One of the most well-known and beloved parables of Jesus is the story of the "Good Samaritan," in which the most unlikely character (the Samaritan) shows mercy to a Jewish man who had been robbed, beaten, and left for dead. As with other famous parables of Jesus, there is the danger that we become overly familiar with the story and therefore lose sight of the radical message of the Kingdom that Jesus is trying to convey. So, let's take a fresh look at two specific aspects of this parable:
Loving the Other
The lawyer, who approaches Jesus to inquire about the process by which a person inherits eternal life, rightly identifies the central teaching of the law of Moses - love God and love your neighbor. He probably should have ended his conversation with Jesus at that point! Instead, the lawyer asks a second question, "Who is my neighbor?" This second question is exactly the wrong question to ask, because it implies that there might be some people who are "non-neighbors." In other words, by asking the question "Who is my neighbor?" the lawyer is essentially saying, "Surely there are those who are not my neighbor! Surely there are those whom I am not required to love!" The parable that follows demonstrates that no one is outside the category of "neighbor" (not even the despised Samaritan). Everyone is within the embrace of God's love and mercy; therefore, everyone is my neighbor!
Another aspect of the story that we often fail to fully grasp is the radical generosity of the Samaritan. It would have been sufficient for the Samaritan to help the injured man off the ground, offer him a few denarii, and send him on his way. But the Samaritan cares for his wounds and sets the man on his own animal, indicating that the Samaritan walked the remainder of the journey. Furthermore, the Samaritan pays for the injured man's lodging and then tells the innkeeper to bill him for any future expenses. The Samaritan doesn't simply offer the injured man a "quick fix" or a token "hand out." But rather, the Samaritan invests a considerable amount of time, energy, and money into the recovery and rehabilitation of this Jew, who supposedly was his enemy.
One commentator suggests that instead of asking "Who is my neighbor?" (which implies there are those who are not my neighbor), perhaps a better question would be, "How can I be a loving neighbor?" Take some time today to reflect on this question.