It had started out to be a question about salvation. “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Lk. 10:25). The text indicates a certain insincerity on the part of the one asking the question. He was a lawyer, whose motive was to put Jesus to a test in a verbal debate in a setting that would hopefully discredit the Lord and make him look wise in the eyes of the Lord’s disciples (Lk. 10-17-25). Having been outmaneuvered by the Lord’s answer, his follow-up question was one of damage control – if he couldn’t demonstrate the inferiority of the “Teacher,” he could at least get the teacher to endorse his personal righteousness—thus, his follow-up question: “And who is my neighbor?” (Lk. 10:29). This, too, did not achieve its desired effect. Instead, the Lord told a parable about three groups of individuals, each of whom had a distinct philosophy about the people around them.
The first group was a band of robbers who attacked a fellow citizen, took all his possessions, and beat him half to death (v. 30). We aren’t told what their social background was. We don’t know if they were underprivileged or if they were raised in single-parent homes by drug-addicted moms. We don’t know if they grew up in the inner city and were completely ignored by the state or if they grew up in privileged homes and educated in private schools. There are plenty of robbers from both sides of the tracks who have the ability to take from others by force or by cunning. What we do know is that they lived by the philosophy of “It’s mine if I can take it from you.” They were totally devoid of any emotion, without an ounce of mercy or compassion. Thus, taking the man’s wealth wasn’t enough; they also had to wreck him physically and emotionally. They were bullies!
The second group was made up of two religious men, one a priest and the other a Levite. Chance had put both men on that road on the very day of the crime, and both men had opportunity to react–and both men did. Jesus explained that both men saw the victim, both knew he was in a bad way, and both men passed on by. We don’t know every thought that passed through their minds; we only know that they justified their own actions. Did they justify their pitiless conduct by thinking it wasn’t a safe area to stop and render aid? Did they pass by quickly and keep their eyes averted to keep their consciences from being too deeply bruised? Did they clutch their money bags a little tighter as they picked up their pace? Did they wonder aloud about what sinful deed this fellow citizen had been secretly guilty of, for which the Lord was now obviously punishing him? Did they discuss what they had seen later that evening when they sat down to a meal with their families? True, they did nothing malicious to the man. They would have never stooped so low in life as to do that! But equally true is the fact that they did nothing to help their fellow citizen. He may have lost everything he had including his health on that road, but they passed through safely and lost not a cent! They may have thought, “People get what they deserve!” or “Oh well, that’s life!”
The third individual, the Samaritan, had a completely different philosophy. What made him so different? “When he saw him, he felt compassion” (Lk. 10:33). Compassion let him see what two previous groups had not – a fellow human being in need. It also let him throw caution to the wind. He stayed with the man and took as much time as necessary to care for his wounds. Compassion made him forget things like time, personal expense, and personal goals. Did it make him late for a job interview or a chance to close a profitable deal? Compassion made him seek out others who might also have compassion and compelled him to look to the future needs of a victim.
To all the would-be lawyers of every generation, to all who would like to think themselves righteous in their own eyes, the Lord gives a simple command: “Go and do the same.” Was He saying we need to troll the haunts of crime-infested neighborhoods to find a victim? No, He was saying to have that philosophy that enables us to be a neighbor to everyone in every circumstance: good or bad, safe or dangerous, whether the personal cost is a word of encouragement or a hit to the pocketbook.
“What’s yours is mine,” was the sinful philosophy of the robbers. “What’s mine remains mine,” was the callous philosophy of the priest and Levite. “What’s mine that is needed is yours,” is the philosophy of someone who knows and understands that we’re all the children of God and have what we have by His grace and mercy.
DC Brown ©2013