Go and Do Likewise
Luke 10: 25 — 37
One day Jesus was visiting a synagogue — probably at Bethany, which over looked rough, dangerous country. It was through this countryside which the road to Jerusalem passed. It was a known habitat of marauding brigands who were unable to find work.
Notes On Our Text
On this occasion our Lord had been speaking. He must have impressed at least one person, because an expert in the Law (the Torah, the first 5 books of the Old Testament which tradition held as written by Moses) arose to challenge Jesus. Our Lord is honoured as this is indeed an acknowledgement that his opinion in matters of Torah is much valued. We can be confident it was a learned and rather saintly rabbi, as Jesus never entered into the kind of dialogue which followed unless he was addressing a genuine enquirer.
The rabbi poses a typical question the experts would argue over, in the very best sense of the word. Literally, he asks, "What one thing would I need to do in order to inherit eternal life?"
Jesus, in true rabbinic style, replies with another question: "What is written in the Torah? How do you recite it?" (Meaning, how has your meditation on the Torah, the Law, helped you to understand what is written there?)
In this way, Jesus invites the Rabbi to open the debate by quoting the Scripture he thinks relates to his question most closely. The Teachers of Israel often challenged one another to distill a lot of thoughts into one key idea, they could keep in their mind. It is one of the ways (and a brilliant one at that) they kept God's Holy Word ever present and active within them. Christians sometimes think they are alone in this holy pursuit.
Immediately the scholar responds with his chosen Scriptures:
"You are absolutely right;" says Jesus, "this is indeed our holy, Orthodox teaching, which we all recite morning, afternoon and evening. The substance of all prophecy and the source of true life are to be found in these holy words. Put them into practice and you will enjoy the fullness of life which they promise."
Our Lord's answer has rocked the rabbi just a little. It has not gone quite as he had expected in front of his learned audience. In fact, it seems he feels a little embarrassed that his question has really come to nothing and he wishes he had not put it the way he did. He realises in fact that he has answered his own question and that everyone is probably wondering what more does he expect.
Fortunately for him he is well used to thinking on his feet, and in order to justify asking his original question he comes up with a further challenge, which actually, is a rather good one.
"Now come on Rabbi, you know it is not as simple as that" — hoping to point out what Jesus has missed. "It all depends on what you mean by 'neighbour' — so, who is my neighbour?"
He knows he has brought up a difficult matter. After all, everyone finds themselves asking:
In other words, it is only someone who is my true neighbour that I am obliged to give help to. So, how does one decide who qualifies for this?"
The debate is now in full swing. Our Lord takes up the challenge and, looking out the window at the rough countryside bordering on the township, immediately begins telling a story.
The story begins with an all too familiar incident as common in those times as it is in ours. A man is brutally and violently attacked for the few possessions he had on him while he is travelling alone through wild countryside, and is left dying on the road side, on his way home after serving God in the Temple at Jerusalem.
Verses 31 and 32
Fortunately two fellow countrymen of the same faith came down the road a few minutes apart not far behind the beaten man. Both were highly educated and devout followers of their faith. However, each in turn took one look at the poor victim and crossed over the road and carried on their way leaving the man to die. We do not know their reasons for acting in this way but can be confident they had what they thought were very good reasons.
Verses 33 — 35
In a short while someone arrived at the spot, having come from the opposite direction. He had certainly not just come "down" from Jerusalem, for he was a Samaritan. The Samaritans were considered by some to be an unfortunate race of good-for-nothing half-breeds and for that reason tended to be ignored if at all possible. As did the other two men, he had a good look at the victim, but unlike the other two, he immediately, (literally) had compassion on him. In Scripture this phrase always refers to deep-seated emotions. But that was not all.
The Samaritan attended his wounds, transported him to a safe place for on-going treatment for which he paid in advance.
Suddenly (in Rabbinic style) the story ends. By now, everyone is hanging on every word from Jesus.
Our Lord is supposed to be answering the question from the Lawyer, "Who is my neighbour?" Instead, before anyone can get a word in, Jesus shows he has been answering a very different question, and puts it to expert:
The expert in the Law knows very well it was the Samaritan. We are not sure whether he could not bring himself to say that word, or whether, as is very possible, he had already been transformed by our Lord's teaching and now saw this "foreigner" as a neighbour. In response to Jesus he says, "It was the one who showed mercy". This answer becomes our Lord's definition of a neighbour —
Not the one who needs help.
the one who gives it!
The final words of Jesus to his challenger are: "Go and do likewise." This is not the usual conclusion to a rabbinic debate. It tells us something very special. This man was deeply spiritual and, while politely challenging Jesus to show him his skill, was nevertheless humble enough to receive new light on the topic. Our Lord saw that and honoured him accordingly. If only we could all match the humility of this devout Jew, and his openness to the true meaning of Scripture!
When asked, "Who is my neighbour?" Jesus could have answered something like "Any person who needs your help."
Instead he goes much further. He turns it around and teaches that we are a neighbour when we give the help that is needed, when and where it is needed.
So for Jesus, the real question to ask is not:
Who is my neighbour?
Whose neighbour am I?
We may not feel we can love the whole world. Jesus teaches that we don't have to. All we have to do is show love (or mercy as he calls it) to one person at a time, and everyone, he explains, can try to do that. This is our Lord's way of showing us how we can all do what we must in order to inherit eternal life. There is no one who wants to inherit such life who cannot, in some way, help someone in need.
We hear no more of the rabbi testing Jesus. He is the Church who can and must learn to love and care for the well being of others as does God. Our Lord's final words must therefore remain "ringing in our ears"
"Go and do likewise!"
Copyright © 2000 Community of Affirmation