The Wrong Question

by Mikel Berger

The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the more commonly known passages of the Bible. You can search the Internet and pretty easily come up with dozens of recent news stories that reference a “Good Samaritan” that in some way helped out a neighbor.

Jesus told the parable in Luke 10:25-37 in response to a series of questions asked to him by a lawyer. The lawyer answered the first question himself: "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He knew exactly what the law required of him. He needed to love God and love his neighbor. But Jesus told the lawyer it wasn’t enough for him just to know what to do; he had to actually do it. The lawyer’s response was to ask Jesus who he thinks qualified as the lawyer’s neighbor.

As Jesus frequently did, he didn’t answer directly but with a story. But even the story doesn’t directly answer the question. Read the passage. Jesus is saying much more than just those not like you are your neighbor, or whoever you come across is your neighbor, or everyone is your neighbor. The parable says all those things, but even more than that it states the lawyer’s question and the attitude that drive it are pointed in the wrong direction.

The lawyer wants to know about himself. What must he do so that he won’t die? Who is a neighbor as defined in relation to himself? Jesus shows that the Samaritan wasn’t concerned with his own status, his own safety, or his own future comfort. The Samaritan was concerned only with the injured man. He had compassion. Compassion is focused on others. You can’t have compassion for yourself.

The lawyer could have asked Jesus how to be a better neighbor. How he could be aware of more opportunities to care for others. Maybe even to show him areas in his life that were inhibiting his ability to act on all the knowledge he had.

It’s fine to question our God. The parable of the Good Samaritan has taught me to ask myself if I’m asking the wrong question though.