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God’s Word for You

Luke 10:25-29 who is my neighbor

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Good Samaritan

25 An expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. He said, “Teacher, what do I have to do so that I will receive eternal life?”

This question will lead to Jesus telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. The connection seems to be this: This man was an expert in the Law of Moses—he was certainly a Levite and may even have been a priest and a Pharisee. He was displeased with Jesus’ statement to the 72 disciples that their names were “written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). Jesus had gone on to praise the faith of his disciples: The wise and learned do not know (Luke 10:21), and kings and prophets had longed to see and hear what they saw and heard (Luke 10:24). Now, this lawyer stood up to ask a question. He knew the law of Moses backward and forward. If these disciples had their names written in heaven, what did he need to do?

Notice this last point. What the lawyer says is, “What do I have to do?” He thought he already deserved eternal life. He wanted to trip Jesus up with a little test to see whether Jesus agreed with the Law of Moses.

For the sake of these comments, I have assumed that verses 25ff. are directly connected with the verses that precede. I recognize that some do not think that such a connection exists, but Luke’s use of the Greek exclamation idou (ἰδοὺ) “behold” usually draws attention to something new or demands closer consideration of a point (“Behold, your father and I have been anxiously searching for you,” Luke 2:48). Only rarely does idou introduce an entirely new story (Matthew 13:3), and Luke usually uses this term along with kai (“and”) to point out a detail or a person in a scene already established. Some of these include the new condition (ἰδοὺ) of Zechariah’s dumbness (Luke 1:20), someone who was present there in Jerusalem when the Holy family came with their sacrifice (Luke 2:24), the men bearing their paralyzed friend when Jesus was already teaching in a house (Luke 5:18), a certain man with dropsy who was in a Pharisee’s house (Luke 14:1-2), and many other cases.

26 “What is written in the law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

The lawyer’s question had implied that Jesus was teaching a new doctrine—something not written in the Law of Moses. Jesus’ answer cuts that concern away completely. This isn’t new. This doesn’t contradict Scripture. Tell me what you read in Moses?

The word anaginosko (ἀναγινώσω, “How do you read it?”) can simply mean to read something, like the Ethiopian reading Isaiah to himself (Acts 8:28,30) or the Jews reading the inscription on Jesus’ cross (John 19:20). But it also means to read something aloud in public, especially reading the Scriptures in worship (Luke 4:16; Acts 15:21). Jesus isn’t asking this lawyer to interpret anything, but to consider the word of God as it is written; as it is read aloud in the synagogue. Don’t spin it. Don’t discuss it. Don’t explain it. Just quote it and hear what’s being said.

    27 He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and, love your neighbor as yourself.”
    28 Jesus said, “You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live.”

The lawyer answered with a quote from the law. His words were from two different places in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 6:5 (“Love the Lord your God…”) and Leviticus 19:18 (“Love your neighbor as yourself”). The fourfold “with all your…” is quoted twice in the New Testament (see also Mark 12:30) but it’s only threefold in Deuteronomy (heart, soul, strength). In Matthew 22:37, strength is omitted, and mind appears. This juggling of terms elsewhere doesn’t need to bother us since Jesus himself agrees about all four terms here. Heart and soul have to do with the will of a man—where his faith resides, spiritually in his soul and physically in, we would say, the heart. Mind and strength also have to do with the will—in the carrying out of one’s faith. The mind and the body put one’s faith into action. The mind decides one’s will and can overcome physical weakness, and the body’s strength carries out that will.

The two Old Testament passages describe the Ten Commandments in a positive way: Love God and love your neighbor. Put this love into action in every aspect of your life and even of your thoughts. The one important omission here is to love with one’s words as well as one’s actions, but even words are considered under the individual commandments, especially the Second and Eighth.

Jesus’ answer to the lawyer’s legal definition of obedience is: “Do this and you will live.” Of course, any honest person will admit, “I can’t do this.” But the lawyer thought he had found a loophole. He believed that he could use his own definition of who his neighbor was to show that he had truly done everything God demands. He believed that he had found or made a definition of the Law that made him out to be holy and perfect on his own terms.

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

The Jews of Jesus’ day answered this question in different ways. Some thought that “Love your neighbor” would naturally have a counterpoint: “Hate your enemy.” This view is what Jesus was countering with part of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:43-48). Other Jews—maybe a lot of the ordinary Jews in Israel—thought it meant “Love your fellow Israelite.” Jews of some of the rigid sects thought it meant even less: “Love the Pharisees (or Sadducees).” The Essenes, Jews who lived as hermits in the caves around the Dead Sea, called everyone outside their own sect “the sons of darkness” and referred to the High Priest in Jerusalem as “the false (or wicked) priest” (Habakkuk Commentary).

What the lawyer did not realize was the limitless breadth of meaning God has of “neighbor.” One’s neighbor is not limited to this or that person but is all people. This is what Jesus demonstrates with the parable that follows.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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