Go and Do Likewise
Ordinary 15 Year C
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Luke 10: 25 — 37
One day Jesus was visiting a synagogue — probably at Bethany, which overlooked rough, dangerous country. It was through this countryside which the road to Jerusalem passed. It was a known habitat of marauding brigands who were unable to find work. They were ruthless and merciless, regardless of their victims.
Reflections from our text
There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him
and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
On this occasion our Lord had been speaking, He must have impressed at least one person, because an expert in the Law (the Torah, the first 5 books of the Old Testament which tradition held as dictated by God but written by Moses) arose to challenge Jesus. Our Lord is honoured as this is indeed an acknowledgement that His opinion in matters of Torah is much valued. We can be confident it was a learned and rather saintly rabbi, as Jesus never entered into the kind of dialogue which followed unless He was addressing a genuine enquirer. As we have suggested, the Jewish sense of the word used here, to test, means a challenge, inviting the person challenged to give listeners the benefit of his study and meditation.
The rabbi poses a typical question the experts would argue over, that is, they would debate in the very best sense of the word. Literally, he asks, “What one thing would I need to do in order to inherit eternal life?” He isn’t seeking a pep talk — but the distillation of Our Lord’s reflection on the Divine Torah.
Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law?
How do you read it?”
The clause, “Jesus said to him,” does not simply mean that our Lord answered him. Our Lord “took him up” — pounced on his question as a peg on which He could hang the world’s greatest story. (R. Knox)
Jesus, in true rabbinic style, replies with another question: “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” Thus Our Lord, as was His custom, being an orthodox rabbi, refers directly to the Torah — God’s sacred instruction, sometimes called the Law. He asks the other rabbi, “How do you read it?” This means, “What is it you recite regularly in the Holy Law, the Torah, which provides an answer to your question?” In other words, how do you interpret and explain the teaching God dictated to Moses in the Torah?
In this way, Jesus invites the Rabbi to open the debate by quoting the Scripture he thinks relates to his question most closely. The Teachers of Israel often challenged one another to distill a lot of thoughts into one key idea they could keep in their mind. It is one of the ways (and a brilliant one at that) they kept God’s Holy Word ever present and active within them.
As devout Jews they already had the Divine Word strapped to their bodies on parchment, to remain united to God in His Divine Word: i.e. to Him. But the very focussed debate and distillation of God’s Wisdom as observed in our reading above was a way they tried to remain present to God spiritually as well.
Various means of seeking to achieve the same were common in the life of the early Church — and for some Christians, still remain, today, a spiritual priority.
He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength,
and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Immediately the scholar responds with his chosen Scriptures, quoting from Deuteronomy
6: 5, and Leviticus 19: 18. He was well schooled in Hebrew spirituality.
Rabbi Hillel (contemporary of Jesus) taught:
“What is hateful to thee, that do not to one another.
This is the whole Law (Torah); the rest is only its explanation.”
Rabbi Akiba (CE 40 to CE 137)
epitomised the customary rabbinic view current in our Lordꞌs
time, that Leviticus 19: 18 — “Love your neighbour as yourself”
— was the principal rule — the chief summary of the Torah.
He replied to him, “You have answered correctly;
do this and you will live.”
“You are absolutely right;” says Jesus, “this is indeed our holy, orthodox teaching, which we all recite morning, afternoon and evening. The substance of all prophecy and the source of true life are to be found in these holy words. Put them into practice and you will enjoy the fullness of life which they promise.”
But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus,
“And who is my neighbor?”
Our Lord’s answer has rocked the rabbi just a little. It has not gone quite as he had expected in front of his learned audience. In fact, it seems he feels a little awkward, that his question has really come to nothing and he wishes he had framed it differently, and could explain why he asked it in the first place.
He realises in fact that he has answered his own question and that everyone is probably wondering what more does he expect.
Fortunately for him he is well used to thinking on his feet, and in order to justify asking his original question he comes up with a further challenge, which actually, is a rather good one.
We should note that in Hebrew custom, when it says he wanted to “justify” himself, it means specifically that he is declaring that his original question has not yet been properly solved. Thus he continues to challenge:
“Now come on Rabbi, you know it is not as simple as that” — hoping to point out what Jesus has missed. “It all depends on what you mean by ‘neighbour’ — so, who is my neighbour?”
