“What must I do to be saved?”
“What is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
These three questions are closely related. You see, all three questions are intimately related to the topic of salvation.
And it is the last of those questions that Jesus is asked in our passage today. The conversation continues as follows after Jesus is asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the law?” He asked him. “How do you read it?”
He answered: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
“You’ve answered correctly,” He told him. “Do this and you will live.”
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus took up the question and said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him up, and fled, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down that road. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way, a Levite, when he arrived at the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion. He went over to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him. When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend.’
“Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
“The one who showed mercy to him,” he said.
Then Jesus told him, “Go and do the same.”
The man asks Jesus how to get eternal life. In the verses that follow we are shown the answer, the implication, the example, the understanding, and the outworking.We must enter this ground humbly and prayerfully today.
The answer (26-27)
Jesus answers the question by asking the man how he understands the Law of God. Jesus wanted him to work out the conclusion himself, rather than just giving him the answer. By having the conversation this way, it forced the man–an “expert in the Law”–to be responsible for the answer. If Jesus had simply stated the answer, the man could have said, “That’s just Your opinion,” and blown it off. But Jesus forces him to become responsible for the answer he gives.
The answer the man gives is as follows: Love God completely. Love your neighbor too.
In other places we see Jesus answer a similar question with the same answer, so it is not as though Jesus is just using his answer to trap him. In both Matthew and Mark, Jesus says the whole Law is summed up by loving God and loving neighbor.
The man gives his answer. In all likelihood he is patting himself on the back for the correctness of his answer. Perhaps he had even heard Jesus make His statement recorded in Matthew 22:37-40, so he gave the same answer that he knew Jesus would give so that he could get points with Jesus.
Regardless, at this point in the narrative we have been confronted by the command, “Love God with everything you have,” and “Love your neighbor like you love yourself.”
Do you love God with all parts of yourself?
Do you love your neighbor like yourself?
That does not mean, “Do you love yourself so you can love your neighbor?” It means, much more basically, “Just like you love yourself enough to take care of yourself, love your neighbor in the same way: take care of him/her!”
How are you doing in the area of love?
The implication (28)
Jesus tells this man, “That’s right. Good answer.
“Theologically, the man was exactly right. But Jesus does not just care about whether or not a person has the right theology. The devil has better theology than any believer, but will never experience the blessings of eternal life.
Jesus goes on. He also says, “Do this and you will live.”
Considering that the man specifically asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” and Jesus says the result of fulfilling the Great Commandment is “you will live” would mean that there is a way to earn eternal life. And as believers, it must describe our lives or we do not actually have eternal life.
The example (29-35)
At this point the man decides to try to hint at his own righteousness. He tries to boost himself and say, in effect, “Then I’m all set. I got this eternal life in the bag.”
He asks Jesus, “Just who is my neighbor?” hoping that Jesus’s answer would prove that the man already had a grasp on eternal life.
Jesus doesn’t give a short answer. Instead he tells a parable. In short, a parable is an analogy that sets forth a spiritual truth with everyday, common examples.
The story is well-known in Christian circles, especially if a person has spent much time around the church throughout their lives. However, as familiarity breeds contempt, we must not divorce this parable from what comes before or what comes after.
The man had asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus says he must love his neighbor to have eternal life. The man asks who his neighbor is. Then Jesus tells a story.
A man had been traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. Because he was from Jerusalem it is safe to say that this man was a Jew. While on his way he is attacked and robbed and left for dead. While he’s laying in his own blood, several Jewish religious people encounter him, but for fear of being ritually contaminated, they leave him to die. Then a Samaritan comes across the beaten and bloodied man. Jesus explains,
“when [the Samaritan] saw the man, he had compassion. He went over to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him. When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend.'”
And thus the story ends.
Jesus defines a neighbor as someone in need. Jesus defines love of neighbor as dropping everything, taking care of said need, and potentially being monetarily inconvenienced as a result of caring for the neighbor.
The understanding (36-37a)
And then Jesus turns to the man and asks him, “Who proved to be a neighbor of the man who was beaten and robbed?”
The man, while his theological training would have told him that the religious leaders were his neighbors, must admit that the other man was truly the neighbor.
It is interesting how he words his answer though. He doesn’t say, “The Samaritan.” Rather, he wastes a lot more words to say, “The one who showed mercy to him.” How humiliated he was by Jesus’s parable!
The Jews hated Samaritans. They were long lost relatives; the Samaritans were the descendants that resulted from intermarriage with foreigners while the Jews had only married fellow Jews. The Jews despised the Samaritans. In the Jews’s eyes, the Samaritans did not truly love God because they had not followed the Law as well as the Jews had.
So for the man talking to Jesus to admit–admittedly without vocalizing his nationality–that the Samaritan had truly loved the Jewish man in a neighborly way, is huge.
Jesus has this man right where He wants him. And as such He has us where He wants us too.
The outworking (37b)
Jesus speaks thus to the man: “Go and do the same.”
We don’t know whether this man obeyed Jesus because this is where his story ends. But we do know the challenge.
The man had asked how to inherit eternal life. The love command comes up and is then expanded upon. Jesus explains that if a person loves his/her neighbor, he/she will have eternal life. The man asks what makes a person a neighbor. Jesus tells a parable illustrating the answer, and the man understands. Jesus tells the man, and us reading today, to do the same thing the Samaritan did. Jesus says that this is how we will inherit eternal life.
It makes us ask ourselves, “Do we really love our neighbors?” While it doesn’t in every case look like what the Samaritan did for the Jewish man who had been robbed, the point stands that we definitely cannot claim to love our neighbors if we refuse to take time for them or invest money in them.
And if we do not take time for our neighbors or invest money into them, have we really inherited eternal life? According to Jesus, the answer would be no.
The One who perfectly loves His neighbors
If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve probably realized that you cannot inherit eternal life by yourself. You do not love this way. In order to inherit eternal life in this way, from the day of your birth you must love this way–even those you would consider your enemies.
However, there is a Man who practiced what He preached. In fact, He more than practiced what He preached. Instead of simply loving His neighbor like Himself, He loved His neighbor more than Himself. In fact, He loved His enemies more than He loved Himself.
This is Jesus. This is the same Jesus who was conversing with the man in our passage today. Less than a year after this conversation, He was crucified by the religious leaders of Israel.
He had perfectly fulfilled the Law. He had no reason to be condemned to death. He had never sinned. He had perfectly loved His whole life.
He died in our place. He died for us who fail to love rightly. He died for us who actively hold on to grudges and consider people enemies.
We must believe in Him so that we can be seen as having loved perfectly like He did. If you believe in Him and His perfect life of love, you will inherit eternal life. Believe in Him today!
And if you do believe in Him, He calls you to obey the Greatest Commandment.
So how well do you love your enemies?
How well do you love your friends?
How well do you love your neighbors?
Jesus calls you to practice this love every day. But do not love this way to try to earn your salvation; love this way because you firmly believe that you were loved this way by Jesus!
Eternal life depends on it.
Soli Deo Gloria