This year has been hard. I know that I am not alone when I say that the turmoil of this year has strained some relationships in my life. It seems that the stresses of this year have sanded us down to who we really are underneath the layers of identities we typically hide under. This has led to some surprising and often disheartening revelations of those around us. If I’m honest, I had never really felt like I had “enemies” until this year. Before, when I read the Psalms, I could never quite identify with David in his prayers for deliverance from his foes. Now I can. There are people that I view with contempt and, likewise, those that view me with contempt.
For those of you that may be feeling this same way, join me in revisiting the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). God may be speaking to you and me through this story.
As I read this story again, I was struck by the simple realization that the expert in the law answers his own questions. When he asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” he ultimately answers it himself: “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.”
Jesus replies: “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
The expert in the law already knew what was right. He knew how he ought to live. Jesus never doubted that the man knew the answers. Jesus was ready to end the conversation after the expert answered his own question. In verse 29, though, we read that the expert in the law wanted to justify himself, so he asked his second question: “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus then tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan, not so much to answer the man’s question, but to muddle the man’s attempt to justify himself.
The expert in the law already identified loving one’s neighbor as the righteous way to live. He knows the right answer. But by making a Samaritan the “good guy” in the story, Jesus pushes him further. Jesus strips the expert in the law of his pride, cripples his self-righteousness, and robs him of whatever justifications he had for his prejudices toward Samaritans. It’s as if the expert in the law is the one left exposed and in need of mercy.
By the end of the parable Jesus returns to the expert’s question:
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
The expert in the law who sought to justify himself leaves his conversation with Jesus completely humbled. Just as the Samaritan in the parable saw the good in his neighbor and had mercy on him, the expert in the law was forced to see the good in the Samaritan and to view him graciously.
It is worth noting that in answering Jesus’ final question, the expert does not label the Samaritan as “the Samaritan.” He doesn’t give him a name. Now, this might be because the expert hates Samaritans so much that he doesn’t even want to name them. Or perhaps, for just a moment, his prejudice has been so thoroughly disarmed by Jesus that he is able to see the Samaritan as simply a human being who acted mercifully. And maybe, just maybe, the expert in the law walked away with the ability to imagine himself acting mercifully toward his neighbor, like a Samaritan. This must be what Jesus hoped for when he sent the man on his way with the command, “Go and do likewise.”
For those of you like me who are feeling increasingly surrounded by “foes,” listen closely because Jesus might be speaking this parable to you as well. Instead of a Samaritan as the “good guy,” maybe Jesus is telling you the parable of the good Republican. Or maybe the parable of the good Democrat; the parable of the good socialist; the parable of the good atheist; the parable of the good Karen; the parable of the good Millennial. And when Jesus comes to the end of his story, he will turn to you and ask, “Who was a neighbor to the man?” You will be left with no other answer except to acknowledge, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Whatever version of this parable God is telling you, know that they all end the same: “Go and do likewise.” Jesus knows that we already know what is good and righteous. But he also knows that we have barriers in our minds that prevent us from actually doing what is good and righteous. So, he disarms our prejudices. He opens our eyes to see the foolish ways we seek to justify ourselves and our hatred. He exposes the ways we set conditions for who we will act neighborly toward. He robs us of the pride that prevents us from having mercy on our neighbors.
To have mercy is to offer relief from something. When you see someone suffering—whether they are a friend or a foe—have mercy on them. Give your neighbor relief from your stereotypes, your assumptions about who they are, and your justifications for why you don’t need to stop for them. Have mercy on them. They’ve likely already been passed by twice over.
Who do you find hard to love as your neighbor?
Whoever that may be, consider that Jesus might be telling you the Parable of the Good __(Fill in the blank)__. Take a moment and let Jesus tell you this parable.
Now go and do likewise—be a neighbor, have mercy on those who suffer.