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Luke x. 25-37.

It would scarcely have accorded with the traditions of human nature had the teachers of religion looked favourably upon Jesus. Stepping, as He did, within their domain, without any human ordination or scholastic authority, they naturally resented the intrusion, and when the teaching of the new Rabbi so distinctly contravened their own interpretation of the law their curiosity deepened into jealousy, and curdled at last into a virulent hate. The ecclesiastical atmosphere was charged with electricity, but it only manifested itself at first in the harmless play of summer lightning, the cross-fire of half-earnest and half-captious questions; later it was the forked lightning that struck Him down into a grave.

We have no means of localizing, either in point of time or place, the incident here recorded by our Evangelist, and which, by the way, only St. Luke mentions. It stands by itself, bearing in its dependent parable of the Good Samaritan an exquisite and perfect flower, from whose deep cup has dropped the very nectar of the gods.

It was probably during one of His public discourses that a "certain lawyer," or scribe—for the two titles295 are used interchangeably—"stood up and tempted Him." He sought to prove Him by questions, as the word means here, hoping to entrap Jesus amid the vagaries of Rabbinical tradition. "Teacher," said he, hiding his sinister motive behind a veil of courtesy and apparent candour, "what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Had the question been sincere, Jesus would probably have given a direct answer; but reading the under-current of his thought, which moved transversely to the surface-current of his speech, Jesus simply answered his question by asking another: "What is written in the Law? How readest thou?" With a readiness which implied a perfect familiarity with the Law, he 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." Some expositors have thought that the Evangelist here gives the summary of what was a lengthened conversation, and that Jesus Himself led the mind of the lawyer to join together these detached portions of Scripture—one from Deuteronomy vi. 5, and the other from Leviticus xix. 18. It is true there is a striking resemblance between the answer of the lawyer and the answer Jesus Himself gave subsequently to a similar question (Mark xii. 30, 31); but there is no necessity for us to apologize for the resemblance, as if it were improbable and unnatural. The fact is, as the narrative of Mark xii. plainly indicates, that these two sentences were held in general consent as the epitome of the Law, its first and its second commandment. Even the scribe assents to this as an axiomatic truth he has no wish to challenge. It will be observed that a fourth term is added to the three of the original, possibly on account of the Septuagint rendering, which translated the Hebrew "heart" by296 "mind." Godet suggests that since the term "heart" is the most general term, denoting "in Scripture the central focus from which all the rays of the moral life go forth," that it stands in apposition to the other three, the one in its three particulars. This, which is the most natural interpretation, would refer the "mind" to the intellectual faculties, the "soul" to the emotional faculties, the sensibilities, and the "might" to the will, which rules all force; while by the "heart" is meant the unit, the "centred self," into which the others merge, and of which they form a part.

Jesus commended him for his answer: "Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live"—words which brushed away completely the Hebraic figment of inherited life. That life was not something that should be reached by processes of loving. The life should precede the love, and should give birth to it: the love should grow out of the life, its blossoming flower.

Having the tables so turned upon himself, and wishing to "justify," or to put himself right, the stranger asks still another question: "And who is my neighbour?" doubtless hoping to cover his retreat in the smoke of a burning question. To our minds, made familiar with the thought of humanity, it seems as if a question so simple scarcely deserved such an elaborate answer as Jesus gave to it. But the thought of humanity had not yet possessed the world; indeed, it had only just come to earth, to be spoken by, and incarnate in, Him who was the Son of man. To the Jew the question of the lawyer was a most important one. The word "neighbour" could be spoken in a breath; but unwind that word, and it measures off the whole of our earthly life, it covers all our practical, every-day duties. It ran through the pages of the Law, the ark in which297 the Golden Rule was hidden; or like a silent angel, it flashed its sword across life's forbidden paths. But if the Jew could not erase this broad word from the pages of the Law, he could narrow and emasculate its meaning by an interpretation of his own. And this they had done, making this Divine word almost of none effect by their tradition. To the Jewish mind "neighbour" was simply "Jew" spelt large. The only neighbourhood they recognized was the narrow neighbourhood of Hebrew speech and Hebrew sympathies. The Hebrew mind was isolated as their land, and all who could not frame their shibboleths were barbarians, Gentiles, whom they were at perfect liberty to spoil, as with anathemas and swords they chased them over their Jordans. Jesus, however, is on the alert; and how wisely He answers! He does not declaim against the narrowness of Hebrew thought; He utters no denunciatory word against their proud and false exclusiveness. He quietly unfolds the word, spreading it out into an exquisite parable, that all coming times may see how beautiful, how Divine the word "neighbour" is.

