The story of The Good Samaritan is a popular one. People have used it to promote political and social change in governments all over the world. We teach it in our children’s Bible classes. It is a great story about caring for hurting people.
THE RIGHT ANSWER
To the lawyer’s credit, he knew the answer to his own first question to Jesus, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). Jesus confirmed that he did, indeed, know the answer (vs. 28). For some reason, however, Luke tells us that the lawyer was wanting to justify himself (vs. 29). Why would he feel the need to do this?
He knew the answer and Jesus agreed with him.
“‘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.’”
Luke 10:27 (NIV)
Perhaps this is why the lawyer felt that he needed to justify himself. So, instead of asking a question to which he knew the answer, he next asks a question over which there seems to have been a significant amount of controversy. In other words, it was a question that had no correct answer in the realm of political correctness.
“Who is my neighbor?” (vs. 29) may have been controversial when talking about fellow Pharisees or common Jewish people. Were non-Jewish people or their Roman occupiers also their neighbors? Jesus’ story illustrated a wonderful principle of God’s forever kingdom: my neighbor is anyone I meet who is in need.
When Jesus told the story, He was speaking directly to a lawyer who was testing Jesus. The lawyer was there to corner Jesus and win a debate. Jesus was there to break through the religious shell that encased the lawyer’s heart and expose him to God’s generosity. If only he would let Jesus in….
The great Jewish scholar, Hillel, was asked if he could summarize the Law and the Prophets for a potential convert to Judaism. Hillel told him: ‘What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbour: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it” (Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Shabbath, Folio 31a). This passive love stands in contrast to the proactive love that God had commanded the Israelites in Leviticus 19:18: “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”
The kind of love that Hillel describes is one of non-engagement. An example of the logic involved would begin with the observation that I do not want another person to physically harm me. It’s logical conclusion would, then, be Therefore, I will not physically harm that other person. This understanding is common in a wide selection of ancient literature.
This interpretation was under debate at the time of Jesus causing a Jewish teacher of the Law to inquire, “And who is my neighbor?” This question prompted Jesus’ telling the parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and, I believe, stands behind Jesus’ reaffirmation of the teaching in Leviticus.
“The Golden Rule” underlines that citizens of the kingdom of God proactively seek to do good for others in the same way they would want someone else to do good to them (Matthew 7:12). Jesus accurately interprets the passage in Leviticus 19:18 and states that this one rule of the Kingdom “sums up the Law and the Prophets.” With this final phrase, I believe, Jesus summarizes and concludes The Sermon on the Mount which began back in Matthew 5 where Jesus first refers to the Law and the Prophets.
The Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-10 depict the qualities of the Kingdom’s citizens, concluding with the observation that persecution will be the result whereupon they are called to rejoice. Why? “…for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:12).
These Kingdom citizens practice these beatitudes in their daily lifestyle. They do it publicly in the world in much the same way as light and salt function to enhance their environments (Matthew 5:13-15). Then Jesus makes it clear that this is not new. These principles are anchored in the Law and the Prophets.
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
These comments about the Law and the Prophets, I believe, marks the first bookend of the teachings that are to follow. The other bookend comes with Jesus’ final observation about the Law and the Prophets in Matthew 7:12.
In between these two bookends, then, we see Jesus giving clear teaching that both clarifies the Law and Prophet’s teaching. He amplifies it and makes it personal. It pierces the heart. It challenges us to carefully examine our motives and intentions.
Beginning in Matthew 5:20, Jesus establishes that true worship to God is more than paying lip service and looking for loopholes in the Law. These attempt to justify one’s anger, marital unfaithfulness, oaths and vows, revenge and hatred (Matthew 5:21-47). The call of the kingdom is to: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
INTIMACY WITH GOD
Then, in Matthew 6:1, Jesus warns people of the kingdom to beware of trying to exalt their religiosity before others in order to gain notoriety. This path is a dead end before God. When it comes to the common religious practices of charity, prayer and fasting it is best to keep these things between you and God in order to grow in intimacy with Him (Matthew 6:2-18).
Matthew 6:19-34 then asserts that there is only one treasure, one light and one Master that is to control our direction in life. Do this and there will be no need to worry about anything because you have entrusted God with everything.
Finally, in Matthew 7:1-11 Jesus insists that we must resist being judgmental towards others and look at ourselves so we can be truly helpful. This discernment will then enable us to determine how to approach those who cannot appreciate the path we have chosen. It is far more important to seek God’s will in everything so that when you ask, seek and knock you will find a God who will answer “Yes!” every time.
This leads us to Jesus’ summary and conclusion; the other bookend.
“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want [b]them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
The first word in this sentence, “So” is also translated as “Therefore” in the New American Standard Bible. It means that what I am telling you now is based upon everything I have said to this point. It is a word that introduces a concluding statement. For Jesus, that concluding statement is the Golden Rule. This rule wraps up everything God has been trying to tell you about His Kingdom and His People.
THE LAW, PROPHETS, JESUS, PAUL….
Is it any wonder that the apostle Paul would echo this teaching in his ministry to churches across the Roman Empire:
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”