A Tale of Two Brothers; who is my neighbour?.
Luke 10:25–37 and Amos 7:7–17.
I would like to take some time
and explore the question of; who is my neighbour? We currently live in a world
full of turmoil, conflict and hatred. It would not be unreasonable if somebody
asked us if we should class groups such as Al Qaeda, or the Taliban, or
possibly the Muslim brotherhood or even in an extreme case the Ku Klux Klan, as
our neighbours. Should we love these people or should we loathe them and detest
From today’s Bible reading (Luke
10:25-37) we are presented with the only account of what is probably one of the
most recognised of Jesus parables. It explores how our Lord wants us to act in
relationship to our family, friends and more importantly other human beings (our
Does our Lord really want us to
love those who would terrorise us, hold us to ransom, cause us grief and worry
and make us apprehensive of the future?
What I am going to be looking at
today is the parable of the Good Samaritan and it is so popular that I don’t
believe there would be many alive today who have not heard it. It is a story
about human relationships and how if we are not careful we can let our own
religiosities get in the way of our spiritual lives, especially as we go about the
process of trying to find and do God’s will.
However, I wonder how many people
really know why Jesus chose to use a Samaritan as the good guy in this parable.
Of all the people that he could have used as an example, why did he choose a
Samaritan, especially considering all of the different people groups that
existed in the culture of his day?
So, before I start to unpack the story
of the Good Samaritan I want to give some context to the situation in Israel at
the time of its telling and highlight the relationship that existed between the
Jews and the Samaritans and why Jesus choose a Samaritan.
You may have noticed that I chose
two Bible readings for today and not just one. The lectionary readings for
today include a reading from the book of Amos 7:7–17 and it is there I believe we
will find a hint to help us unlock the true meaning behind the parable of the Good
At first glance it is hard to see
how these two passages (Luke 10:25–37) and Amos (7:7–17) come together,
especially as there seems to be no connecting thread or theme on which we can
anchor these two readings. However, if we spend some time reflecting on these
two passages we find why when the lectionary was put together these two
passages were chosen as a pair.
The first thing I would like to
take a look at is the reading from Amos 7 and the history behind it. I hope in
doing so that I might be able to demonstrate that connecting thread between them.
The Prophet Amos 7:12ff was called into service by God at around 750 BC, a time
when Israel was divided into two kingdoms. He was called to prophesy in the
northern kingdom of Israel because of the abuse of power within the social
structure and their compromise with paganism in the religious life of its
A fuller account of what happened
to tear the kingdom in two can be found in 1 Kings 11 and 1 Kings 12. However,
let me give you some of the background behind it.
With the death of King Solomon
(around 931 BC), his son Rehoboam came to the throne of what was then a United Kingdom
of Israel. We read in this account (in 1 Kings 12:1-12) that Rehoboam after the
death of Solomon travelled to Shechem in the north to be inaugurated as King of
what was a united Israel. He did this just as all previous kings from the past
had. It was a tradition.
Unfortunately, Rehoboam he like
his father continued to exact a huge toll of taxation or tribute upon the
people. David and Solomon had introduced taxation because for the first time in
Israel’s history it needed a strong standing army and a public works program. As
a result people started to get restless and groaned under the burden of
taxation by the monarchy and had become restless and looked for change.
When Rehoboam first took office
as the King of the Israel he sought the advice of those around him, many of
whom had been his father’s advisers. He asked them what he should do about the
unrest amongst his people, especially after a Jeroboam and the people
partitioned for an answer to what he was going to do (1 Kings 12:3-5). He was
advised by that older group to lighten the burden. Unfortunately, he chose to
ignore that advice and instead followed advice giving by a group of younger men
with whom he had grown up. They encouraged him to continue to exact the taxes
just as his father had and to actually increase them.
As a result he not only keeps
taxes high but increases the tax burden of those under him. This was to be his
biggest mistake and cost him dearly.
The result of course was
inevitable and the northern part of Israel rebelled against the Rehoboam and
proclaimed Jeroboam (see 1 Kings 11:28-40) as their King, completely ending the
tenuous relationship that had existed between the two parts of the kingdom (north
and south). Thereafter, was born the divided kingdoms of Judah in the south (consisting
of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi, although the Levite’s were scattered
throughout both kingdoms) and Israel in the north (which consisted of the
tribes of Reuben, Simeon, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Ephraim
and Manasseh) (1 Kings 12:1-33.)