He said, "A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho; and he fell among robbers, which both stripped him, and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead." The parables of Jesus, though drawn from real life, had no local colouring. They grouped themselves around some well-known fact of nature, or some general custom of social life; and so their spirit was national or cosmopolitan, rather than local. Here, however, Jesus departs from His usual manner, giving to His parable a local habitation. It is the road which led steeply down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and which for centuries has been so infested with robbers or bandits as to earn for itself the darkly298 ominous name of "the Bloody Way." Possibly that name itself is an outgrowth from the parable; but whether so or not, it is scarcely to be supposed that it had so evil a character in the days of Christ. As Jericho then was a populous city, and intimately connected with Jerusalem in its social and business life, the road would be much frequented. Indeed, the parable indicates as much; for Jesus, whose words were never untrue to nature or to history, represents His three travellers as all journeying singly; while the khan or "inn" shows, in its reflection, a constant stream of travel. Our anonymous traveller, however, does not find it so safe as he had anticipated. Attacked, in one of its dusky ravines, by a band of brigands, they strip him of his clothing, with whatever the girdle-purse might contain, and beating him out of sheer devilry, they leave him by the road-side, unable to walk, unable even to rise, a living-dying man.

"And by chance, a certain priest was going down that way; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. And in like manner a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side." As in a tableaux vivants, Jesus shows us the two ecclesiastics, who come in sight in the happy, coincidental way that Romance so delights in. They had probably just completed their "course" of Temple service, and were now going down to Jericho, which was a favourite residence of the priests, for the somewhat long interval their sacred duties allowed them. They had, therefore, no pressure of business upon them; indeed, the verb would almost imply that the priest was walking leisurely along. But they bring no help to the wounded man. Directly they see him, instead of being drawn to him by the attractions of sympathy,299 something, either the shock or the fright, acts upon them as a centrifugal force, and sends them describing an arc of a circle around that centre of groans and blood. At any rate they "passed by on the other side," leaving behind them neither deed nor word of mercy, but leaving behind them a shadow of themselves which, while time itself lasts, will be vivid, cold, and repelling. It is just possible, however, that they do not deserve all the unmeasured censure which the critics and the centuries have given, and are still likely to give. It is very easy for us to condemn their action as selfish, heartless; but let us put ourselves in their place, alone in the lonely pass, with this proof of an imminent danger sprung suddenly upon us, and it is possible that we ourselves should not have been quite so brave as by our safe firesides we imagine ourselves to be. The fact is it needed something more than sympathy to make them turn aside and befriend the wounded man; it needed physical courage, and that of the highest kind, and this wanting, sympathy itself would not be sufficient. The heart might long to help, even when the feet were hastening away. A sudden inrush of fear, even of vague alarm, will sometimes drive us contrary to the drift of our sympathies, just as our feet are lifted and we ourselves carried onwards by a surging crowd.

Whether this be a correct interpretation of their conduct or not, it certainly harmonizes with the general attitude of Jesus towards the priesthood. The chief priests were always and bitterly hostile, but we have reasonable ground for supposing that the priests, as a body, looked favouringly upon Jesus. The bolts of terrible "woes" are hurled against Pharisees and scribes, yet Jesus does not condemn the priests in a300 single word; while in that aftermath of the Pentecost the Temple courts yielded the richest harvests, as "a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith." If, then, Jesus now holds up the priesthood to execration, setting these ecclesiastics in the pillory of His parable, that the coming centuries may throw sharp words at them, it is certainly an exceptional mood. The sweet silence has curdled into acrid speech. But even here Jesus does not condemn, except, as it would seem, by implication, the conduct of the priest and Levite. They come into the parable rather as accessories, and Jesus makes use of them as a foil, to throw out into bolder relief the central figure, which is the Samaritan, and so to emphasize His central truth, which is the real answer to the lawyer's question, that "neighbour" is too broad, and too human, a word to be cut off and eliminated by any boundaries of race.

