He has the right lineage. By birth he participates in the commonwealth of Israel. His are the promises of Abraham. He has clearly put in the work too. He is an expert in the scripture, and has earned the respect of his community. His life’s work is in the life giving word of God, and when the Messiah, long spoken of in his area of expertise came, he had a test question. “What must I do to inherit the Kingdom?”
The language of inheriting the Kingdom may sound strange to Gentile ears. It’s because we were strangers and aliens to the covenant of promise. We were at one time excluded from the commonwealth of Israel. But for a Jew, this language was very natural. The Kingdom of God was their inheritance. It was promised to them. So the essence of his question is, “how do I not lose what’s mine?”
Jesus turns the tables on him, however, and the tester becomes the tested. He directs the lawyer to answer his own question. The answer Jesus affirms is indeed the way to inherit the Kingdom. You must love God with your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. If he does this, Jesus says, he will live.
Who Is My Neighbor?
It’s here that the scope of the passage narrows onto the second part of the lawyer’s answer. He presumes his love for God is sufficient, but he needs clarification on the love of his neighbor. The writer’s narrative note here is vital to grasping the meaning and significance of the passage. By the inspiration of the Spirit, Luke makes known the lawyer’s intention is to justify himself.
If he can limit who his neighbor is, then he can be justified. His actions will prove him righteous; not guilty; worthy to inherit the Kingdom. Practically speaking, there must be a limit. It’s the kind of technical question asked when our moral code needs to pin down, cage, and label a thing, lest the obvious prove us unjustified. Without the narrative note, we would have to leave off judging his heart— and judging our own. But his heart is laid bare. He is seeking to justify himself.
Why A Samaritan?
Jesus’ now famous story has been tragically reduced to a moral lesson. Much like Aesop’s fables, we have come to believe the moral of the story is to encourage us to render aid to stranded motorists. Because the church has gone silent about race and ethnicity, believing it’s inherently divisive, we have missed that Jesus’ choice of Samaritan is loaded with divine significance for inheriting the Kingdom.
The ethnic hostility that existed between the Jews and Samaritans is well established. So it’s hardly doubtful that making a Samaritan the one who proves to be a neighbor, would make the lawyer uncomfortable. But unlike what is generally assumed, Jesus does not ask the Jewish lawyer to love the Samaritan. He asked that he have enough compassion to love like the Samaritan. Jesus makes the Samaritan the example of those who would inherit the Kingdom, in contrast to the Priest, the Levite, and by insinuation, the lawyer. What would have been more odious to the Jewish lawyer than even the notion of a Samaritan being his neighbor, would be the idea that a Samaritan could be justified before a Jew; that he could inherit their promise; their Kingdom.
The Quality of the Kingdom
I believe Jesus used a Samaritan because He was making known the transformative truth about the quality of the Kingdom. If the lawyer knew, like Jesus, that the Father intends for the Kingdom to be inherited by every nation, people, tribe and tongue, then whomever you meet in need is your neighbor. The quality of your Kingdom neighborhood is ethnic diversity.
The lawyer tried to make inheriting the Kingdom simply about his actions that he could direct as he chose, but Jesus gets to the heart of the matter. What the Samaritan had that the others did not, was compassion. He had the compassion that compelled him to act against the social norms shaped by ethnic hostility. He had the quality of the Kingdom; the quality of a multiethnic Kingdom.
Please do not be deceived, it is by grace through faith that we will inherit the Kingdom, but it is through that same faith that we will fulfill the righteous requirements of the law. If we have a faith that does not display compassion for a neighbor in need, will we inherit the Kingdom? If we have a faith that limits our neighbor to those who are like us, is that the quality of the Kingdom we hope to inherit? If we have a faith that will not risk being called derogatory political epithets, to say my neighbor’s lives matter, can we inherit a Kingdom described by the Lord himself in ethnically diverse terms? If we have a faith that does not express itself through compassion especially for diverse peoples, can that kind of faith save?
Revelation 5:9–10 (NAS): 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10 “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”