Jeroboam, (see 1 Kings 11:28-40)
who had been a servant of the Solomon, was installed as the new King of Israel
(the northern kingdom) was faced with a unique dilemma. Jerusalem which was the
southern area of Judea had by now become the main focus for worship to God
(Yahweh). As such it contained all of the apparatus needed to maintain the
sacrificial system and fulfil the requirements of the covenant that God had
made with Abraham. That apparatus included such things as the Temple itself,
the Ark of the Covenant and the holy of holies along with all the rituals and
sacrifices practiced by the priests and Levites.
In an effort to stop those living
in the northern kingdom of Israel from remaining tied to the temple in
Jerusalem and continuing to journey there for worship and the religious
festivals, Jeroboam’s first task was to establish an official state religious
cult somewhere in the north of what was then called Israel. The cult was needed
to fulfil the worship needs of the population and supply a means and place to
celebrate God’s eternal covenant.
Jeroboam however, was faced with
one major problem. That problem was one of, “theological legitimacy.” In
order to accomplish this Jeroboam set up two places of worship in the north,
one at Bethel and the other at Dan. He had golden calves made as symbols for God’s
presence in these temples; just as the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant
represented the place where God’s presence was found in Jerusalem Temple. This
of coarse was reminiscent of the Golden calf made during the exodus from Egypt (Exodus
32:1-29) and became source of tension between Judah and Israel.
Jeroboam effectively setup a
state religion, one to which his people would be forever tied. It must be said
here, that since the time of the settlement of Israel and the establishment of
the 12 tribal areas (Reuben, Simeon, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar,
Zebulun, Ephraim and Manasseh), the northern part of the kingdom had always
contained a leftover Canaanite influence with regards to the religious
practices of it’s people, due in part to the fact that many of it’s original
occupants still lived there. The people of the exodus had failed to completely
remove all of the previous occupants as they had been instructed to during the
conquest of the promised land (Joshua 13:1-13).
As a result many in the north
still practised different varieties of Pagan worship, the end result being that
when many of them inter-married with the Jewish population of the north, many
of their practices were eventually incorporated into the religion of the state.
This was particularly something
that the Jews in the south were never able to forget or forgive and continued
to hold against those from the north right through until and beyond the time of
Jesus. In Jesus day those in the north were seen as half breeds or less than full
In his effort to attain
theological legitimacy Jeroboam also made Shechem (which was the place where
kings had been traditionally been anointed) his capital city. Shechem was itself
in fact a city with a rich history for the Jewish people. Abraham worshipped
there (Genesis 12:6). Jacob built an altar and purchased land there (Genesis
33:18-20). Joseph was buried there (Joshua 24:32). It was also the geographical
centre of the northern tribes.
In doing this Jeroboam
effectively divided not only the two kingdoms physically but also divided them spiritually.
One people became two people and eventually followed different paths of
worshiping God (Yahweh). As time went on the northern kingdom began to be
referred to as Samaria and the religion of Jeroboam with its pagan influences
was seen as an anathema to the people of Judah.
In the eyes of those in the south,
who had remained faithful to the covenant made between God and Abraham,
Jerusalem continued to be seen as the centre for the practice and worship of
early Judaism. Those in the north or the Samaritans (as they were later called)
became in the eyes of the southern kingdom apostate or to use a term used in
the early Church they were basically excommunicated from the faith.
Amos’s role as a prophet was to
call the northern kingdom to repentance and to prophesy its eventual downfall.
Unfortunately, like many prosperous nations throughout history the population
of the northern kingdom became quite affluent with the result that the rich
became richer and the poor became poorer. Like all of the prophets from the
eighth century BC, Amos (see Amos 1:1-15) declared there was no justice to be
found in the land, and that the poor were oppressed and dispossessed while at
the same time those of the northern kingdom failed to keep proper faith with
Amos’s prophecies apparently
started to cut deep into the psyche of the then King Jeroboam II and Amaziah
the high priest. Amos was eventually ordered by the high priest not to prophesy
anymore in the land of Israel (Amos 7:12-13).
12Then Amaziah said to Amos: “Go, you seer! Flee to the land of
Judah. There eat bread, And there prophesy.
13 But never again prophesy at Bethel, For it is the king’s
sanctuary, And it is the royal residence.”
In the years after their
separation the two kingdoms went on to fight several wars against each other
and there was a lot of treachery and subterfuge that went on which meant there
was a gradual increase in eminently or hatred that grew up between them. So
much so that in later times, when those from the southern kingdom returned from
their exile in Babylon to rebuild the Temple (approx 538 BC), those from the
north were not allowed to help in the rebuilding projects (Ezra 4:1-5). This of
course caused a certain amount of conflict between the two parties. In other
words you could say the Samaritans were basically shunned.