But in thus casting a mantle of charity around our priest and Levite, we must admit that the character is sometimes true even down to recent days. Ecclesiasticism and religion, alas! are not always synonyms. Revolted Israel sins and sacrifices by turns, and seeking to keep the balance in equal poise, she puts over against her multitude of sins her multitude of sacrifices. Religiousness may be at times but a cloak for moral laxity, and to some rite is more than right. There are those, alas! to-day, who wear the livery of the Temple, to whom religion is a routine mechanism of dead things, rather than the commerce of living hearts, who open with hireling hand the Temple gates, who chant with hireling lips how "His mercy endureth for ever," and then step down from their sacred Jerusalem, to toss justice and mercy to the winds, as they defraud the widow and oppress the poor.

301"But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he was moved with compassion, and came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on them oil and wine; and he set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him." At first sight it would appear as if Jesus had weakened the narrative by a topographical inaccuracy, as if He had gone out of His way to place a Samaritan on the road to Jericho, which was altogether out of the line of Samaritan travel. But it is a deliberate purpose on the part of Jesus, and not a lapsus linguæ, that introduces this Samaritan; for this is the gist of the whole parable. The man who had fallen among the robbers was doubtless a Jew; for had it been otherwise, the fact would have been stated. Now there was no question as to whether the word "neighbour" embraced their fellow-countrymen; the question was whether it passed beyond their national bounds, opening up lines of duty across the outlying world. It is therefore almost a necessity that the one who teaches this lesson should be himself an alien, a foreigner, and Jesus chooses the Samaritan as being of a race against which Jewish antipathies were especially strong, but for which He Himself had a special regard and warmest sympathy. Though occupying adjacent territory, the Jews and the Samaritans practically were far apart, antipodal races we might almost call them. Between them lay a wide and deep chasm that trade even could not bridge, and across which the courtesies and sympathies of life never passed. "The Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans," said the flippant woman of Samaria, as she voiced a jealousy and hatred which were as mutual as they were deep. But here, in this ideal Samaritan, is a noble exception. Though302 belonging to a lowly and obscure race, his thoughts are high. The ear of his soul has so caught the rhythm of Divine harmonies that it does not hear longer the little lisping shibboleths of earthly speech; and while the sympathies of smaller hearts flow like a stream down in their well-defined and accustomed channel, seldom knowing any overflow, save in some rare freshet of impulse and of feeling, the sympathies of the Samaritan moved outward like the currents of the wind, sweeping across all chasms and over all mountain heights of division, bearing their clouds of blessing anywhither as the need required. It makes no difference to him that the fallen man is of an alien race. He is a man, and that is enough; and he is down, and must be raised; he is in need, and must be helped. The priest and Levite thought first and most of themselves, and giving to the man but a brief and scared look, they passed on with a quickened pace. Not so with the Samaritan; he loses all thought of himself, and is perfectly oblivious to the danger he himself may be running. Upon his great soul he feels the pressure of this "must;" it runs along the tightened muscles of his arm, as he checks his steed. He himself comes down, dismounting, that he may help the man to rise. He opens his flask and puts his wine to the lips, that their groans may cease, or that they may be soothed down into inarticulate speech. The oil he has brought for his own food he pours upon the wounds, and when the man has sufficiently recovered he lifts him upon his own beast and takes him to the inn. Nor is this enough for his great heart, but continuing his journey on the morrow, he first arranges with his host that the man shall be well cared for, giving him two pence, which was the two days' wages of a labouring man, at the same time303 telling him that he must not limit his attentions to the sum he pays in advance, but that if anything more should be needed he would pay the balance on his return. We do not read whether it was needed or not, for the Samaritan, mounting his steed, passes out of our hearing and out of our sight. Not quite out of our hearing, however, for Heaven has caught his gentle, loving words, and hidden them within this parable, that all coming times may listen to their music; nor out of our sight either, for his photograph was caught in the sunlight of the Master's speech; and as we turn over the pages of Inspiration there is no picture more beautiful than that of the nameless Samaritan, whom all the world calls "the Good," the man who knew so much better than his age what humanity and mercy meant.

