Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’
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 neighbour as yourself.’
And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’ But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.
Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
The lawyer asks Jesus a leading question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” In response to Jesus’ further question: “What is written in the law?” the man cites the double love command from the Torah – you shall love God and your neighbour as yourself. Correct, says Jesus. The lawyer persists. Who is my neighbour?
And that is the cue for one of Jesus’s best-known parables. A man was mugged, stripped, beaten up by robbers and left for dead. First a priest, then a Levite, men of standing in Jewish society, spotted him and crossed the road to avoid him. But the next traveller, a Samaritan, was moved with compassion. He tended the man’s wounds, set him on his beast, took him to an inn and paid for his care. It was pure altruism.
And then Jesus drives his point home. There is a difference between having a neighbour and being a neighbour. The lawyer had been trying to identify the neighbour whom he might love. But now the neighbour is portrayed as a man who had become a neighbour to the person in need. The wounded man and his helper were neighbours to one another. They were both outsiders. The man had no clothes, no belongings, no signs of status or identity. He could have been anyone. And for religious and historical reasons, Samaritans were shunned by Jews as enemies. But the two had their humanity in common and love drew the Samaritan to tend to the human need he encountered while the heartless representatives of the official cult walked by on the other side.
It is love that draws us together in Christ to forge a strong, caring society. This is tough love; it calls us to step out of our comfort zones. Do we perhaps need the wounded stranger to help us?
Gracious God, we ask your blessing on all those who serve in Christ’s name that your loving purposes may be fulfilled. May they know your joy in their hearts.Amen.
The Revd Fleur Houston, retired minister, member of Macclesfield and Bollington URC.