Christianity is a doing religion. We are not saved in order to become statues in a museum; rather, we are saved to become active doers of God’s will in this world (ref. James 1:22). It should be no wonder then, that our Lord so often commanded those who would be His followers to “Go!” and do something.
So far we have considered four of our Lord’s “Go!” statements, “Go Be Reconciled“ – “Go In Peace” – “Go And Tell” – “Go And Learn” and “Go And Surrender.” In today’s lesson we will explore the application of “Go Be Merciful” from Jesus’ interaction with an unnamed religious lawyer from Luke 10:25-37.
As our Lord was rejoicing with the disciples over their successful missionary trip (ref. vv. 17-24), Luke says, “Behold, a lawyer stood up to put Him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’” (v. 25). The lawyer was one who was supposedly an expert in the Law of Moses. The unnamed man raised a very good question; however, as Luke indicates, his motives were less than sincere.
Rather than answer his question directly, no doubt our Lord knew this was a test (cf. Luke 9:47; 11:17), Jesus skillfully posed a second question, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” (v. 26). In essence, couplet of questions means, “What does God’s word say? And what does it mean?” The lawyer quickly answered back, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all you mind, and your neighbor as yourself’” (v. 27).
In summary form, the lawyer quoted a synopsis of the Law by combining: Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Some believe this was a commonly used summation; in fact, on another occasion, Jesus Himself summed up the old covenant in the same way (ref. Matthew 22:34-40).
Of course, it is one thing to interpret God’s word correctly, it is another to internalize and perform it. Thus, the Lord approved of the lawyer’s representation of the Law, “You have answered correctly,” (v. 28a), but He also counseled him to practice what he knew to be true by adding, “do this and you will live” (v. 28b). In other words Jesus said, “Good. Follow your own advice and you will have eternal life.”
“But [the lawyer], desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (v. 29). For a second time in this exchange, the lawyer’s less than sincere motives are revealed (ref. v. 25). His follow-up question implied that the obligation to love one’s neighbor was not as clear as Jesus might have made it appear. You can almost hear him say, “One must be careful with such things. You wouldn’t want to be guilty of loving someone who is not your neighbor.”
The popular teaching of the day was, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy” (Matthew 5:43; cf. Psalm 139:21-22). Certainly, the lawyer would apply neighborly status to fellow Jews, but then again not to every Jew (cf. Luke 5:30; 19:7). Thus, he used the Law concerning love for neighbor as a means to draw lines of distinction, but for the Lord, its actual purpose was to break down any distinctions that a person might seek to make. So, to correct the lawyer’s misguided understanding, Jesus told one of His most famous parables, the parable of the Good Samaritan.
The winding seventeen mile road between Jerusalem and Jericho served as the setting of the Lord’s true-to-life story. It was a notoriously dangerous road, lined with rocky crags from which robbers and bandits easily preyed on lone travelers. Nevertheless, a certain man traveled this way going from Jerusalem to Jericho and predictably, “he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead” (v. 30).
Although one might assume that the victim was Jewish, Jesus does not name or otherwise identify the man’s ethnicity or religious affiliation. Therefore, unidentifiable by either speech or clothing, the half-dead man (quite literally) stripped down to a mere human being in need. This lone fact will create the tension that is at the heart of this parable.
“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” (vv. 31-32). Briefly, the Lord described the first two people on the scene.
On that day, there just so happened to be a priest and a Levite traveling on the same course. Each in his turn, came upon the unidentified victim, “saw” his injured state, but offered no comfort and faded into the landscape, mercilessly leaving the poor soul to die.
I believe the parable presupposes at least two facts about the priest and Levite that are fundamental to the interpretation of the parable: 1) Both men were able but unwilling to render aid. Otherwise, their inaction could be excused in light of the Samaritan’s action. 2) Both men operated on the same level as the lawyer. Since they could not identify the man as a neighbor, they believed they had no obligation to love him.
Well, shortly thereafter, “A Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where [the injured man] was,and when he saw him, had compassion on him” (v. 33). The contentious animosity between the Jews and Samaritans was legendary (cf. Luke 9:51-56; John 4:9). Nevertheless, Jesus used a hated Samaritan as the hero of the parable, the embodiment of what it meant to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
All three men: the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan recognized the authority of the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). The two Israelites, however, defined one’s “neighbor” in very stringent terms. The Samaritan, on the other hand, applied a much broader application to the term “neighbor” believing that he should love even a “stranger” as he loved himself (ref. Leviticus 19:33).
So, moved with “compassion” for the injured man, the Samaritan, “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. 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’” (vv. 34-35). In stark contrast to the brief narrative involving the priest and Levites, Jesus detailed the Samaritan’s merciful and compassionate acts of neighborly love.
Despite the self-evident peril to his own safety, the good Samaritan took the time to bandage the man’s wounds, medicating them as best he could. Once stabilized, the Samaritan transported him to a nearby inn taking care of him throughout the night. Finally, the next morning, he made open-ended financial arrangements for the injured man’s care while he recuperated. The Samaritan did all of this for a person he did not know, nor could ever reciprocate the costly compassion shown to him.
Having completed His parabolic teaching, Jesus countered the lawyer’s second question with His own, slightly reworded query, “‘Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’” (v. 36).
The lawyer’s original question, “Who is my neighbor?” (v. 29) was never answered by our Lord’s parable. As stated earlier, it was the wrong question to ask since it focused on establishing neighborly status for others. For Jesus, status was a non-issue. So, he refocused the lawyer’s question, “Who proved to be a neighbor?” In other words, Jesus said, “The heart of Leviticus 19:18 is not defining who others are to you but who you are to others.”
Once again, the lawyer answered correctly, “‘The one who showed him mercy’” (v. 37a). It is common to supplant that the lawyer could not bring himself to say “the Samaritan” and maybe that is true. Nevertheless, he understood preciously what our Lord was implying. Instead of formulating a list of who was, or was not one’s neighbor, Jesus wanted the lawyer to become a neighbor to all, loving others as he loved himself.
The scene ends with Jesus telling the lawyer to take his new found understanding and, “Go and do likewise” (v. 37b); Go Be Merciful. The lawyer received his answer; indeed, even with his own mouth he articulated the response. How did he respond to Jesus’ directive to “Go”? We will never know. I guess the most important question though is: how will you and I respond to Jesus’ directive to Go Be Merciful?
The command to love one’s neighbor as oneself is foundational to Christian teaching and practice. It was not only confirmed by our Lord, but also repeated by Paul in Romans 13:8-10, along with Galatians 5:13-15 and slightly reworked in Ephesians 5:28-29, 33. Furthermore, in James’ epistle, he referred to it as the “royal law” saying:
“If you fulfill the royal law according to the Scriptures, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” (James 2:8-9)
By means of this parable, Jesus is calling His disciples away from a religious or culturally conditioned mind-set that “show[s] partiality” by dividing people into groups of those who are worthy of neighborly love and those who are not. The challenge is to Go Be Merciful to all, no matter the color of their skin, their national origin, their language, their religion, their social status, or their need.
Now, someone might ask, “What does that look like in everyday application? Can you give me something practical to do today that will be fulfilling this?” In light of the teaching in this parable, there is nothing more applicable or practical than, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As Christians, we are called to mercifully love all humanity as we love ourselves. Period. Why is that? Because, it is the same kind of love God showed the world (ref. John 3:16). That’s why. May God help as we Go Be Merciful to all.
As always, I’m more than happy to help you in your quest to know more about Christ. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I’ll be happy to come alongside you on your spiritual journey.