Love without Limits

Christ was a revolutionary and his message was revolutionary. He was revolutionary in the way he taught, in the things he did and in the way he behaved. He also changed the social status of various groups who were on the edges of society: tax collectors, shepherds and women. Jesus, in his unique way, gave each of them a prominent place. The books of the New Testament start with the Gospel of Matthew, written by a tax collector; shepherds were the first people to worship the new-born King; and women were the first missionaries, since they were the first to see the empty tomb and to tell the disciples, "He is risen
However, Jesus' social revolution extended beyond the borders of Jewish society and included another group of outsiders, the Samaritans. In John 4, Jesus came into a Samaritan city and initiated a conversation with a woman that ended with many in that place believing that he was the Saviour of the world. Considering the rivalry that existed between Jews and Samaritans, it was revolutionary for Christ to even go into that city, let alone stay there for two days. But for Christ there were no boundaries that could not be crossed.

Love your Neighbour

The parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10 is different from others in that it is a story within a story. A lawyer, skilled in the Mosaic Law, comes to ask Jesus a question. His purpose was neither to discover nor to learn but rather to test the Teacher and cause him to stumble. So, as was often Jesus’ method, he answered the question with another question, one that began with a story and ended with an obvious answer.

The parable is not about doing good but about whom we should consider to be our neighbour. We often try to limit God's commands. Would it not be easier if I had to do good only to my family or to those who live within a certain distance? But Jesus expanded and extended the limits. Your neighbour is anyone who needs your help and whom you are able to help. The Samaritan acted as a true neighbour to the wounded person
who was lying at the side of the road. When it comes to who my neighbour is, there is no social, ethnic, economical or any other boundary that should prohibit me from extending a helping hand.

The depth of the enmity between the Jews and the Samaritans can be seen in the words of James and John when they reacted against the Samaritan village that did not receive Jesus the Jew, asking, "Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" (Luke 9:54). In the light of that context and the historical animosity between the two groups, we can see the importance of Jesus’ example and of the three characters that he brought into the story – the priest, the Levite and the Samaritan.

At first glance we might sympathise with the priest and the Levite who were busy doing the work of the Lord, as the injured man was a hindrance to their immediate ministry. He might have been dead, in which case they would have defiled themselves by touching him, and this would have disqualified them from serving in the temple. Can you imagine anything more important than the work of the priests and the Levites in the temple? Sacrifices had to be made, praises to the Lord had to be sung and offerings had to be presented. All of these were important enough to leave the injured man by himself. Someone else could help the guy! After all, God could not expect a priest or a Levite to do a mundane task such as taking care of an unknown, injured, half-dead stranger!

Love your Enemies

The third character in the narrative is a Samaritan man. Unlike the other two, he does not pass on the other side of the road. When he saw the injured man, he had compassion. The text uses the same Greek word that is often used to describe Jesus’ feelings when he looked on a crowd of people. In Matthew 9, after Jesus travelled to various towns and cities, teaching and healing, he had compassion on the crowd because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (verse 36). Also when Jesus saw the dead son of the widow from Nain – her only son – he had compassion on them. In that case, as in other cases, the word is used in reference to how Jesus responded to the needs of the people. The same word is used in the parable of prodigal son. When the father sees his son from a distance, he has compassion on him.

In the parable we are considering, as in all the other places where we come across it, the word is preceded by the act of seeing. The Samaritan sees the person and, based on what he sees, he has compassion on him. That compassion causes him to act. He did not feel compassion, he had compassion. He not only took care of the injured man’s wounds but gave him a ride to a nearby inn and there continued to take care of him. Furthermore, he paid the inn-keeper for the additional days that the man needed to recover. He truly went the extra mile, and was willing to do so even though there was a price to pay.

Unlike the other two who passed to the other side of the road, the Samaritan had a good sense of priority. He realised that at that point in time, though he might have a business meeting to attend and though he might lose an important deal, there was something far more important that he needed to take care of – a man who was lying half-dead in the middle of the road.

The lesson for us is that when it comes to helping others and showing mercy, there are no limits. We need to have compassion on anyone God brings across our path, no matter what nationality, what race or what religion he is. We cannot discriminate against any person. Just as God in his mercy and goodness provides sunshine and rain for everyone, so we should be willing to give to all who are in need.

The words of Jesus resonate with us even today, even here, “You go, and do likewise”. We have to open our eyes to see the need of the people around us. Though we all have our schedules and tasks, we need to be flexible in allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us to those who need our attention, even though they do not feature in our diaries or PDAs. Are we willing to open our eyes to see and to have compassion on people? And are we willing to act as their neighbour?

David Zadok
CWI's Israel Field Leader and LCJE’s Israel Coordinator

This article is an edited version of a paper presented at the LCJE International Conference, 2007. The full text can be found at
This article first appeared in the Winter 2007 edition of the Herald

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