There is of course much more to
this story but for our purposes this gives us enough background so we can understand
the depth of loathing that existed between these two peoples who were once one.
It could be said then that the Jews basically hated and despised the Samaritans.
As I said earlier the Jews saw the Samaritans as less than human.
In all of this we must remember
that the Jewish people from Judah were part of the same family of people as
those who became the Samaritans. They were blood brothers so to speak.
Next, I want to look at the
passage from Luke 10:25–37. Jesus has just witnessed the return of the 70 that
he had sent out to proclaim his gospel, and is confronted by a lawyer who asks,
“Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (See Psalm 34:12ff).
Jesus in his usual manner answers the question with another question. Jesus
asks him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?”
The lawyer answered him saying, “you
shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all
your strength, and with all your mind, ‘and your neighbour as yourself. ‘” (Luke
10:27). This lawyer was of course not a lawyer in the sense that we understand
one today but was more of an interpreter of the biblical law rather than
someone who would stand up and defend people in a court of law.
Jesus goes on to probe for a
deeper answer, sensing that the lawyer is seeking to test him, especially when
he asks Jesus, “who is my neighbour?” This gives our Lord an opportunity
to present a parable that will not only challenge the lawyer and his understanding
and interpretation of the law but will also shock anybody who hears it. It is
in fact quite a radical story if we consider the opinion of the Jews towards
As I said the parable of the Good
Samaritan is probably one of the best-known parables that Jesus delivered
during his earthly ministry, so why did he particularly choose to use the road
from Jerusalem to Jericho as the place for this encounter? And why did he choose
to have a Samaritan in the story?
The reason I believe he used the
road to Jericho is because it was so treacherous, especially considering that
it was a winding narrow cliff road leading down the side of a steep mountain,
one that was barely wide enough for one person let alone several. It was well
known at that time that the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was an area known
for its bandits, considering there were so many places to hide and ambush a
Rather than retell the story I
would like to look at the responses of those three individuals who came upon
the injured man. The priest of course was on his way to Jericho after having
finished his service at the Temple in Jerusalem. Where I imagine he would have
carried out all the different forms and rituals needed to fulfil the covenant.
He probably would have been, I think a Pharisee and his response would have
been fairly typical considering that the man was apparently half dead.
For the Pharisees to even touch
what could possibly be a dead corpse would have ritually defiled them. It was
something which they avoided at all costs, even if that meant putting that
ritual purity first before compassion. Their role in the Temple was dependant
upon their ritual cleanliness and they sort to keep the law right down to every
dot and tittle. In the Jewish religion there were several schools of thought with
regards to which way and order the different commandments should be practiced.
Firstly, there was the “School
of Shammai” which had a very rigid interpretation of the law. Many
commentators believe that the Pharisees mostly belonged to this school of
Secondly, there was the “School
of Hillel” which was more relaxed in the way in which they interpreted the
law and how it should be practised. This school of thought was considered to be
mainly made up of Sadducees.
So strict was the “School of
Shammai “in its interpretation of the law that many believe that keeping
law was more important than loving your neighbour.
Likewise, the Levite who was one
of those who were responsible for carrying out the different tasks in the
Temple system, was unwilling to be defiled, rather than show compassion towards
this injured man. It is possible that he also could have been a Pharisee. It is
of course hard to imagine somebody who would rather put keeping the law before
helping others, but in the time of Jesus many of the religious groups within
the Temple system seemed to be paranoid about doing so. It is a sad indictment
against them and Jesus knew this as he was telling the story.
This is not unlike some today
where we see many who would rather put barriers around their religious lives
rather than take a chance that they may somehow be infected by those around
I’m sure in the mind of the
lawyer who some commentators believe was a Sadducee, what Jesus tells of next
would have come not only as a shock but also with some astonishment. He may
have believed that the person who was going to come to the aid of the dying man
would in fact be a Sadducee. In his culture, that would have been the logical
conclusion to the parable.
This leads to my second point, the
last thing the lawyer would have expected was that our Lord would have
introduced a Samaritan into this equation because as we know now the Jews hated
and despised them. These people were seen as the lowest of the low, outcasts;
in fact a good Pharisee or Sadducee travelling through the northern part of the
kingdom would make a detour around Samaria rather than travel through it, even
if it meant an extra 100 miles of travel.
