THE TWO PARABLES OF HIM WHO IS NEIGHBOUR TO US: THE FIRST, CONCERNING THE LOVE THAT, UNASKED, GIVES IN OUR NEED;
THE SECOND, CONCERNING THE LOVE WHICH IS ELICITED BY OUR ASKING IN OUR NEED
Luke 10:25-37 ,11:5-13
THE period between Christ’s return from the ‘Feast of the Dedication’ and His last entry into Jerusalem, may be arranged into two parts, divided by the brief visit to Bethany for the purpose of raising Lazarus from the dead. Even if it were possible, with any certainty, chronologically to arrange the events of each of these periods, the variety and briefness of what is recorded would prevent our closely following them in this narrative. Accordingly, we prefer grouping them together as the Parables of that period, its Discourses, and its Events. And the record of the raising of Lazarus may serve as a landmark between our Summary of the Parables and that of the Discourses and Events which preceded the Lord’s final appearance in Jerusalem.
These last words help us to understand the necessary difference between the Parables of this and of the preceding and the following periods. The Parables of this period look back upon the past, and forward into the future. Those spoken by the Lake of Galilee were purely symbolical. They presented unseen heavenly realities under emblems which required to be translated into earthly language. It was quite easy to do so, if you possessed the key to the heavenly mysteries; otherwise, they were dark and mysterious. So to speak, they were easily read from above downwards. Viewed from below upwards, only most dim and strangely intertwining outlines could be perceived. It is quite otherwise with the second series of Parables. They could, as they were intended, be understood by all. They required no translation. They were not symbolical but typical, using the word ‘type,’ not in the sense of involving a predictive element, 1 but as indicating an example, or, perhaps, more correctly, an exemplification. 2 Accordingly, the Parables of this series are also intensely practical. Lastly, their prevailing character is not descriptive, but hortatory; and they bring the Gospel, in the sense of glad tidings to the lost, most closely and touchingly to the hearts of all who hear them. They are signs in words, as the miracles are signs in works, of what Christ has come to do and to teach. Most of them bear this character openly; and even those which do not, but seem more like warning, have still an undertone of love, as if Divine compassion lingered in tender pity over that which threatened, but might yet be averted.
Of the Parables of the third series it will for the present suffice to say, that they are neither symbolical nor typical, but their prevailing characteristic is prophetic. As befits their historical place in the teaching of Christ, they point to the near future. They are the fast falling, lengthening shadows cast by the events which are near at hand,
The Parables of the second (or Peraean) series, which are typical and hortatory, and ‘Evangelical’ in character, are thirteen in number, and, with the exception of the last, are either peculiar to, or else most fully recorded in, the Gospel by St. Luke.
We seem to witness the opening of a regular Rabbinic contest, as we listen to this speculative problem: ‘Teacher, what having done shall I inherit eternal life?’ At the foundation lay the notion, that eternal life was the reward of merit, of works: the only question was, what these works were to be. The idea of guilt had not entered his mind; he had no conception of sin within. It was the old Judaism of self-righteousness speaking without disguise: that which was the ultimate ground of the rejecting and crucifying of the Christ. There certainly was a way in which a man might inherit eternal life, not indeed as having absolute claim to it, but (as the Schoolmen might have said: de congruo) in consequence of God’s Covenant on Sinai. And so our Lord, using the common Rabbinic expression ‘what readest thou?’, pointed him to the Scriptures of the Old Testament.
