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The lawyer who tested our Lord’s doctrines showed himself to know about religious ritualism but asked the wrong question (vv. 25-29). Jesus countered his question by asking him what he understood the essence of the law to be. His answer, to love God with all one’s heart, soul, strength and mind, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, was quite remarkable. As a lawyer, or scribe, he was held in high esteem by the people, much as we might revere a noted seminary professor. The law to the Jews meant primarily the first five books of the Bible, called the Torah. But rabbis through the years had developed their ideas about he meaning of the various texts of the laws. These oral traditions are known as the Mishnah, meaning “to repeat.” These teachings were eventually reduced to written accounts, known as the Talmud. To put this into our context, the writings of Thomas Jefferson are often recited to throw light on concepts found in the Constitution of the United States. The Talmud, in turn, was organized under six main topics: (1) Seeds dealt with agricultural issues, (2) Set times explained annual feasts, and festivals, (3) Women dealt with laws of marriage, divorce, and vows, (4) There was a section on civil and criminal laws, (5) Holy things concerned the temple, functions and meaning, and (6) Writings devoted to cleannesses as well as laws of ceremonial purity.
Not only did the lawyer have the wrong question, but also he had the wrong attitude (vv. 30-32). He grossly underestimated the wisdom of what he considered to be an itinerant preacher at best or a rabble-rouser at worst. The lawyer had affirmed that he had fulfilled all of the law’s demands, but he left himself wide open with his slyly phrased question about describing what was meant by neighbor. The law was quite explicit about that, or so he thought. After all, Leviticus 19:18 seemed to apply the word neighbor to a brother, companion, fellow, or a friend, all of whom were apparently Israelites. Perhaps the lawyer was testing this rabbi’s interpretation.
Jesus side-stepped a direct answer by describing a common event of that time. Jericho was known as the town where priests resided. The journey of about 17 miles from Jerusalem down to Jericho through a mountainous region was noted for the ready hiding places for robbers. It was known as “The Way of Blood.” Jesus referred to “a certain man” who fell among thieves who stripped him of his clothing, beat him and left him to die. A priest and the Levite came by, saw his condition, and passed by on the other side.
Jesus forced the lawyer to gain an insight into himself by showing his attitude toward what the Jews considered to be an outcast (vv. 33-35). The Samaritans were the mixed race remnants of the people left in the land after the fall to the Assyrians in 721 B.C. So deep was the prejudice against them that Jews refused to walk through Samaria, going eastward across the Jordan River. To the horror of the lawyer, the Samaritan stopped, treated the wounds, put on fresh clothing, and transported him to an inn, even leaving enough money to care for the wounded man for 24 days, but pledging to pay more on his return if necessary.
Jesus then elicited from the lawyer an admission of his own prejudice (vv. 36-37). When Jesus asked him who was the true neighbor, the lawyer, refusing to utter the vulgar word, Samaritan, weakly answered, “He who showed mercy on him.” The initial question he asked (v. 25) showed his error. He thought righteousness could be earned.
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