Luke 10: 25 – 37
The Gospel passage begins with Jesus being approached by someone with the intent of testing him. The Scribes, and Pharisees regularly sought out opportunities to test Jesus with the hope that he would say something contrary to the law. Jesus would answer with the truth that originated from God, was expressed in the Scriptures, and was brought to fulfillment by Jesus, the Word made flesh. The antagonist in this Gospel passage is identified as a scholar, possible a Scribe, with the reputation of being an expert in the law. He makes two attempts at tripping Jesus up.
The first appears to be a very basic question, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” It was beneath this question that lay the scholars trap. Jesus could have quoted many passages in the Old Testament, or he could have given his own teaching. Had Jesus done this the scholar would probably have turned his answer around and told the officials that Jesus said that other passages from the Law and Prophets are not important, thus, portraying Jesus as an unfaithful Jew, and questioning his credibility as a teacher. Jesus’ response is to volley the question back to the scholar by asking him, “What is written in the law?” The scholar knows that the foundation of the Mosaic Law is found in the book of Deuteronomy when Moses prepared the Israelites to enter into the Promised Land, and that all the laws can be summed up in Deuteronomy 6:5; “You shall love the Lord, you God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus agrees with him, for it is when we love God fully that we open our hearts to accept the unconditional love that God is pouring out to us. It is in this relationship of love between God and us that we freely accept the gift of eternal life God desires us to have. From this love we are able, and many times challenged, to love our neighbor. To inherit everlasting life is to see and experience how much God loves us, and to return that love to God, and express it to our neighbor.
The scholar cannot argue or find fault with that answer, so he makes a second attempt to trip up Jesus by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” To us the question might seem somewhat innocuous, but at the time of Jesus it was a loaded question. In Jesus’ time there were numerous rivalries between various groups. One such rivalry was between the Jews and the Samaritans. It wasn’t that long ago that we had the Gospel in which the Samaritan town would not welcome Jesus and his apostles, and the same feelings were expressed by the Jews toward Samaritans. Jesus answers the scholar by telling him a parable we know as the “Good Samaritan.” The only one who stopped to help the man who was robbed and beaten and left for dead was a Samaritan. When Jesus finishes the parable he asks the Scholar, who was the victim’s neighbor? There was only one answer, and it was one that the scholar probably had a difficulty and speaking. The Scholar couldn’t get himself to say, “the Samaritan,” rather he said, “the one who treated him with mercy.” Neighbor is not defined by geography, race, nationality, or the labels used to define others. Our neighbor is anyone who is in need. The point is simple, the unconditional love God extends to all is the love we should strive to extend to one another.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.