Greetings in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
“Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ (Matthew 9:13a)
What is the most common and profound question of mankind? Looking around everywhere, what can we see? Everything comes and goes. Nothing on earth that we see and touch lasts forever. Yes, some trees live one thousand years or more. However, it is far shorter than eternity in mind. Even the stars on night skies do not shine forever. Stars are actually born, and die like us. However, our minds have a concept of eternity, and our hearts are yearning for the eternity. The question about eternity has always been with us, and it remains as a perpetual question in our heart from the dawning of our human history. Surely the people lived in two thousand years ago when Jesus was on the earth had the same question.
One day an expert in religious law came to Jesus and asked: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” It was not just his own question. In fact, it was one of the popular questions asked by people. The expert in religious law, of course, answered fluently by repeating the answer that he learned from his teacher, although he knew the answer did not answer his own personal question. In fact, he himself had been searching for a real answer, but he could not get to the real one. This inability to answer his own question always bothered him.
He heard about Jesus, who was not only a great teacher, but also had a teacher with authority of His teaching not like other teachers, scribes, religious leaders, or experts in religious law. He decided to bring the question to Jesus. As a teacher himself, it was, of course, bringing such an important question to Jesus did not make him look good before the eyes of others. Even so, he decided to resolve his unsettling heart once for all. Making him humble, he approached to Jesus, who was unknown and controversial among his community of experts in religious law.
Upon getting a question about inheriting eternal life, Jesus quietly looked at the expert in religious law. There was silence for a while, and Jesus made a question to him rather than answering the question:
“What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” (Luke 10:26b)
Jesus already knew what the expert in religious law would answer because he was a good teacher, not like many other teachers at that time. The expert in religious law, in fact, had been teaching God’s message rather than just transmitting elder’s traditions. As soon as the expert in religious law heard the question from Jesus, he immediately answered to Jesus with what he always taught:
‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Luke 10:27b)
The expert in religious law answered correctly, which made Jesus pleased.
“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” (Luke 10:28)
The answer of the expert in religious law was approved by Jesus. What an honor getting an approval from Jesus! The expert in religious law was so happy. Then, he also wanted Jesus’ approval on his own life. So far, he did everything that was required by the religious law. He kept every Sabbath holy. He had not broken any single part of the Moses’ law and diligently worshiped God. He believed keeping all commandments of God is to love God, who were not visible in his eyes.
The expert in religious law also loved his family and his fellow experts in religious law, He was always good to them, and in turn they were good to him. He regarded this bonding experience as his love to his neighbor. Nothing was complicated, and he did everything right. He felt that he was certainly qualified to receive the eternal life. However, his heart was still unsettling. He heard the voice from his heart that something was right.
He started probing the word of “neighbors.” So far, he naturally loved his family and other experts in his community, and in turn they loved him. Essentially, he gave his love to those whom he liked, and he got love back from them. Exchanging love with his family and his friends was not that difficult because he like them and they liked him. Then he started to puzzle whether the “neighbors” were his family and his friends only or now. It was getting complicated and harder to define who were his neighbors than he initially thought. He struggled in his heart for a while silently. Then he asked to Jesus “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him off his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.”
In fact, the road to Jericho went through rugged places, where robbers hid themselves to wait for a prey. What you would do, if you pass through the dangerous passage? I am sure. You would pass the area as quickly as possible to minimize a chance to be robbed by robbers. On that day, one Jewish man was victimized by robbers. He was stripped off by the robbers, and severely beaten. All that he possessed were taken away. And the robbers left him alone beside the road. Due to the beating, he was bleeding and dying. Without a quick medical care, he would die soon. Anyone who saw him could immediately tell he really needed help. If not, he would die soon. He was covered with blood and half naked.
“By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by.”
A priest was the first person who found the robbed and dying person. Immediately, his heart told him that he should help the dying person, but he quickly refrained himself from helping the victim. Instead, he started justifying himself with reasons why he could not help him at that moment. In fact, he was in hurry to a meeting to give an important teaching about Moses’ law to a group of important people. He could not be late for the meeting, which would make the important people wait. Additionally, he knew the particular part of the road to Jericho was dangerous. As matter of fact, the robbed Jewish man was the proof that he was in a dangerous area. He had to move quickly to get out of the dangerous area to be safe. Then he looked the other side of the road, quickly moved on to pass him by. He, then, arrived his destination on time, and gave an excellent teaching of Moses’ law to the important people.
“So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.”
Levites were specially chosen by God to take care of the temple, the holy place for God. They were very important people. They should not defile themselves. If defiled, they could not serve God any more. They had to make themselves clean by not touching any unclean things. The particular Levite was on the way to give an important support on holy matters in the temple. Because he was on a critically important mission, first, he could not delay his arrival. Second, he had to keep himself clean for the holy task waiting for him. Most of all, he was in the most dangerous segment of his entire trip. He looked around. No robbers were spotted He’d better move quickly out of the area before being attacked by robbers. He also moved himself to the other side of the road, which allowed him to pass without touching the half-dead man. He arrived on time. As soon as he arrived at the temple, he immediately performed his holy task without delay because he kept himself clean.
“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’”
Lastly, a Samaritan came along. At that time, Samaritans were despised by the Jews. Here was the reason. Samaritans were originally Jews, but mixed with gentiles, i.e., non-Jews. As a result, Samaritans were unclean according to the religious law. No Jews associated with Samaritans to keep them clean. However, when the Samaritan despised by the Jews saw a Jewish man who was beaten and dying, his heart was filled with compassion. It was real irony. Jews’ haterism actually made the Samaritan compassionate to others, such as the Jewish man victimized and suffering. His every day’s life was filled with pains inflicted by the Jews despising him, but compassion and love in his heart was growing stronger because he looked at the love of God instead of the Jews giving pains. Although he was despised, he tasted the God’s compassion and love. God’s love and compassion, indeed, grew on most unlikely places, the suffering heart of the despised Samaritan.
Out of his compassion, he touched the dying Jewish, and poured out his compassion on him, and soothed the wounds with olive oil and wine. The Samaritan poured out to the Jewish man the best that he had at that moment. He put bandage on the wounds, and lifted him up, and put the man on his own donkey. Then he walked alongside with the man on his own donkey. He found an inn, and made the Jewish man lying down in the inn. He took care of the Jewish man over the night. Then the next day, he gave money to the inn keeper while asking to take care the suffering Jewish man. He even promised to give additional money when he returned if additional expenses were incurred. Then the Samaritan hurriedly continued his journey to make up the lost time while taking care of the robbed and dying Jewish man.
Jesus gave three examples to the expert in religious law, and asked,
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (Luke 10;36)
What a teaching of Jesus! Anybody hearing Jesus’ parable could not miss the point.
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” The expert in the religious law, of course, answered correctly. As soon as he verbalized his answer, he was convicted. He truly understood who were his neighbors. Before hearing Jesus’ message, he only took care of those whom he liked, not the people who really need love and care. He tried hard to be good before God, but he was trapped in his own righteousness and love. Now, he realized what was the true love for neighbors. Jesus opened his eyes.
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37b)
Jesus wants for us to open eyes and bear fruits. Faith without fruits (i.e., deeds) is not a real faith. Such faith cannot make God pleased. James 2:20 says:
How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless? (James 2:20)
How to receive eternal life? Yes, we must love our God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love our neighbors as ourselves. The neighbors are not just those whom we like, but those whom we least want to like. Do we have anyone whom we least like or even hate? Then what we should do?
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:20-31)