Summary: “And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25)
This parable is well known and popular among many people even among those with no access to a Bible. The background to this parable was an attempt by the Jewish religious leaders to counter the authority of Christ and assert their own authority. This, however, was impossible as Jesus always confirmed His authority with many supernatural signs and miracles. These signs confirming His authority were not enough to prevent them from trying and they continued to use every opportunity to oppose and discredit Him. In today’s Gospel reading it was the turn of a lawyer to test Him by getting Him to contradict the Law of Moses. What the lawyer knew was that the Law was given by God through His servant Moses. What he did not know was that Jesus was God and the Lawgiver. The lawyer belonged to a privileged group among the Jews who were credited with the study of the Law and entrusted with teaching and enforcing it. He was therefore confident that he could trap Jesus and discredit Him by questioning His understanding of the Law. The lawyer asked two important questions that should also be of interest to each one of us.
The first question the lawyer asked was “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, knew the answer but also knew the motive behind the question. His motive was to use the Law to discredit Jesus but as a good teacher Jesus allowed him to use the Law to bring him to the truth. Since he boasted to be well tutored in the Law of Moses Jesus asked him what the Law said about the matter. The Lawyer quoted the Law and 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 neighbour as yourself.” Jesus Himself summarised the Law this way, the first five referring to loving God and the last five to loving your neighbour. He said on these two hang the whole Law. The Lord therefore commended him for his answer. The Lord however knew the condition of his heart which was filled with pride and self-righteousness and simply told him to go and put into daily practice the demands of the Law and live.
Jesus is the truth. He is the light of the world. In the presence of the light no truth can stay hidden. If before he had believed he could keep the Law he could now see the truth. He saw the truth where it was most obvious, his love for his neighbour. He had accepted the prevailing teaching of the Rabbis that to love your neighbour applied to friends and not to enemies. How could a sinful man even think he could keep a holy and perfect Law? According to Jesus Christ whoever is angry with his brother or insults him has broken the Law and to compound matters to break one Law was to break the whole Law. Who then, apart from Christ, can keep the Law when “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”? In the presence of Christ, the lawyer realised the truth about loving his neighbour and tried to justify himself by asking “who is my neighbour?”
To answer the lawyer’s second question Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan. In this story, a Jewish traveller on the way to Jericho from Jerusalem was robbed, beaten, stripped of his clothes and left bleeding to die. The first person to appear on the scene was a priest. A person whose duty was to minister and offer sacrifices in the Temple. He showed no concern whatever and walked by on the other side. This clearly showed he had no love for God or for his neighbour. The hearers of the parable must have been shocked to hear this. If a priest could not keep the Law then who could? The response of the second person, a Levite, who served in the Temple with the priest was the same. He also showed by his response to the plight of the wounded man that he neither loved God or his neighbour. If these two Jewish men who worked in the Temple and seen to be close to God could not keep the Law then who could? Then totally unexpected Jesus revealed the identity of the third man to pass by, this time not a Jew but a Samaritan. This must have come as a shock to His hearers because of the way they hated and treated the Samaritans. The man the Jews despised and hated behaved in a way that put every Jew and everyone else to shame. The man no Jew would even talk to, stopped when he saw the wounded man and took care of him. He dressed his wounds, probably using his own clothes to make bandages, used his food ration of wine and oil as medication to treat his wounds, put him on his donkey and brought him to an inn. He stayed the whole night with him and the next day paid the innkeeper 2 denarii for his upkeep promising to pay whatever extra expenses he would make on his return. The Samaritan did something extraordinary. He went out of his way and did something that no man would be willing to do.