The good Samaritan story does not stand alone, it comes in the midst of other stories. Luke is not just recording history, Luke is writing his account of the gospel, the good news that the world is being made right through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus has come to show humanity a better way to live, one aspect of which is revealed in the parable of the good Samaritan.
In the beginning of Luke 10 Jesus sends out the seventy. He sends them out to places he intends to visit at a later time. The seventy are sent in some ways to prepare the way. They are sent out to spread the news that the Kingdom is coming; that Jesus is ushering in a new way of life. He gives them some guidelines to follow on their trip, but mainly he reminds them that no matter what happens their calling is to declare the Kingdom of God is near. After sending out the seventy, Jesus denounces some unrepentant cities. Kingdom work has been happening but they did not respond. It’s never good to dismiss the work of God in your midst (probably a good reminder for us even today). After the seventy return there is much rejoicing, even the demons listen to us, they say. Jesus cautions however, don’t rejoice that demons listen to you, rejoice that your names are written in the book of life. Jesus prays out loud to God, I thank you that you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and have instead revealed them to little children.
The parable of the good Samaritan is based on this context. When the lawyer stands up to question Jesus, he should immediately be seen as one of the wise and learned who are missing the point of the Kingdom. The Samaritan, on the other hand, becomes the child who has come to understand what the Kingdom is all about. The lawyer is testing Jesus. His question is not an innocent question seeking deeper understanding. The lawyer is trying to trick Jesus. Jesus, however, outmaneuvers him and actually gets the lawyer to speak the greatest commands: love of God and love of neighbor. However, the lawyer is not done and in an attempt to justify himself asks another question, who is my neighbor? It is to this question that Jesus addresses the parable.
A traveler on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho falls into the hands of bandits and is robbed, beaten, stripped naked, and left for dead. He is vulnerable as he lies on the side of the road. The priest and Levite who should be compelled to stop and help a fellow Jew choose instead to walk by on the other side. The bandits may still be around, and sometimes, it’s just easier to not get involved. However, a Samaritan also passes that way and he chooses to stop and help. The Samaritan, as an outsider, is already a vulnerable character in the story and he becomes even more vulnerable by stopping to help the injured man. He takes the time to bandage the man’s wounds and lead him to a place of safety. The road is still dangerous, but he is compelled by love for neighbor to become vulnerable for one who is in need. It is this example of loving neighbor to the point of vulnerability that Jesus encourages us to emulate.
Too often when we discuss this parable we debate the question, who is my neighbor? Yet in so doing we become like the wise and learned, reveling in our knowledge while we miss the point of the story. Jesus has changed the question from who is my neighbor to what is required of me toward my neighbor. If I am going to love my neighbor with a godly love I must become vulnerable. Too often we want to love our neighbors on our terms. We make them come to our buildings, follow our rules, and meet our standards. In this way, we hold the power. Real love of neighbor, however, requires us to become vulnerable. It requires us to risk something. It requires us to be present with our neighbor, to be an advocate for our neighbor. Real love of neighbor doesn’t ask questions, it just responds with mercy and compassion.
Becoming vulnerable, entering another’s environment in order to offer love and acceptance, risking something even for those we don’t know, doesn’t make sense, but it is the way of the Kingdom.