The three accounts of Jesus enumerating the first and second greatest commandments involve a conversation between Jesus and a skeptical Pharisee/lawyer (sorry about that). Luke’s account is somewhat different from what’s in Matthew and Mark. After the first and second greatest commandments are reiterated, the lawyer asks: “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29, NIV) Jesus replies by telling the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan.
We remember a man traversing the dangerous road between Jerusalem and Jericho when he was attacked by robbers and left half dead. A priest and a Levite pass him by without offering assistance. A Samaritan sees the injured man and stops. He treats and bandages the man’s wounds, takes him to an inn, and cares for the man further. The next day, the Samaritan gives the innkeeper money to continue care, with the assurance that when he returned, he’d pay any extra expenses. “Which of these three…was a neighbor?” Jesus asked.
The hatred between Jews and Samaritans went back for centuries. The lawyer with whom Jesus was speaking couldn’t even seem to bring himself to say “Samaritan” when he answered Jesus question. Rather, he said, “The one who had mercy” on the robbery victim. (Luke 10:37) The extreme Jewish-Samitan conflict adds to the gravity of the second greatest commandment as recorded in Luke. This parable was meant to be a wakeup call to early Christians, both Jews and Gentiles. Remember — we’re not told whether the man robbed and beaten was a Jew or a Samaritan.
It is no less serious or important for us. With all the hatred and conflict around the world and in the U.S. today, Jesus’ teaching that race or religion should have nothing to do with whom we count as a neighbor is sobering — and uplifting. A neighbor is any person in need.
It also highlights the second greatest commandment as one of scripture’s most important principles — a principle linking our spirits with God’s.