The Samaritan & I
Chan Gin Kai
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”
The expert in the law was well versed in the Mosaic and rabbinical laws. He would have spent many years learning and teaching them to others. When he tested Jesus with a question on what it takes to get to heaven, Jesus posed the question to him in return.
According to the Talmud (the primary source of Jewish religious law and theology) there are 613 commandments. It was impressive that this expert in the law was able to understand the complex system of laws, and draw a correct conclusion on what’s more important. Jesus commended him, “You have answered correctly”.
It is possible to do a lot of 'godly' and 'righteous' things without loving God or people. Groom them into habits. Develop them into well-run programs. Do them with buddies. Set accountability. Get disciplined. Be self-righteous. The last one is of course undesirable, but all these methods do work. But to do 'godly' things without love is missing the point.
Love has to be the reason why we do what we do. This is more than just a good catch phrase for a song lyric. To live 'righteously' without love is forgetting the reason why we should do it in the first place.
Everything the Bible teaches us brings us to these two most important commandments – we’ve got to love God and love people. It makes for a good motivational poster and fridge magnet, but practicing it is what really matters. Love has to be put into action Do we truly love?
Knowing the most important commandments and practicing them are totally different things. Jesus replied the expert in the law, “Do this, and you will live.”
But the expert in the law wanted to justify himself and so he asked, “And who is my neighbour?” He must have assumed that he already fulfilled the first commandment of loving God with his heart, soul, strength and mind. Thus he asked Jesus a question to defend his weakness in the second commandment. He assumed that if the definition of neighbour were reduced to a smaller circle, it would be easier for him to meet the commandment.
This shows that he obviously failed in the first commandment too; we can’t claim to love God if we cannot love others (1 John 4:20). Jesus replied with a parable that exactly addressed this.
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“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 replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37)
After a man was waylaid by robbers, three people saw him – a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan. The priest and the Levite had duties in the temple and played important roles in various ceremonies; they were ‘official’ servants of God. If loving God were measured by how much we do for Him, the priest and the Levite would have stood head and shoulders above everyone else. But they did not care about the injured man.
The Jews considered Samaritans as half-breeds and worse than Gentiles. If a spectrum for closeness to God exists, the Samaritan would be on the opposite end from the priest and Levite. So if anyone had an excuse for not helping the injured Jew, this Samaritan had it. But he did all he could to help the injured man.
Jesus deliberately used the priest, the Levite and the Samaritan as characters in his story. Jesus asked the expert in the law which character had behaved more like a neighbour to the injured man. Again, the expert in the law got it right. It wouldn’t have been easy for him to concede that the Samaritan had loved more truly, and we’ve to give him credit for admitting that. He knew that the sacred duties the priest and Levite performed meant nothing if they could not love their fellow man.
As Christians, it is easy for us to take pride in the ‘sacred’ things we do for God. We pray, we read our Bible, we attend church services, we tithe, and more. But do we love? Are we like the priest and the Levite in the parable, placing our confidence in the ‘righteous’ things we do for God, but not loving others? Or are we like the Samaritan, denying the excuses that flood our mind, and going the extra mile to care for people? The Samaritan put his love into action.
That’s what Jesus expects, action more than words. What he said to the expert in the law applies to all of us too, “Go and do likewise.”
Chan Gin Kai
Gin Kai is a film producer who believes in the power of media to inspire positive changes. He has spearheaded disaster relief and capacity building projects in impoverished communities across Asia. In church, he serves as a mentor to young professionals in the EDGE Ministry. He describes himself as "just a sinner who wants to get right with God".