next weeks to come. We are asking many of you to read The Art of Neighboring as we progress through the series. This is a light read that you can move through in a matter of a couple of hours. In fact, one of the simplest pieces is this tool: where you are asked to identify the names of your 8 closest neighbors. As we have been preparing for this day, our staff called this “the chart of shame.”
Today, we are looking at an amazing passage. A lawyer tries to trap Jesus. This is an expert in religious law where we think of a lawyer as someone who is an expert in civil law. As Jesus answers the man’s challenge, Jesus gives us one of the most stirring and inspiring stories on mercy in the history of humankind.
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37)
The Historical Setting
There are at least six major characters to Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan. You have the thieves, the unnamed man who is robbed, and you have three people passing by the crime scene – the Levite, the priest, and a man from the country of Samaria. Everything in this famous story is centered around the lawyer’s first question in verse twenty-five: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Now, the road to Jericho was steep and dangerous. The road was so dangerous that it was called “the bloody way.” It was a perfect place for robbers. Jerusalem rests at three thousand feet above sea level where Jericho sits at one thousand feet below sea level. This four thousand foot is spread over just seventeen miles between the two cities. Think of it… in just seventeen miles the road drops approximately eighty percent of one mile in altitude. This road would be filled with switchbacks. The road provided great cover for thieves to conceal themselves to quickly strike and escape.
Jesus’ message at one level is really simple and nearly everyone would agree with Him – if you see something, do something. But there’s more than one layer here.
Overview of the Passage
The lawyer asks Jesus a question in verse twenty-five: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” In Jesus’ day, a lawyer was to be an expert in God’s law, or someone we would call a Bible scholar. This Bible scholar wants to challenge Jesus' views on the law. Jesus responds with a question in verse twenty-six: “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” Jesus agrees with his summary of the commandments in verse twenty-eight (see also Matthew 27:37-40). The lawyer follows up by asking another question in verse twenty-nine: “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus then tells us the memorable Good Samaritan parable, only to ask the lawyer a question in verse thirty-six: “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” Notice the man will not even say “Samaritan,” possibly because of his hatred for this race in verse thirty-six, he simply says, “The one who showed him mercy.” For the second time, Jesus offers the command: “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).