“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.”
This epilogue to the parable of the good Samaritan teaches us three surprising truths. First, Jesus’ question turned the thinking of the expert in the law upside down in a way that should reshape our thinking too. The expert had asked, “Who is my neighbor?” by which he meant, who am I required to love? He wanted Jesus to draw a circle around those we have to love, so we can then withhold love from everyone else. Jesus’ question flipped it around, asking instead, who acted like a neighbor to the man in need? In other words, the Samaritan chose to become the injured man’s neighbor out of a compassionate heart, not because someone said he had to. Jesus wants to expand our circle of neighbors.
The second truth has to do with qualities of the heart. What does it mean that the expert in the law identified the good neighbor not as “the Samaritan” but as “the one who had mercy”? Jesus chose to make the hero of his story a Samaritan, a person from an ethnic group routinely marginalized by the majority Jewish population. Jesus did this, I think it’s safe to say, to push back against prejudice and to emphasize his conviction that anyone and everyone can be your neighbor. The expert in the law, touched by Jesus’ story, referred to the Samaritan according to his humanity and the goodness of his heart. He was not just a foreigner or an outsider or an ethnic minority. He was “one who had mercy.” He chose to be a neighbor to someone in need and was therefore judged “by the content of [his] character,” to quote Martin Luther King, Jr.
The third truth is less surprising than it is challenging. Jesus tells us to “go and do likewise.” That sounds like something Jesus would have said often at the end of his sermons and parables, but this passage is the only time in the Gospels where Jesus used this phrase. And He meant it. Go and be a loving, merciful neighbor. Don’t pass by on the other side. Don’t split hairs over who is and who is not your neighbor. Don’t refuse mercy to people who look different or speak different. Love. Show mercy. Give compassion. Be like Jesus to those in need.
Father of Mercy, teach me how to love. Lead me to people in need, and fill my heart with mercy so I can extend to them the love of Jesus, my Savior. Amen.
Pastor Mike Mirakian