The commandment to love one's neighbor as oneself was not new with Christ's earthly ministry. It is found as early as Leviticus (Lev. 19:18). So when the young lawyer came up to Christ "tempting him" and asking what he could do to gain eternal life, Christ knew he knew the answer, and he replied with a question: "What is written in the law? How readest thou?"
The lawyer replied, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself." Jesus said that was correct and if the man did it, he would achieve his goal of eternal life.
But then the lawyer wanted to qualify the commandment: "And who is my neighbour?" he asked (Luke 10:25-29).
Aha! There was his trick question!
But there was no trick. There was no qualification. All mankind was his neighbour. And that is what Jesus taught very bluntly in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
THE GOOD SAMARITAN--THE PRACTICAL VIEW
The practical meaning of this parable is so obvious that, unlike other parables, its meaning was not hard to grasp, and the young lawyer would clearly have understood it, as would everyone around. The priest and the Levite were more concerned with being made "unclean" themselves (by touching a "half-dead" man) than they were with helping ease suffering. Their adherence to "the Law" actually prevented their living the gospel. Yet the Samaritan, the low-life half-breed foreigner in the Jewish opinion, acted as a kind and compassionate savior for the traveler. He was not a "neighbor" in the traditional sense, because he was a visitor from a strange country. Yet he was prepared to help others, having oil and wine (natural medicines) with him. When he saw the victim, he went to him. He was aware of others, not trying to avoid them. Then he went well beyond what might have been hoped for, leaving money for the innkeeper to continue the care of the injured man until his healing was complete (Luke 10:30-37).
And now, at the end of the parable, Christ turns the question. It is no longer a question about the person being served: "Who is my neighbor?" Now is a question about the person doing the service: "Who was neighbor unto him?" (Luke 10:29, 36). If you are a "neighbor" or a "good Samaritan," it doesn't matter who the other person is.
THE GOOD SAMARITAN--THE ETERNAL VIEW
In the ancient Christian cathedrals of Europe, stained-glass windows were made to teach and remind the members of gospel truths and scripture stories. The windows in several of these ancient cathedrals have depictions of the story of the Good Samaritan, surrounded by illustrations of the Garden of Eden and the crucifixion, as if they were related. Curious!
"This allegorical reading was taught not only by ancient followers of Jesus, but it was virtually universal throughout early Christianity, being advocated by Irenaeus, Clement, and Origen, and in the fourth and fifth centuries by Chrysostom in Constantinople, Ambrose in Milan, and Augustine in North Africa" (John W. Welch, "The Good Samaritan: Forgotten Symbols," Ensign, Feb. 2007, p. 40).
Here are the symbols understood and taught by the early Christians:
The man = mankind
Jerusalem = God's presence (the elevated Holy City
housing the temple)
Jericho = the fallen earth (being the earth's lowest city at 825
feet below sea level)
Thieves = the devil and his co-workers
Raiment = immortality, grace (this is the only thing the thieves
Half Dead = spiritually dead
Priest = Law of Moses (it cannot save)
Levite = the prophets (came close, but cannot help)
Samaritan = a foreigner not of this place who came purposely,
prepared to heal (Christ)
Compassion = Greek for "divine mercy"
Wounds = sins, disobedience
Oil = can be the Gift of the Holy Ghost (the oil in the
Parable of the 10 Virgins was the Holy Ghost--see
Wine = Christ's atoning blood--initially it stings (godly sorrow),
and then it heals and purifies
Beast = Christ's mortal body
Inn = the Church
Innkeeper = the church members
The promise to return = the Second Coming of Christ
"This interpretation is found most completely in...medieval stained-glass windows in the French cathedrals at Bourges and Sens [and Chartres]" (Welch).
The MedievalArt website has beautiful pictures of the entire windows, with a detailed description of every single panel, and its typological explanation. (Typological means "doctrinal studies of the symbols." I looked up that word so you wouldn't have to.) Not only that, but you can click on an individual window pane, and a pop-up will show it isolated and large enough for detailed viewing.
Click here for the link to the Bourges Good Samaritan Window.
Click here for the link to the Chartres Good Samaritan Window.
Click here for the link to the Sens Good Samaritan Window.
BEING A NEIGHBOR
All of the messages of these two chapters, Luke 10 and Matthew 18, are elaborations on this same theme: our treatment of others. Jesus teaches us in Matthew 18:
- we must be humble in order to be a great member of his kingdom (1-4)
- the importance of avoiding offence (5-10)
- the value of the individual, even the stray (11-14)
- how to treat one who has offended you (15-17)
- God will honor even tiny gatherings of saints and their covenants (18-20)
- the vital principle of forgiveness of others (21-35)
THE MINISTRY OF THE SEVENTY
In Luke 10, Christ sent out his Seventy, commanding them to heal the sick and preach the gospel. We can see a tremendous spiritual growth in these men if we notice one thing. In Matt. 17:14-21, the disciples were unable to cast out the devil from a child and asked the Lord why. He said it was because their faith was immature: "For verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting."
Thomas Mumford, in his Horizontal Harmony of the Four Gospels in Parallel Columns, places the sending forth of the Seventy much later in Christ's ministry than it appears in the New Testament, showing up as it does in the very next chapter. Certainly the return of the Seventy would have occurred much later. This chronology aligns with the increase of their faith. Now, "The seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name. And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy" (Luke 10:17-19).
As our faith increases, our power to "be a neighbor," or a rescuer or savior, increases as well.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PLACEMENT
It is always good to ask why one thing is placed next to another in the Bible. The parable of the Good Samaritan is placed right after this brief report of the travels and ministry of the Seventy and Christ's reaction of joy, which we have already discussed above. Even though Bible scholars believe they did not happen chronologically in that order, they relate to each other and the message of each is enhanced by their placement.
So why is the story of Mary and Martha placed right after the parable of the Good Samaritan?
MARY VS. MARTHA
As The Harper-Collins Study Bible points out, and as we may easily realize ourselves, "Interpreters find in the story of Martha and Mary conflicting messages on service and listening...Mary is depicted as a disciple. [A disciple sits at the feet of the teacher to learn.] This was exceptional for women. [Martha was giving "much service."] Discipleship is later defined in terms of service" (p. 1980).
Mary was listening to the Lord, which is the act of a disciple. But Martha was serving the Lord, which is also the act of a disciple. Following directly on the heels of the stories of the service of the Seventy, and the service of the Good Samaritan, how can we imagine that Christ would be telling us that studying, as the priests and Levites did constantly, would be better than serving? It is possible that Jesus is making sure we understand that there are times when we need to sit down and listen to the voice of the Lord, no matter what else seems to need doing. It is also possible that he was telling us that being stressed out or going to excesses in our service is not consistent with being a disciple.
But there could be another message that isn't about discipleship at all, but about what the rest of the chapter was about: how we treat others.
Martha was "[worried] and troubled about many things," and most notably at this moment she was worried and troubled about what Mary was doing. "Mary," the Savior said, "hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her" (v. 41-42 including footnote). He didn't necessarily say it was better than Martha's choice.
We come closer to Christ through studying his words ("Thou shalt love the Lord thy God..."), and through serving others ("...and thy neighbor as thyself"). What we need to do is to listen to the Spirit and choose what "good part" we should be doing right now, do it wholeheartedly, and let others do the same. If this story is placed here because it is about relationships, about "neighbors," about how to treat others, the message is simple: Stop worrying about what other people are doing.