Preacher: The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson, Precentor

Reading: Luke 10:25-37

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

In the verses immediately preceding our reading from the Gospel according to Saint Luke, Jesus has named his disciples blessed for seeing things in the way of God. A lawyer, wanting to test him, asks him to elaborate:

‘Teacher,’ he says, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He says to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answers, ‘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 neighbour as yourself.’ And he says to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’ (Luke 10:25-28)

Not understand this, but do this, and you will live.

The lawyer, wanting to justify himself, asks, ‘And who is my neighbour?’

This lawyer is not a solicitor or a barrister, not our sort of lawyer, but an expert in the Jewish law. He would have known the scriptures as well as Jesus and so, when Jesus turns his question about eternal life back on him, the lawyer does answer it well. He mines the Torah, firstly searching out a verse that he and his family would have recited twice daily. This verse, from Deuteronomy chapter 6 (6:5), spoke of loving God. He then recited a second verse (19:18) from Leviticus that spoke of loving neighbour. The lawyer then links these two verses in a way that they have not been linked before. The lawyer has answered well and, in his view, it was the answer that mattered. Not for Jesus though. What mattered for Jesus is the living not the understanding. Do this, he says, and you will live.

The trouble with good works is they tend to swamp us. Where do they begin, where do they end? If understanding is not enough, this lawyer wants boundaries on the compassion required by the law of God and so he asks for a definition of neighbour.

Definitions aren’t exactly Jesus’ style. Jesus, as he so often does, tells a story.

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. (10:30)

Jesus’ mention of the cultural identity of his characters is interesting in this parable. The beaten man is not defined, just named “a man.” As is often the case in a good story, three characters journey along this treacherous road and notice the beaten man.

Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. (10:31)

This “by chance,” leads the hearer of the story to expect that help has come. A priest, the first to travel along the road, sees the man. This is important. His rejection is no accident. The priest saw what was needed and passed by. Then a Levite comes along the road. Our closest analogy to a Levite is, I think, our Master of Ceremonies. Certainly in our cathedral this is not a matter of inheritance, but Levites closely supported Jewish liturgy and so for us, the second character in the story is like an MC. The Levite also sees and passes by. Excuses have been made for these two religious leaders, that the Jewish law would not allow them to touch a dead body, but Jesus is clear that this man is not dead and this man desperately needs help. Saving a life overrides any other Jewish laws and so it is the duty of both the priest and the Levite to help the man. But they pass by.

Jewish listeners to this story would, after hearing of a priest and a Levite journeying along this Jericho Road, then expect an ordinary Israelite to pass by. They would expect this ordinary Israelite to be the one who helps the man and for that to be the surprise in the story. It is impossible for us to experience the shock for those Jewish listeners when Jesus introduces the third traveller along the road. Imagine the politician you would least like to meet, the neighbour you have found most difficult. Imagine the member of your own faith whose understanding of God seems to be so far from your understanding of God that you struggle to name them Christian as you know they would struggle to name you Christian. This will give us some insight into the deliberate shock Jesus is after in telling this story. Jesus’ only purpose in shocking is to further draw us into the ways of God, the kingdom of God, our life in God.

But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. (10:33)

The Samaritan, too, sees the wounded man. He, however, is moved with pity. Jesus goes into extraordinary detail about the care this Samaritan man took of the wounded man. He drives his point home.

[The Samaritan] 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. (10:34)

When the story is over, Jesus looks at the lawyer:

‘Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ (10:36)

He’s twisted the question, do you see? The lawyer asked to whom we are to be neighbour, he has asked for a definition of neighbour, but if you follow the questions in the parable, starting with the initial question of the lawyer to Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?” – you will find yourself stripped, beaten, half dead in a ditch. We find that we are the wounded man and the Samaritan is our neighbor. The New Testament Scholar, Amy-Jill Levine, that many of us were fortunate enough to hear speaking in Adelaide yesterday, says, in fact, that this parable challenges us to “see in the face of the person who is your enemy, the face of the person who saves you.”

We are shown, in this Samaritan, what it is to be a neighbour. The scholar Brendan Byrne says that, “At the end of the parable it is not a question of where and how far I should draw the limits of the notion “neighbour” – to see how far my obligations of “love” extend. It is a question of imitating the hospitality shown by the despised alien who broke through the barriers of ethnic and religious prejudice to minister to a fellow human being in need. The concept of “neighbor” shifts from being a tag that I may or may not apply to another, to being a quality or a vocation that I take upon myself and actively live out.”[1]

‘Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ 

Notice that the lawyer cannot bring himself to name the Samaritan – to name a religious outsider as the one who was neighbour. He simply says the one who showed him mercy. But, ironically, his answer provides an accurate description of a neighbour – it is not about a boundary, religious, cultural, it is about the essence of neighbourliness – one who shows mercy.


The trouble with good works is they tend to swamp us. Where do they begin, where do they end? The lawyer only wanted some guidelines just as we long for some guidelines in our time and place. We have our own questions. What policies should we have in place to protect our borders from those who arrive asking for asylum? What rules for those who ask for money in the offices of our churches or on the streets? What views of faith may we see to be of the God who we believe has made us and redeemed us and restored us to life? What lines may we draw in the sand? These are complex questions but in recent days, there have been comments made by a newly elected senator that we must, in Christ’s name, pronounce as bordering on evil.

This senator clearly wishes that we view the Muslim people as outsiders. Jesus has twisted our question about the boundary on neighbour, exposed this as the wrong question and invited us to see the question as being instead about our vocation as neighbour. Jesus has chosen as his example of a good neighbour one who is outside the Jewish faith. If Jesus in the parable that we know as that of “The Good Samaritan” is saying anything it must surely be that people of all faiths are welcome and loved by God and must be deemed welcome and loved by us. We need, at this uncertain time in our country’s political history, to be very clear about that.

Who is my neighbour? Sorry, Jesus says, you have asked the wrong question. But I’ll tell you a story. And there you might find the possibility that you might be a neighbour …You might there find your vocation is to be neighbour.

[1] Brendan Byrne The Hospitality of God  p101.