“Who Was Tested?”
There is a story that I read in seminary about a famous Jewish teacher who lived some 200 years before Jesus. It went something like this…
A “heathen” (the term used by the author) told a rabbi that he would convert to the Jewish faith if he could explain the Torah while he stood on one foot. The rabbi replied, “Do not do to another that which is not desirable to you. The rest is commentary. Go and read it.” The heathen was converted.
Today’s text begins with Jesus being “tested” by a lawyer. He is asked what one must do to inherit eternal life? Jesus uses a debate device by asking a question in response to the question, “What do you say?” Without hesitation the answer is given to love God completely and one’s neighbor as oneself. Jesus replies that he is correct. Then the lawyer asks Jesus to define just who his neighbor is?
That is the question of the hour...
Who is my neighbor? What does he or she look like? What color is their skin? What language do they speak? What is their income status? …their education? …their politics? …their sexuality? People are even being judged by the clothing (or uniform) they wear. We seem more and more to live in a world that has more of “them” and fewer of “us.”
Jesus responds with a story designed to overturn the assumption that those who seem the most like us are our “neighbor.”
The story of the Good Samaritan reveals a bias that was theological, nationalistic and racial. When the story portrayed the true “neighbor” as the Samaritan the lawyer cannot even bring himself to speak the word. He simply replies to Jesus that the neighbor was, “The one who showed mercy.”
An Eastern mystic was asked a question in a similar vein, “How are we to treat others?” The mystic replied, “There are no others.” This is the message of the scriptures; we are all under the umbrella of creation. There are no “others.” There are only those who choose to act with mercy and kindness and those of us who act with malice or indifference.
It is interesting that Jesus did not emphasize the character of the robbers in his telling the story of the Good Samaritan. He emphasizes the “inaction” of the religious class (the priest and the Levite).
If we are to be a “neighbor” to another we are called to "act" with mercy.
Let us go and do likewise!