He knows he has brought up a difficult matter. After all, everyone finds themselves asking:
— How can I be expected to love everyone in the world, and
give up everything I own because someone, somewhere
Some rabbis had taught that it is only someone who is my true neighbour that I am obliged to give help to. So, how does one decide who qualifies for this?” This was another question frequently debated by the rabbis. It indicates there were strong views held in all directions. Obviously the lawyer had been involved in such interchanges and felt confident he could hold his own in a discussion about obligations to his neighbours.
He is about to find out that Our Lord is just as competent, and will use the occasion to take His challenger’s thinking to a very high level.
The debate is now in full swing. Our Lord takes up the challenge and, looking out the window at the rough and dangerous countryside bordering on the township, immediately begins telling a story.
Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down
from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and
went off leaving him half-dead.
He opens with an all too familiar incident, as common in those times as it is becoming increasingly in ours. A man is brutally and violently attacked for the few possessions he had on him while he is travelling alone through wild countryside, and is left dying on the road side, on his way home after serving God in the Temple at Jerusalem. Our Lord then presents a hypothetical situation to the rabbi, using deliberate exaggeration to make a point.
Verses 31 and 32
A priest happened to be going down that road, but when
he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.”
Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him,
he passed by on the opposite side.
Fortunately two fellow countrymen of the same faith came down the road a few minutes apart not far behind the beaten man. Both were highly educated and devout followers of their faith. However, each in turn took one look at the poor victim and crossed over the road and carried on their way leaving the man to die. We do not know their reasons in this parable, for acting in this way but can be confident they had what they thought were very good reasons.
Verses 33 — 35
“But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved
with compassion at the sight.
He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his
wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his
own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him.
The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them
to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him.
If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay
you on my way back’.”
In a short while someone arrived at the spot, having come from the opposite direction. He had certainly not just come “down” from Jerusalem, for he was a Samaritan. The Samaritans were considered by some to be a people to keep at a distance, and for that reason tended to be ignored by them if at all possible. As did the other two men, he had a good look at the victim, but unlike the other two, he immediately, (literally) had compassion on him. In Scripture this phrase always refers to deep-seated emotions. But that was not all.
The Samaritan attended his wounds, transported him to a safe place for on-going treatment for which he paid in advance.
Suddenly (in Rabbinic style) the story ends. By now, everyone is hanging on every word from Jesus.
Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor
to the robbers’ victim?”
Our Lord is supposed to be answering the question from the Lawyer, “Who is my neighbour?” Instead, before anyone can get a word in, Jesus shows He has been answering a very different question, and puts it to the expert:
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.”
Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Many Bible scholars, in their commentaries on this passage, and especially this verse, take a very specific viewpoint, proposing that:
● the rabbi, because he was a rabbi, must have been
arrogant and demeaning of others, notably Samaritans;
● the rabbi was trying to embarrass Jesus;
● Jesus was using the parable to show how a foreigner
without education in the Torah showed love the rabbi
didn’t know the meaning of.
Thus they make the rabbi indirectly the real villain.
They are all invalid.
Sadly, the interpretations of this passage are among the most unfortunate twists in Our Lord’s dealings with the teachers of Israel. One will often read in a commentary that the rabbi in this account could not bring himself to pronounce the word “Samaritan”. This ‘goodies and baddies’ mode of interpreting Sacred Scripture is unbecoming of of us people of the Divine Word, and can weaken what Our Lord is teaching.
Many a city dweller in our day looks down on people who live on the other side of town, let alone in another country. The rabbi in this story could have easily argued further. However, to yield to Jesus, he could easily have indicated that it was the third person who had been neighbour to the robbers’ victim (without defiling his tongue by saying the word ‘Samaritan’ — if that really were his position).
Instead he goes straight to the heart of the matter and declares decisively the very answer that reflects a total affirmation of Our Lord’s lesson. He says:
“The one who treated him with mercy.”
No one who has heard Jesus with the ears of the heart ever answered with more piercing clarity. Jesus acknowledges His challenger’s choice of response and suggests actions to the words (so very rabbinic!).
The rabbi’s answer becomes Our Lord’s definition of a neighbour with which He therefore now challenges the Church down through the ages.
