“’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.’” (Luke 10:36–37, NIV84)
Jesus ended the parable of the Good Samaritan with a question, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” In the parable, a man was robbed and beaten. Both a Levite and a teacher of the law saw the man but walked on the other side of the street and passed by. Only the Samaritan stopped to care for the man. The young man who asked Jesus originally, “Who is my neighbor?” was now forced to answer the question himself. He said, “The one who had mercy on him.” And Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”
At first glance this parable seems easy enough to understand and apply. But there is a troubling aspect of this parable that gnaws at me. Why did the other two men walk by and not help? Didn’t they care? Something about their religious beliefs moved them to not extend mercy to the beaten man. Did you catch that? Something about their religious beliefs. The very thing that should have caused them to be merciful had become so messed up that it actually moved them to do the opposite. Both of the religious leaders were faced with a dilemma. First, who was the man? And second, might he be dead? If he were not a Jew of equal stature to them, he would have been undeserving of their mercy. If he happened to be dead, or died while they were caring for him, they would have become ceremonially unclean and not able to perform the works of ministry they were on their way to do. So, they did nothing! Mercy was not an option. Mercy was swallowed up in religious legalism.
All this has me thinking about whether I clearly understand who my neighbor is. Do I hide behind my religious beliefs in areas that would give me permission to not be merciful? Jesus is telling us that all humankind is our neighbor and is worthy of mercy. All humankind! Everyone from every culture and walk of life is worthy of mercy and grace. We are to love them as we love ourselves.
Spend some time today pondering whether your idea of love and mercy toward others is inclusive or exclusive.