The reply of the ‘lawyer’ is remarkable, not only on its own account, but as substantially, and even literally, that given on two other occasions by the Lord Himself. The question therefore naturally arises, whence did this lawyer, who certainly had not spiritual insight, derive his reply? As regarded the duty of absolute love to God, indicated by the quotation of Deut. 6 v 5, there could, of course, be no hesitation in the mind of a Jew. The primary obligation of this is frequently referred to, and, indeed, taken for granted, in Rabbinic teaching. The repetition of this command, which in the Talmud receives the most elaborate and strange interpretation, formed part of the daily prayers. When Jesus referred the lawyer to the Scriptures, he could scarcely fail to quote this first paramount obligation. Similarly, he spoke as a Rabbinic lawyer, when he referred in the next place to love to our neighbour, as enjoined in Lev. 19 v 18. Rabbinism is never weary of quoting as one of the characteristic sayings of its greatest teacher, Hillel (who, of course, lived before this time), that he had summed up the Law, in briefest compass, in these words: ‘What is hateful to thee, that do not to another. This is the whole Law; the rest is only its explanation.’ 9 Similarly, Rabbi Akiba taught, that Lev. xix. 18 was the principal rule, we might almost say, the chief summary of the Law. Still, the two principles just mentioned are not enunciated in conjunction by Rabbinism, nor seriously propounded as either containing the whole Law or as securing heaven. They are also, as we shall presently see, subjected to grave modifications. One of these, as regards the negative form in which Hillel put it, while Christ put it positively, has been previously noticed. The existence of such Rabbinic modifications, and the circumstance, already mentioned, that on two other occasions the answer of Christ Himself to a similar inquiry was precisely that of this lawyer, suggests the inference, that this question may have been occasioned by some teaching of Christ, to which they had just listened, and that the reply of the lawyer may have been prompted by what Jesus had preached concerning the Law.
If it be asked, why Christ seemed to give His assent to the lawyer’s answer, as if it really pointed to the right solution of the great question, we reply: No other answer could have been given him. On the ground of works – if that had been tenable – this was the way to heaven. To understand any other answer, would have required a sense of sin; and this could not be imparted by reasoning: it must be experienced. It is the preaching of the Law which awakens in the mind a sense of sin. 13 Besides, if not morally, yet mentally, the difficulty of this ‘way’ would soon suggest itself to a Jew. Such, at least, is one aspect of the counter-question with which ‘the lawyer’ now sought to retort on Jesus.
Whatever complexity of motives there may have been – for we know nothing of the circumstances, and there may have been that in the conduct or heart of the lawyer which was specially touched by what had just passed – there can be no doubt as to the main object of his question: ‘But who is my neighbour?’ He wished ‘to justify himself,’ in the sense of vindicating his original question, and showing that it was not quite so easily settled as the answer of Jesus seemed to imply. And here it was that Christ could in a ‘Parable’ show how far orthodox Judaism was from even a true understanding, much more from such perfect observance of this Law as would gain heaven. Thus might He bring even this man to feel his shortcomings and sins, and awaken in him a sense of his great need. This, of course, would be the negative aspect of this Parable; the positive is to all time and to all men.
That question: ‘Who is my neighbour?’ has ever been at the same time the outcome of Judaism (as distinguished from the religion of the Old Testament), and also its curse. On this point it is duty to speak plainly, even in face of the wicked persecutions to which the Jews have been exposed on account of it. Whatever modern Judaism may say to the contrary, there is a foundation of truth in the ancient heathen charge against the Jews of odium generis humani (hatred of mankind). God had separated Israel unto Himself by purification and renovation – and this is the original meaning of the word ‘holy’ and ‘sanctify’ in the Hebrew. They separated themselves in self-righteousness and pride – and that is the original meaning of the word ‘Pharisee’ and ‘Pharisaism’. In so saying no blame is cast on individuals; it is the system which is at fault. This question: ‘Who is my neighbour?’ frequently engages Rabbinism. The answer to it is only too clear. If a hypercriticism were to interpret away the passage 14 which directs that idolators are not to be delivered when in imminent danger, while heretics and apostates are even to be led into it, the painful discussion on the meaning of Exod. 12 v 5 would place it beyond question. The sum of it is, that, except to avert hostility, a burden is only to be unloaded, if the beast that lieth under it belongeth to an Israelite, not if it belong to a Gentile; and so the expression, 16 ‘the ass of him that hateth thee,’ must be understood of a Jewish, and not of a Gentile enemy.