In the new light the lawyer can answer his own question now, and he does; for when Jesus asks, "Which of these three, thinkest thou, proved neighbour unto him that fell among the robbers?" he replies, with no hesitation, but with a lingering prejudice that does not care to pronounce the, to him, outlandish name, "He that showed mercy on him." The lesson is learned, the lesson of humanity, for the whole parable is but an amplification of the Golden Rule, and Jesus dismisses the subject and the scholar with the personal application, which is but a corollary of the proposition He has demonstrated, "Go thou and do likewise." Go and do to others as you would have them do to you, were the circumstances reversed and your places changed. Read off your duty, not from your own low standpoint merely, but in a binocular vision, as you put yourself in his place; so will you find that the line of duty and the line of beauty are one.

The practical lessons of the parable are easy to304 trace, as they are of universal application. The first, lesson it teaches is the lesson of humanity, the neighbourhood and brotherhood of man. It is a convenience, and perhaps a necessity, of human life, that the great mass of humanity should be broken up into fragments, sections, with differing customs, languages, and names. It gives to the world the stimulus of competition and helpful rivalries. But these distinctions are superficial, temporary, and beneath this diversity of speech and thought there is the deeper unity of soul. We emphasize our differences; we pride ourselves upon them; but how little does Heaven make of them! Heaven does not even see them. Our national boundaries may climb up over the Alps, but they cannot touch the sky. Those skies look down and smile on all alike, divinely impartial in their gifts of beauty and of light. And how little of the provincial, or even national, there was about Jesus! Though He kept Himself almost entirely within the borders of the Holy Land, never going far from His central pivot, which was Jerusalem, and its cross, yet He belonged to the world, as the world belonged to Him. He called Himself the Son of man, at once humanity's flower, and humanity's Son and Saviour. And as over the cradle of the Son of man the far east and the far west together leaned, so around His cross was the meeting-place of the races. The three chief languages inscribed upon it proclaimed His royalty, while the cross itself, on which the Sacrifice for humanity was to be offered, was itself the gift of humanity at large, as Asia provided it, and Europe prepared it, and Africa, in the person of the Cyrenean, bore it. In the mind of Jesus, as in the purpose of God, humanity was not a group of fractions, but a unit one and indivisible, made of one blood, and by305 one Blood redeemed. In the heart of Jesus there was the "enthusiasm of humanity," all-absorbing and complete, and that enthusiasm takes possession of us, a new force generated in our lives, as we approach in spirit the great Ideal Man.

The second lesson of the parable is the lesson of mercy, the beauty of self-sacrifice. It was because the Samaritan forgot himself that all the world has remembered and applauded him. It is because of his stoop of self-renouncing love that his character is so exalted, his memory so dear, and that his very name, which is a title without a name, floats down the ages like a sweet song. "Go and do thou likewise" is the Master's word to us. Discipline your heart that you may see in man everywhere a brother, whose keeper you are. Let fraternity be, not a theory only, but a realized fact, and then a factor of your life. Train your eye to watch for others' needs, to read another's woe. Train your soul to sympathy, and your hand to helpfulness; for in our world there is room enough for both. Bethesda's porches stretch far as our eye can reach, all crowded, too, with the sorrowing, the sick, and the sad, thick enough indeed, but not so close as that an angel's foot may not step between them, and not so sad but an angel's voice may soothe and cheer. He who lifts another's load, who soothes another's smart, who brightens a life that else would be dark, who puts a music within a brother's soul, though it be only for a passing moment, wakes even a sweeter music within his own, for he enters on earth into his Master's joy, the joy of a redeeming, self-sacrificing love.

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