This hatred and loathing is contrast
against the compassion and mercy that was shown to the injured man by the
Samaritan. We read that the Samaritan took compassion on him (Luke 10:33). The
underlying Greek word ("esplanchnisthe")
"esplanchnisthe" used here has a far richer meaning
than our English equivalent, just as many other Greek words do. For example the
word love can be expressed in three different ways (agape ‘the love that God
has for us’, ‘phileo the love we have for one another’ and ‘eros which is
classed as sexual or erotic love‘). That deeper meaning behind compassion can
only be expressed in a phrase such as, “to be filled with heartfelt mercy”
or even “to have mercy from one’s inner core. “ It implies a deep internal
feeling of sympathy and empathy as contrast to attitude of the priest and the
Levite. The Samaritans feelings are translated into a sacrificial action of
At the end of the passage where
Jesus asks the lawyer which one of the three was the man’s neighbour the lawyer
is unable to even express the word Samaritan. So great was his hatred for them
that he replies instead, “he who showed mercy on him” (Luke 10:37).
If one thing can be said about Jesus’
parables it is that they aim to lead us to a decision. What is more important,
keeping the law, traditions, rules, regulations, personal prejudices or showing
those around us that they like us are created in the image of God and deserve
our love no matter what they have done?
On the cross Jesus in an act of
supreme love, cried out “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what
they do.” (Luke 23:34). Even during his darkest hour and enduring what must
have been the most agonising suffering our Lord did not condemn those who were
crucifying him but rather asked for their forgiveness before God. It was the
ultimate act of love and compassion demonstrated to us, so that I believe we
could gain some idea of how far we should go when it comes to loving our
Another example would be that of
the apostle Stephen who as he is being stoned (Acts 7:59-60) calls out to God and
asks, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.”
I want to ask a question. Who are
the Samaritans in our society? Who are those in our society that we most look
down upon because I’m sure that if we are truly honest with ourselves, there is
always one particular element in our society that we each find unlovable.
We live in a world that is crying
out for love and compassion and the sad reality is that in many cases people
are unable to find it within the church at large. The church is the very place
that the people of the world should be able to walk into at any time and find
acceptance. Too often we condemn them or place conditions on our acceptance of
them, asking them to immediately change all their old ways, so as to conform to
our understanding of what God wants from us.
We forget that we too came to
Jesus as broken fallen people asking him accept us as we were; sinful, full of
foibles, full of insecurities, complete with our own prejudices and opinions.
Who then is our neighbour? As we
are all created in the image of God all people no matter their ethnicity,
religion, politics or lifestyle are our neighbours and we should love them as
we love ourselves. This does not mean that we should condone inappropriate
behaviour but rather that we should be excepting and loving towards our
neighbour in the hope that we might be an instrument in bringing them to a
saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So, how can I or you express our
love for my neighbour? Here are three practical ways:
1. "Weep with those who
weep" (Romans 12:15). Grieve with them. Sometimes the greatest sermon is
2. "Bear one another's
burdens" (Galatians 6:2). Come alongside the weak and help them carry the
load. The Good Samaritan is a great example of this.
3. "Pray for one
another" (James 5:16). This helps people focus on the fact that God is in
control. And may I add: Pray with them, not just for them.
Be that source of comfort, as God
has comforted you!
These are the words of a popular
song by a group called Foreigner and it highlights the need in the world for
understanding of what love is.
want to know what love is. By Foreigner.
got to take a little time
little time to think things over
better read between the lines
case I need it when I'm older
this mountain I must climb
like a world upon my shoulders
through the clouds I see love shine
keeps me warm as life grows colder
my life there's been heartache and pain
don't know if I can face it again
stop now, I've travelled so far
change this lonely life
want to know what love is
want you to show me
want to feel what love is
know you can show me
going to take a little time
little time to look around me
got nowhere left to hide
looks like love has finally found me
my life there's been heartache and pain
don't know if I can face it again
can't stop now, I've travelled so far
change this lonely life
to know what love is
want you to show me
to feel what love is
know you can show me
to know what love is
want you to show me
I want to feel, I want to feel what love is
I know, I know you can show me
talk about love
want to know what love is) the love that you feel inside
want you to show me) I'm feeling so much love
want to feel what love is) no, you just cannot hide
know you can show me) yeah,
to know what love is, let's talk about love
want you to show me) I want to feel it too
want to feel what love is) I want to feel it too
I know, and I know, I know you can show me
me what is real, yeah I know
want to know what love is) hey I want to know what love
want you to show me), I want to know, I want to know, want know
want to feel what love is), hey I want to feel, love
know you can show me.