It is needless to follow the subject further. But more complete rebuke of Judaistic narrowness, as well as more full, generous, and spiritual world-teaching than that of Christ’s Parable could not be imagined. The scenery and colouring are purely local. And here we should remember, that, while admitting the lawfulness of the widest application of details for homiletical purposes, we must take care not to press them in a strictly exegetical interpretation. 18
Some one coming from the Holy City, the Metropolis of Judaism, is pursuing the solitary desert-road, those twenty-one miles to Jericho, a district notoriously insecure, when he ‘fell among robbers, who, having both stripped and inflicted on him strokes, went away leaving him just as he was, 19 half dead.’ This is the first scene. The second opens with an expression which, theologically, as well as exegetically, is of the greatest interest. The word rendered ‘by chance’ (sugkuria) occurs only in this place, 20 for Scripture commonly views matters in relation to agents rather than to results. As already noted, 21 the real meaning of the word is ‘concurrence,’ much like the corresponding Hebrew term. And better definition could not be given, not, indeed, of ‘Providence,’ which is a heathen abstraction for which the Bible has no equivalent, but for the concrete reality of God’s providing. He provides through a concurrence of circumstances, all in themselves natural and in the succession of ordinary causation (and this distinguishes it from the miracle), but the concurring of which is directed and overruled by Him. And this helps us to put aside those coarse tests of the reality of prayer and of the direct rule of God, which men sometimes propose. Such stately ships ride not in such shallow waters.
It was by such a ‘concurrence,’ that, first a priest, then a Levite came down that road, when each, successively, ‘when he saw him, passed by over against (him).’ It was the principle of questioning, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ which led both priest and Levite to such heartless conduct. Who knew what this wounded man was, and how he came to lie there: and were they called upon, in ignorance of this, to take all the trouble, perhaps incur the risk of life, which care of him would involve? Thus Judaism (in the persons of its chief representatives) had, by its exclusive attention to the letter, come to destroy the spirit of the Law. Happily, there came yet another that way, not only a stranger, but one despised, a semi-heathen Samaritan. 22 He asked not who the man was, but what was his need. Whatever the wounded Jew might have felt towards him, the Samaritan proved a true ‘neighbour.’ ‘He came towards him, and beholding him, he was moved with compassion.’ His resolution was soon taken. He first bound up his wounds, and then, taking from his travelling provision wine and oil, made of them, what was regarded as the common dressing for wounds. 23 Next, having ‘set’ (lifted) him on his own beast, he walked by his side, and brought him to one of those houses of rest and entertainment, whose designation (pandoceion) has passed into Rabbinic language. These khans, or hostelries, by the side of unfrequented roads, afforded free lodgement to the traveller. But generally they also offered entertainment, in which case, of course, the host, commonly a non-Israelite, charged for the victuals supplied to man or beast, or for the care taken. In the present instance the Samaritan seems himself to have tended the wounded man all that evening. But even thus his care did not end. The next morning, before continuing his journey, he gave to the host two dinars – about one shilling and threepence of our money, the amount of a labourer’s wages for two days, 24 – as it were, two days’ wages for his care of him, with this provision, that if any further expense were incurred, either because the wounded man was not sufficiently recovered to travel, or else because something more had been supplied to him, the Good Samaritan would pay it when he next came that way.
So far the Parable: its lesson ‘the lawyer’ is made himself to enunciate. ‘Which of these three seems to thee to have become neighbour of him that fell among the robbers?’ Though unwilling to take the hated name of Samaritan on his lips, especially as the meaning of the Parable and its anti-Rabbinic bearing were so evident, the ‘lawyer’ was obliged to reply, ‘He that showed mercy on him,’ when the Saviour finally answered, ‘Go, and do thou likewise.’
Some further lessons may be drawn. The Parable implies not a mere enlargement of the Jewish ideas, but a complete change of them. It is truly a Gospel-Parable, for the whole old relationship of mere duty is changed into one of love. Thus, matters are placed on an entirely different basis from that of Judaism. The question now is not ‘Who is my neighbour?’ but ‘Whose neighbour am I?’ The Gospel answers the question of duty by pointing us to love. Wouldst thou know who is thy neighbour? Become a neighbour to all by the utmost service thou canst do them in their need. And so the Gospel would not only abolish man’s enmity, but bridge over man’s separation. Thus is the Parable truly Christian, and, more than this, points up to Him Who, in our great need, became Neighbour to us, even at the cost of all He had. And from Him, as well as by His Word, are we to learn our lesson of love.
