The parable of the Good Samaritan, as recorded in Luke 10:25-37, begins with an expert in the law who comes to Jesus and asks him what one must do to inherit eternal life. As an expert in the law, he already knew the answer and could answer his own question. It is said that the motive of his questioning was to justify himself (v.29), and to show off his knowledge in the presence of others. Little did he know that the fundamental answer to the question—what must I do to inherit eternal life—is not a matter of doing, but a commitment of being.
What are the possible responses to the question: who is my neighbour? Let’s step into the various roles who encountered the man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. The first who came to the scene were the robbers. Seeking their own self-interest, they disregarded the life of the man. Can you imagine you and I being robbers in times when we pursue our own purposes and in the process, harming others’ feeling, threatening their livelihood, and even violating their sense of dignity? Then came the priest and Levite who had specific roles in the Jewish community to serve God. However, they mistook serving God as a job with scheduled working hours, in a specific place, and with prescribed procedures. For the priest and Levite, the man on the road did not fit into their expected routines. In fact, they saw the man and passed by on the other side. Do we turn a blind eye to the needs in our community? It was irritating to those who were bound with Jewish tradition to accept that the hero of this story is a Samaritan. Though others might have looked down on him as a second class citizen from a despised race, he was not bound by others’ opinions of him and did not live in self-pity. He was courageous and chose to do what was needed of him when the circumstance arose. Not only was it inconvenient to do the right thing, it cost him time and money to care for the man. Lastly, the innkeeper looked after the bandaged man in exchange of two silver coins and a promise of further remuneration as needed. Is our care to others a transactional deal? The expert in the law asked a self-centered question: Who is my neighbor? The Samaritan responded with an other-centered action: Whose neighbour am I?
This parable is no stranger to Christians. We hear about it during Sunday service, study it in small group fellowships, and read about it in our own private devotional time. The focus is often on the contrast between the priest, Levite and the Samaritan. However, we need to examine our conscious and unconscious intents to see whether our behaviors have any resemblance to the robbers or the innkeeper. The robbers, priest, Levite, Samaritan, and the innkeeper reflect the condition of our heart towards a fellow man. I find myself being in all the different roles in the parable, even the man who fall into the hands of the robbers. However, I aspire to be more and more like the Samaritan, who had a genuine interest to serve for the betterment of others.
The parable ends with these verses. “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replies, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus tells him, “Go and do likewise.” (v.36-37). “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?” (James 2:14a).