IN those days, a lawyer stood up to test Jesus, saying, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "What is written in the Law? What do you read there?" The lawyer 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' (Deuteronomy 6:5), and 'your neighbor as yourself' (Leviticus 19:18)." And Jesus said to him, "You have given the right answer. Do this, and you will live." But the lawyer, wanting to justify himself, asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, “A certain 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 the man, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw the man, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, while traveling, came near him, and when he saw the man, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then the Samaritan put the man on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii (one denarius was the usual day's wage for a common laborer), gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him, and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.'" So Jesus asked the lawyer, "Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" The lawyer said, "The one who showed him mercy." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
For Sunday we are given another very similar story - the parable of the Good Samaritan. It is a powerful story because in it Christ gives a very explicit answer to "who is my neighbor."
A lawyer approached Jesus, as it says, to test Him. A lawyer in those days, especially for the Jews, was not someone like today's attorney. A lawyer was someone who was an expert in Jewish Law, meaning the Law of Moses which was literally handed to Moses by God.
As an expert in the Law, he already knew the answer to the question he presented before Jesus. The question is not an empty or silly question, it is the question we should be asking ourselves daily - what must I do to inherit eternal life? Very often in the Gospels we see the Lord reply with a question, especially when He is asked not sincerely, but to be tested. I think that Christ also answers with a question because He is giving the other person a chance to think through the question and come up with an answer on his/her own.
It is a very valuable strategy, especially with children. If they ask us, for example, why does the sun rise and set every day? Instead of giving an answer, just say, "It is interesting, I wonder about that too. Why do you think the sun does that?" They will give you an answer, it may be right or it may be wrong, but they will have thought about it. Children are "experts" in a lot of things, and the questions they ask are the ones they, very likely, might have thought about.
The lawyer, as I said, was also an expert, he might have thought about the question and the answer. So what must he do to inherit eternal life? "What is written in the Law?" Christ asks. Basically what Jesus says is, "You are an expert, you know the Law, what do you think?"
And sure enough, the lawyer knew the answer - two commandments found in, what we call today, the Old Testament. These two commandments were not something "new" that Christ taught, they were old, the Jews already knew them, they grew up with them, even if they did not properly understand them - "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind" (Deuteronomy 6:5), and "your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). And Jesus affirmed that he was absolutely right, "Do this, and you will live." Not just live, but live eternally.
Notice what the lawyer asks clarification about. He is not asking, "And who is my Lord and God?" He thinks he knows Who God is - God is the God of Israel, the One Who chose Israel out the many nations of the world, and guided them and promised to multiply them if they follow Him and obey His commandments. It is ironic because the lawyer did not recognize in Jesus the reason why God chose Israel in the first place - to prepare the whole creation for the Coming Messiah.
So instead, the question the lawyer asks is, "And who exactly is my neighbor?" This might have been a follow-up testing question, or a genuine uncertainty. Jesus replied with a famous parable of the Good Samaritan. The Lord used parables to clarify His teachings because that was the "language" that the people spoke in those days. If He came today and He probably would've made something like youtube videos to explain the same.
The question of who is the neighbor was important because the Jews, just like everyone else at that time actually, were tribalistic - they were loyal and protective only of their own. So to a Jew, a neighbor was not necessarily someone who lived next door to them, but someone who was also a Jew. Same thing applied to Samaritans or Romans. They had a very narrow definition of a "neighbor," which allowed for a lot of discrimination. This wrong understanding of who our neighbor is Christ corrects with His parable.
I will not unpack the parable itself in this post, I will leave it for the next time we come around to this reading.
At the end of the parable, Jesus asks the lawyer, "And who of the three guys mentioned in the parable do you think was the poor man's neighbor?" And the lawyer again correctly answers, "The one who showed him mercy." And the Lord again says, "Go and do likewise." Showing mercy is the path to eternal life. Showing mercy is eternal life. More importantly, showing mercy is something that God does. For example, the most repeated phrase in our services is "Lord, have mercy."
Showing mercy is something that God does and He allows us to do it too. Therefore, when we show mercy to anyone, we become God-like. Let me be very clear, we do not become gods in any sense of the word, but we become like Him. When we show mercy, we unlock, if you will, that image of God in which we were created. Being like God is already part of who we are, but we do not always practice it.
And so, as the Lord says, let us go and do likewise!
Yours in the Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest