Luke 10:25-42 (AD 29)
The “expert in the law” (v.25) in this story doesn’t have many fans. Typically we give him the big eye roll and tut-tut. ‘Test Jesus, would you? Good luck with THAT…pfff…religious leaders eh…’. But he doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the way he answers Jesus’ question. When Jesus asked, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” (v.26) he wasn’t asking for the gist, the vibe or the underlying narrative, or at least not obviously so. The easy answer would have been to recite some verses or key facts/laws from the Torah, but his answer was far more inciteful and godly than almost anyone else we hear from in the gospels, including the disciples.
He correctly summarises that above all else we are to love God with everything we have, and to love those around us as much as we love ourselves. If put on the spot, would your summary of the Torah be that enlightened?
His problem was not his uncommonly good understanding of the spirit of the Old Testament and the plan of God. His problem was that really knowing God was less important to him than already being right. It’s a temptation we all face, particularly when confronted with Scriptures that appear to show we have been living, thinking or speaking in the wrong way. Rather than be concerned to submit ourselves to what God says we may try to remould Scripture so that it looks more like us.
The law expert was rather hoping that when Jesus told him who his “neighbour” was, that Jesus would say ‘fellow law-abiding Israelite’, which is the tone of Leviticus 19:18 and was a traditional understanding of the concept of a neighbour.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan, however, points out that your neighbour is anyone you come into contact with who needs your help. The priest and Levite who passed by the injured fellow-Jew in the parable, figured ‘I work in the temple, so God wouldn’t want me stopping to help this guy’ (and thus becoming ritually unclean), which fitted neatly with their deep-seated desire to NOT help that guy.
Meanwhile the point of the Law (love) as correctly identified by the ‘expert in the law’, passed by the priest and Levite as surely as they passed by the wounded man. The Samaritan, although naturally an enemy of the wounded Jewish man, had no such issues and responded out of love, i.e. as a neighbour.
The expert in the law astutely answered Jesus’ follow-up question, that the concept of being a neighbour was bound up with behaviour rather than proximity (he really was a smart guy), and Jesus concluded by challenging him to go be a neighbour.
We don’t know whether he did, because the nameless expert was not the point of the story: the concept of treating everyone with love as a neighbour was the point of the story. We know this better than the expert did, so our obligation to “Go and do likewise” (v.37) is that much greater.