Of all his qualities, master teacher is one of Jesus’ most remarkable. But more than what he taught us, it was how Jesus communicated truth that made him the greatest teacher. When questioned by religious leaders (Luke 10: 25), rather than answering them directly, Jesus responded with queries of his own (v. 26). Additionally, he used short stories to clearly illustrate important principles. Through the parable of The Good Samaritan (vv. 30-37), let’s consider the following question: And who is my neighbor (v. 29)?
THE HYPOCRISY OF RELIGIOUS PEOPLE
Recorded in Luke 10: 30, a Jewish man was badly beaten and left to die on the side of the road. And rather than taking care of him, a priest and Levite ignored the wounded man (vv. 31-32). Whereas the priest crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by (v. 31), the Levite walked over and looked at him… but he also passed by on the other side (v. 32). Perhaps what is most damning about these verses is the hypocrisy of religious people. Seemingly satisfied with superficially talking about love as a conceptual ideal, they often fail to demonstrate the love of God. As depicted in the parable, religious people literally walk away from their brothers and sisters who desperately need their assistance.
In looking closer, these verses also show the intentionality of hypocritical behavior. Despite the man’s vulnerable condition, the priest and Levite deliberately overlooked him and continued on their way. Even today, how often do we respond in a similar fashion? How often do we avoid helping those who are homeless and hungry? How often do we attempt to justify our inaction by saying they will likely use our money to maintain their presumed addictions? Although we momentarily pause to acknowledge the plight of those who are without, we quickly move on because attending to their needs would be too inconvenient.
THE COMPASSION OF THE SAMARITAN
Although religious men ignored someone who was injured and hurting, a despised Samaritan (v. 33) responded appropriately. Have you considered why he is referred to as the Good Samaritan? Why isn’t he known as simply the Samaritan? While one plausible explanation is that Good Samaritan juxtaposes his compassion against the insensitivity of the priest and Levite, from a historical, social, cultural, and political perspective, Samaritans were regarded as less than Jewish people. In fact, Jesus’ dialogue with a woman was especially meaningful because he was not supposed to interact with Samaritans (John 4: 9). Because Samaritans were not expected to be good, the labeling of the man as such was not only offensive, but it reinforced negative perceptions of the other. Because of his cultural background, what the Samaritan did was exceptional and noteworthy. Today, it’s equivalent to comments about Black men and women being articulate when we don’t highlight this for White people. Drawing attention to diverse individuals when they demonstrate the same qualities as those from the majority culture exposes our implicit biases about various groups. Friends, there is nothing new under the sun: deficit thinking and microaggressions have existed since Biblical times.
The Samaritan—the one who was from a marginalized group and not expected to be good, or to do good—showed genuine love for a stranger at his own expense (Luke 10: 33-35). Moreover, his compassion was not for a fellow Samaritan, but someone who would likely overlook him if he was in a similar situation.
AND WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?
This story was Jesus’ response to a question from an expert in religious law (v. 25) who wanted to justify his actions (v. 29). In other words, he wanted Jesus to say that it was okay to only love certain people because everyone wasn’t his neighbor. But through the parable, Jesus gently exposed his erroneous and convenient interpretation of The Law. Despite being from different walks of life, the wounded man and the Samaritan were neighbors. Despite not having a shared cultural heritage, these men were neighbors. Despite social and political constructions that divided them, they were neighbors.
THE INEFFECTIVENESS OF THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS
Tragically claiming the lives of 17 students and adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, the familiar phrase in my thoughts and prayers has returned to mainstream consciousness. And while those who use this cliché are likely sincere, what does it mean through the lens of Luke 10? Although the priest and Levite ignored the man, they weren’t completely callous and uncaring. To some degree, they were concerned about his well-being. And while their thoughts and prayers were important, they were also insufficient.
Like the dying man needed more than positive thoughts and passionate prayers, the young people who occupy our nation’s schools deserve better. As the Samaritan was convicted by a moral responsibility to love his neighbor as himself (Luke 10: 27) and convinced that he could do something to tangibly meet the man’s need, we must stand for what is right during this pivotal moment in our nation’s history. While there are myriad ideas about how to effectively address the gun violence epidemic, it is both alarming and disconcerting that we have done virtually nothing to change the disastrous policies, practices, laws, and loopholes that have killed more than one million people since 1968. Because we have the capacity to make decisions that will affect others, especially our children, more than thoughts and prayers, God expects us to act.
Be encouraged with these words from James 2: 14-18: What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, Some people have faith; others have good deeds. But I say, How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.