Some such internal connection between the two Parables seems, indeed, indicated even by the loose manner in which this second Parable is strung to the request of some disciples to be taught what to pray. 26 Like the Parable of the ‘Good Samaritan,’ it is typical, and its application would be the more felt, that it not only points to an exemplification, but appeals to every man’s consciousness of what himself would do in certain given circumstances. The latter are as follows. A man has a friend who, long after nightfall, unexpectedly comes to him from a journey. He has nothing in the house, yet he must provide for his need, for hospitality demands it. Accordingly, though it be so late, he goes to his friend and neighbour to ask him for three loaves, stating the case. On the other hand, the friend so asked refuses, since, at that late hour, he has retired to bed with his children, and to grant his request would imply not only inconvenience to himself, but the disturbing of the whole household. The main circumstances therefore are: Sudden, unthought-of sense of imperative need, obliging to make what seems an unseasonable and unreasonable request, which, on the face of it, offers difficulties and has no claim upon compliance. It is, therefore, not ordinary but, so to speak, extraordinary prayer, which is here alluded to.
To return to the Parable: the question (abruptly broken off from the beginning of the Parable in ver. 5), is what each of us would do in the circumstances just detailed. The answer is implied in what follows. 27 It points to continued importunity, which would at last obtain what it needs. ‘I tell you, even if he will not give him, rising up, because he is his friend, yet at least 28 on account of his importunity, he will rise up and give him as many as he needeth.’ This literal rendering will, it is hoped, remove some of the seeming difficulties of the Parable. It is a gross misunderstanding to describe it as presenting a mechanical view of prayer: as if it implied, either that God was unwilling to answer; or else, that prayer, otherwise unheard, would be answered merely for its importunity. It must be remembered, that he who is within is a friend, and that, under circumstances, he would at once have complied with the request. But, in this case, there were special difficulties, which are represented as very great; it is midnight; he has retired to bed, and with his children; the door is locked. And the lesson is, that where, for some reasons, there are, or seem, special difficulties to an answer to our prayers (it is very late, the door is no longer open, the children have already been gathered in), the importunity arising from the sense of our absolute need, and the knowledge that He is our Friend, and that He has bread, will ultimately prevail. The difficulty is not as to the giving, but as the giving then – ‘rising up,’ and this is overcome by perseverance, so that (to return to the Parable), if he will not rise up because he is his friend, yet at least he will rise because of his importunity, and not only give him ‘three’ loaves, but, in general, ‘as many as he needeth.’
So important is the teaching of this Parable, that Christ makes detailed application of it. In the circumstances described a man would persevere with his friend, and in the end succeed. And, similarly, the Lord bids us ‘ask,’ and that earnestly and believingly; ‘seek,’ and that energetically and instantly; ‘knock,’ and that intently and loudly. Ask – He is a Friend, and we shall ‘receive;’ ‘seek,’ it is there, and we shall ‘find;’ ‘knock,’ – our need is absolute, and it shall be opened to us. But the emphasis of the Parable and its lesson are in the word ‘every one’ (paV). Not only this or that, but ‘every one,’ shall so experience it. The word points to the special difficulties that may be in the way of answer to prayer – the difficulties of the ‘rising up,’ which have been previously indicated in the Parable. These are met by perseverance which indicates the reality of our need (‘ask’), the reality of our belief that the supply is there (‘seek’), and the intensity and energy of our spiritual longing (‘knock’). Such importunity applies to ‘every one,’ whoever he be, and whatever the circumstances which would seem to render his prayer specially difficult of answer. Though he feel that he has not and needs, he ‘ask;’ though he have lost – time, opportunities, mercies – he ‘seek;’ though the door seem shut, he ‘knocks.’ Thus the Lord is helper to ‘every one;’ but, as for us, let us learn the lesson from what we ourselves would do in analogous circumstances.
Nay, more than this, God will not deceive by the appearance of what is not reality. He will even give the greatest gift. The Parabolic relation is now not that of friends, but of father and son. If the son asks for bread, will the father give what seems such, but is only a stone? If he asks for a fish, will he tender him what looks such, but is a serpent? If he seek an egg, will he hand to him what breeds a scorpion? The need, the hunger, of the child will not, in answer to its prayer, receive at the Father’s Hands, that which seems, but gives not the reality of satisfaction – rather is poison. Let us draw the inference. Such is our conduct – how much more shall our heavenly Father give His Holy Spirit to them that ask Him. That gift will not disappoint by the appearance of what is not reality; it will not deceive either by the promise of what it does not give, or by giving what would prove fatal. As we follow Christ’s teaching, we ask for the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit, in leading us to Him, leads us into all truth, to all life, and to what satisfies all need.