The parable of the Good Samaritan is well known even by those who haven’t read from the Bible in a long time. There are “Good Samaritan” laws written for people to stop and help others in need. This parable has had a major impact upon us and our understanding of our neighbor. However, the point isn’t about being a good person. The Samaritan isn’t even called ‘good’ in the parable. The parable begins with a question about inheriting eternal life.
We think that eternal life is about getting up into heaven. This was not what eternal life meant in the lawyers question. Eternal life was about living ones life in God and this was defined by the law. Inheriting eternal life was about living ones life in the new age that is coming in Jesus. So Jesus asked the lawyer about the law and he knew the answer: love the Lord your God and love your neighbor. Jesus told him to do this and he would live. Then the lawyer wanted clarity on who is the neighbor. Jesus’ answer was given with the parable.
A man was robbed, beaten and left for dead on the roadside. A priest and Levite crossed the road to avoid the man. We aren’t told why. Touching a dead body would have left them unclean and unable to do their duties. Maybe this concern was the reason, we aren’t told. A Samaritan (Samaritans were despised by the Jew and this would intensify the feelings) went over to help the injured man and even provide for his extended care. The Samaritan was willing to cross over and show mercy. He was the neighbor. This is how one lives out life in God; inherit eternal life.
We don’t do a lot of crossing over to show mercy these days and the anger that seems so much a part of society illustrates it. We don’t cross over and show mercy to our opponent because that would show weakness. We don’t cross over with mercy toward those on the other side of the political spectrum because that would be betrayal. We don’t cross over and show mercy to others we look down on otherwise we would see them as equals. Crossing over to show mercy isn’t easy. Eternal life is elusive these days.
How do we live life that is eternal in its quality? How do we live a life that is found in God? Like the lawyer we do know the answer: love the Lord your God and love your neighbor. The difficulty is doing it. Life in God is to cross over to the other person and when you get there, show mercy.
As Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”