An expert in Mosaic law tries to test Jesus, wanting to justify himself. He knows the law and articulates it in perfect orthodoxy, yet cannot grasp that deeper Truth which only the Spirit can inscribe on any human heart. Speaking in parable, Jesus’s multi-layered answer turns this lawyer’s question on its head.
“Who is my neighbour?” becomes “Who proved to be a neighbour?”
Above all the parable presents the Gospel, Jesus’s story of himself, a man traveling from Jerusalem, City of God, to Jericho, City of Canaan. The road Jesus references was well-known to all Jews, bordering the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, thoroughfare for pilgrims traveling up to Jerusalem for holy days.
Yet we must not miss the imagery here. This man is “going down” (v. 30), tracing the fall of Adam, and the fate that follows leaves him lower still. He falls among robbers, who strip and beat him, leaving him half dead (see Mark 15:20). The wounded man’s next human encounters mirror the trajectory of his journey. First his own people, a priest and a Levite, by chance come upon him yet do not receive him. They hide their faces, passing him by.
A Samaritan is next to discover the man yet seeing his wounded body, is stirred with compassion. Here the next layer of the parable begins to crystallize as Jesus, wounded, despised, rejected, likewise takes up his post as ultimate outsider, the Samaritan Saviour. His healing hands bandage the man’s wounds, lift him to his own beast and pass him into the safekeeping of a carer, with a promise to return.
Who proved to be a neighbour? Not the religious establishment, who abandoned and despised the Holy One of Israel. No, only Jesus proves to be a good neighbour. For our sake he was delivered over to death at the hands of cruel men, now raised to life. Forsaken and dying, we who fell first in Adam find rescue from sin, are established and anointed in Christ (Romans 5:12).
Jesus’s final words to the lawyer contain our marching orders. “Go and do the same.”
Show mercy as we have received mercy.
To the hungry we bring food, even the bread of life.
To the thirsty, we carry drink, even rivers of living water.
To the stranger we offer an invitation, even to Christ’s kingdom.
To the naked, we give clothing, even our Saviour’s kingly robes.
Truly, as we do these things for those society despises, we do them for Jesus.
How kind the good SamaritanHow Kind the Good Samaritan by John Newton
To him who fell among the thieves!
Thus Jesus pities fallen man,
And heals the wounds the soul receives.