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 neighbor 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 neighbor?”
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 neighbor 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.”
Jesus was a master storyteller! He had a wonderful way of crafting his words so as to illustrate truth in a way that would guide his listener in how to live. In today’s reading, Jesus describes what real faith, put into action, looks like. Two men, a priest and a Levite, passed by the man beaten and left for dead along the road. Both would have been considered men of great faith by Jesus’ listeners, but both passed by without lifting a finger to help. By crossing over to the other side of the road, Jesus indicated that they even went out of their way to avoid the injured man all together! In contrast, a Samaritan man went out of his way to help in whatever way he could and he even agreed to foot the bill for any additional expenses the injured man might incur on his way to full recovery.
Jesus had a way of flipping people’s idea of what is right and wrong upside down. His words would have shocked the people who heard his story that day. For as much as the priest and the Levite might have been revered in Jewish culture, the Samaritan would have been even more despised! It would have been unthinkable to Jesus’ listeners that a lowly Samaritan would be capable of such a kindness when their own learned “faith giants” appeared to think themselves above helping to meet the injured man’s needs.
With a simple story Jesus taught that living a life worthy of eternal reward is more than just saying we believe or knowing a whole lot about God. He showed just how important faith put into action really is. Our faith should compel our hearts, our hands, and our feet to act. Our faith and our love for God is best illustrated when it begins to change us, moving us to act on behalf of those around us.