Who is a true neighbour?
Not just the one who needs help;
But more especially the one who gives it!
This is not the usual conclusion to a rabbinic debate. It tells us something very special. This man was deeply spiritual and, while politely challenging Jesus to show Him His skill, was nevertheless humble enough to receive new light on the topic. Our Lord saw that and honoured him accordingly. If we choose, we can all match the humility of this devout man, and his openness to the true meaning of Scripture! How much we will need a similar openness to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration if we are to keep our faith in the changing world order around us.
When asked, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus could have answered something like “Any person who needs your help.”
Instead he goes much further. He turns it around and teaches that it is we who are a neighbour when we give the help that is needed, when and where it is needed.
So for Jesus, the real question to ask is not:
Who is my neighbour?
Whose neighbour am I?
We may not feel we can love the whole world. Jesus teaches that what we have to do is show love (or mercy as He calls it: love in action) to one person at a time. Everyone, He explains, can try to take notice of those desperate for help instead of leaving it to someone else. This is our Lord’s way of showing us how we can all do what we must in order to inherit eternal life. There is no one who wants to inherit such life who cannot, in some way, help someone in need, and be a true neighbour to them.
We hear no more of the rabbi testing Jesus. He is the Church who can and must learn to love and care for the well-being of others as does God. Our Lord’s final words must therefore remain “ringing in our ears,” for it is now we who are challenged: “Go and do likewise!”
A Snippet From An Old Spiritual Writer
The Lord Himself was the good Samaritan, only infinitely
exceeding the type (i.e. the forerunner, the Samaritan) in
goodness. He did far more than the Samaritan could do,
for the Samaritan and the Jew had but one common nature,
whereas the Son of God, retaining all His Divine power of
healing, took on Him our nature, in order that He might
bind up our wounds, and pour into us health and
consolation and strength. In His human nature He bore our
burden — the burden of our sins and sorrows. He brought
us to a place of comparative safety, even in His Church,
ruled by His ministers — the dispensers of His Sacraments.
Having first tended us Himself, — the He left us in the
hostelry which He Himself had built and furnished, and put
under ministers — under Apostles, Evangelists, Pastors
and Teachers. In the Commission in His Word, in His
Sacraments, He has given those ministers and stewards all
things needful for the restoration of souls; and if there is
anything which in reason they, under the guidance of His
Spirit, see needful, they are to supply it, and He will allow
it at His return. Such is this parable, wondrous alike in its
depth and its simplicity, convincing us all of sin — of
miserable shortcoming in this matter of Divine and
“O Lord who has taught us that all our doings without
charity are worth nothing, send Your Holy Spirit, and pour
into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the very
bond of peace and all of the virtues, without which anyone
living is counted dead before You. Grant this, for your only
Son Jesus Christ’s sake.” Amen.
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Let us remember God’s Teaching contained in His Word and in
Go And Do Likewise
Ordinary 15 Year C Luke 10: 25 — 37
1. What we call the New Evangelisation is often interpreted as “getting back a
2. Our Lord always admires and respects honest enquiry — as exhibited by
3. The theme of loving our neighbour as we love ourselves surfaces repeatedly
So let’s pray for and support one another, that the love and message of our
Luke 10: 25 — 37
Ordinary 15 Year C
25 10 There was a scholar of the law 11 who stood up to test him and
26 Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”
27 He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your
28 He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you
29 But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And
30 Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from
31 12 A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw
32 Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he
33 But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with
34 He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds
35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the
36 Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’
37 He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to
10 [25-37] In response to a question from a Jewish legal expert about inheriting eternal life, Jesus illustrates the superiority of love over legalism through the story of the good Samaritan. The law of love proclaimed in the “Sermon on the Plain” (⇒ Luke 6:27-36) is exemplified by one whom the legal expert would have considered ritually impure (see ⇒ John 4:9). Moreover, the identity of the “neighbor” requested by the legal expert (⇒ Luke 10:29) turns out to be a Samaritan, the enemy of the Jew (see the note on ⇒ Luke 9:52).
12 [31-32] Priest . . . Levite: those religious representatives of Judaism who would have been expected to be models of “neighbor” to the victim pass him by.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised