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After concluding the account of the seventy, Luke turns the page and focuses upon the reception of the word. First, he relates the story of the Good Samaritan in order to expose the wrong attitude that the Jews had toward them. The principle of being a good neighbor extends to the question of whether or not Samaritans (and others) were worthy of love and being given the gospel of the Kingdom. After this, Luke relates the story of Mary and Martha in order to comment on our priorities in hearing the word.
Perhaps also it is significant that nowhere in Jesus’ instructions to the seventy did He say that they were to go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. We know from Matthew 10:6 that this was part of Jesus’ earlier instructions to the twelve. But with the seventy, no such restrictions are given (Luke 10:2-16). Matthew’s gospel, written for a Jewish audience, shows that the Jews were given priority in preaching the gospel. Luke’s gospel, written to a broader audience, shows that the gospel was for all mankind. These accounts are not contradictory, but supplement each other, for even Luke himself recognized the divine priority in Acts 1:8.
The Lawyer’s Test
In Luke 10:25-28 we see a lawyer raising a question about how to “inherit eternal life.” This is followed by a secondary round defining neighbors that we are supposed to love. Here is where Jesus relates the parable of the Good Samaritan, followed by the moral at the end. First, however, the lawyer raises an important question:
25 And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” 27 And he answered and said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
This first scene is written in typical Hebrew Parallelism:
A1. Lawyer’s question (Luke 10:25)
B1. Jesus’ question (Luke 10:26)
B2. Lawyer’s answer (Luke 10:27)
A2. Jesus’ answer (Luke 10:28)
The Greek word for “lawyer” is nomikos, from nomos, “law.” A nomikos was one skilled in the law. This lawyer apparently had absorbed enough of Jesus’ teachings to know the importance of the two great commandments. Hence, he quotes directly from the law in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. His question, however, was not so much about how to live one’s life on a daily basis, but how to “inherit eternal life.” Eternal life, therefore, was the goal and the inheritance of this present life, provided a person lived it properly.
The phrase, “eternal life,” is zoen aioian, or “life in the age” that was to come. It was a reference to inheriting immortality in “The Age,” a common reference to the Sabbath Millennium that was believed to be the climax of Kingdom history. Hence, Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible renders it, “Teacher, what having done, life age-during shall I inherit?” Rotherham’s The Emphasized Bible renders it in a less stilted manner, “Teacher! By doing what shall I inherit life age-abiding?”
The way to inherit life in The Age is set forth in terms of the greatest commandments. Jesus did not attempt to engage the lawyer in a discussion of law and grace, nor does He even raise the issue of faith as such. For this reason, some have tried to limit Jesus’ response to “the age of law,” as if to concede that from Moses to Christ salvation came by law, but that after the cross, salvation was by faith alone.
This is a wrong way of viewing it, since it was an Old Testament prophet who said, “the righteous shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17). Likewise, Abraham walked by faith. Faith has always been the requirement, and no man has ever been able to achieve age-abiding life by his works. Yet theoretically, if a man could love God and his neighbor perfectly with all of his heart, then he could receive such an inheritance in The Age on account of his works.
Paul points out, however, that “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23), thereby disqualifying all men and requiring a new manner of salvation that is based on the works of Christ imputed to us by faith.
When Jesus said in Luke 10:28, “Do this, and you will live,” He gave the lawyer the lawful answer. If a person could really love God with all of his heart and his neighbor as himself, then indeed he could inherit eternal life. However, the more complete answer about faith was reserved for a later time.
Who is My Neighbor?
Luke 10:29 says,
29 But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Since Luke had been Paul’s traveling companion for many years already, it is certain that Luke’s idea of justification matched Paul’s understanding. In fact, Luke probably was Paul’s scribe, not only putting his epistles to paper, but also checking his Greek grammar and helping Paul to express his Hebrew understanding into the Greek language. Hence, Luke well understood the principle of justification by faith. Yet he had to present the actual discussion between Jesus and the lawyer as it happened.
Later, in Luke 16:15, Luke gives us Jesus’ words about self-justification,
15 And He said to them [the Pharisees], “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.
Here we see the importance of the heart and one’s relationship with God. Those Pharisees were more concerned about outward appearances of righteousness than with faith, although no doubt they objected to Jesus’ analysis.
The lawyer wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ answer shows that they seem to have discussed more than what Luke records. Perhaps he tried to justify ill treatment of Samaritans—or any other man who did not “deserve” love. Whatever the case, Jesus answered his question from the law itself.
It appears that the lawyer had focused upon Leviticus 19:18, which says,
18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.
Perhaps the lawyer argued that the law said that he was to love ONLY “the sons of your people.” All others were excluded. God did not require Jews to love foreigners. But Jesus’ answer brought in another law from a few verses later. Leviticus 19:33, 34 says,
33 When a stranger [ger] resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 The stranger [ger] who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens [ger] in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.
Hence, the law commands Israel to love “your people” and also “the stranger [or alien] who resides with you.” The Israelites were to love the non-Israelite aliens among them, even as they had been non-Egyptian aliens for many years in Egypt. This appears to be the law on which the parable of the Good Samaritan is based. In fact, the command to love non-Israelite people as yourself is followed by the law of equal weights and measures (Leviticus 19:35, 36) underpinning this spiritual principle.
The Good Samaritan parable also appears to answer the earlier question that was raised in Luke 9:52-56, when Jesus and His disciples were not given hospitality by a Samaritan village. The angry disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven upon them, but Jesus rebuked them. That lesson formed the backdrop for sending out the seventy, and afterward we are given the parable of the Good Samaritan to show that all men are our neighbors. The law demands that we treat all men with love by the law of equal weights and measures.
We will study the parable itself in our next weblog on the book of Luke.