“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
The government of South Africa instituted apartheid in 1948, which legalized the separation of people of different races and restricted some privileges for whites only. A young lawyer named Nelson Mandela joined with others to actively resist his country’s unjust policies of segregation. Arrested for his activism, Mandela was imprisoned from 1962 until his release in 1990. Four years later, in the country’s first multiracial elections, Mandela was elected president of South Africa. Just a decade earlier, such an outcome would have seemed not only unlikely but also impossible.
Centuries earlier, another lawyer had asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life. After establishing the importance of the two great commandments to love God and love neighbor, the lawyer asked Jesus just who his neighbor was. The story Jesus told in the presence of a curious crowd challenged every assumption the man held about “neighbor.” Jesus’ description of the kind of neighbor to emulate would have come as a huge surprise to this lawyer, most likely a specialist in religious law. After all, the hero in Jesus’ story was both the “wrong” race and the “wrong” religion! To the lawyer, and to all of the Jews who had gathered around to listen, the idea of a Samaritan hero was nothing less than preposterous.
It was a teaching that would have sounded shocking to religious insiders. It’s one of the reasons the first-century crowds who encountered Jesus didn’t describe Him the way some do today, as a “good teacher.” No, he was entirely unconventional! His convictions about who loved well, and who was worthy of love, were controversial. This particular exchange—surprising, offensive, risky—would have been remembered by the man, and by those who heard it, for years afterward.
Jesus challenged the expert in religious law to imitate someone he would have considered to be an enemy. It is the same challenge extended to you today. Who is your unlikely neighbor? How are you being called to love others across boundaries of race and culture and religion by expressing genuine mercy and compassion in the name of Christ?
UP CHRISTIAN YOUTH MOVEMENT
University of the Philippines, Diliman Campus, QC