Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live." But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. 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; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise." (Luke 10:25-37)
The Lawyer asks Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus answers, essentially, "your neighbor is your enemy." Another question must be asked: who are WE in this parable? The answer is we can be all of the roles in this parable.
Many times we are like the Priest and the Levite, not having time to get involved. We know that the world acts like this all the time. We rationalize it by saying to ourselves that we may be putting ourselves in danger by helping. We lack the faith to help. Most of the time we feel like this, but because of this very parable, we know that this is not the way to behave. We actually motivate ourselves to not behave this way. Of course, this is not asking for God's grace, but attempting to be a good Christian under our own power.
Second, we like to be in the role of the victim, especially in this day and age. I'm not saying that we are ever the victim. There are times when we feel like we have been dragged behind a truck, and this is a way for us to think of Jesus in the Samaritan role, coming to help us and dress our wounds. However, we lapse into Moralistic Therapeutic Deism again, and we end up asking for Jesus' help only when we really need him, and if you help me, Lord, this time I'm going to be really good. We need Jesus at all times, the good times and the bad times.
Of course, we are taught in Sunday School to be like the Samaritan, to help anyone in need, to dress their wounds, to put them on our mules, to pay their inn bills. This is the social gospel, and it is a good role for us to be in, but it is not the point of the parable. The answer to, "who is my neighbor?" is not the victim, and so we must help him. The answer to the question is the Samaritan, enemy of the Jew, the one the Lawyer cannot even name. We are to love our neighbors, and our neighbors are oftentimes our enemies, people who do not wish us well.
This is not an easy place to be in. In fact, it is impossible for us to love our neighbors, and only by the grace of God can we wish our enemies well. There is another role that we find ourselves in, and it is just outside of the parable. It is the role of the lawyer.
Note that the lawyer is very well versed. When asked by Jesus what are the commandments, he hones in on the summary of the law. This is good. He didn't try to remember the Jewish ceremonial laws or even the ten commandments. He went right for the correct answer. But then, he attacks only the second commandment: loving your neighbor. He has forgotten all about loving God, and this is the problem we find ourselves in.
Look at the following passage from Deuteronomy:
And the LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors, when you obey the LORD your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe. (Deuteronomy 30:9-14)
Taken alone, without New Testament interpretation, this sounds like the easiest thing in the world. Even the Lord tells us that the law is not too far away from us. We can attain it, and like the lawyer, this is just what we do. We try to save ourselves through the law, and then we actually test Jesus when we run into problems.
Now, listen to what Paul says:
He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)
God is the one with the power, not us. We have been snagged by the prosperity gospel, and so we believe in ourselves over God. The question the lawyer should have followed up with is not "who is my neighbor?" but "How do I love God?" Remember the sequence of events here: "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Keep the two great commandments. "But who is my neighbor?" Loving our neighbor is crucial, but only God enables us to love our neighbors, so instead of going down the left fork, the lawyer should have gone down the right one: "How do I love God?" Loving God is the greater of the two commandments. It is the crux, so to speak, of the issue. If we want to learn how to love our neighbor, the way is through loving God. It is the part we have forgotten and continue to forget to this day. We preach the Good Samaritan and forget that we are all lawyers, attempting to test the Lord every day.
Love God. He is the one who transfers us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Jesus. He enables us to love our neighbor, even if that neighbor is an enemy.