Jesus’ teaching about religion and rules was galling for the Jewish leaders of the time. Pharisees were a group of Jews who believed that the terrible things that had happened to their people were a result of failure to keep God’s laws. Many centuries had passed since the original laws were written down, so they no longer covered every aspect of daily life. The Pharisees had taken on the task of clarifying them so that every single area of human existence had appropriate regulations.
For instance, the Jewish law stipulated that no work should be done on one day in every seven – the Sabbath. The Pharisees had refined this law by stipulating precisely how far it was acceptable to walk on that day – far enough to attend worship but absolutely no further in case it became a journey from which one might make a profit. Jesus found this attitude excruciating. He repeatedly provoked the Pharisees by doing things on the Sabbath that were unarguably life-enhancing and good, even though they broke the regulations. For instance he healed people (which was technically work), infuriating the Pharisees because they would have looked ridiculous if they had insisted that he returned them to their previous state.
One of Jesus’ stories was about a man who was robbed, beaten and left for dead. Two religious people who might be expected to help him were passing by, but refused to get involved. Instead the person least likely to assist a Jew was the one who rescued him – a resident of despised neighbouring Samaria.
This story has become known as The Good Samaritan. Jesus did not spell out the meaning, but it is obvious that he meant his followers to understand that a person from another religion was just as capable of showing the love of God as those who think that their relationship with him is exclusive.
It was a Pharisee who prompted Jesus to tell the parable by asking, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ The tone of his question was that he wanted to love the right people, as duty demanded. But Jesus made it clear that in God’s Kingdom love would have no boundaries. ‘Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you,’ he said.
What the Bible says about it
An extract from the Bible:
[A legal expert] asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’
In reply Jesus said: ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said, “and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.”
‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’
The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’
Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
Where to find it:
About these words:
Jesus’ famous parable of the Good Samaritan.
And they said…
Bear Grylls, adventurer and television presenter:
I really struggle with religion just because it’s the source of so much conflict and disunity. The heart of Christianity is just about saying, ‘I need help [God], and will you be beside me?’ I don’t think anyone has a problem with that. What they don’t want is religion.
Carrie Longton, founder of Mumsnet:
All the sermons that have changed my life have been about the amazing, unbounded love of Christ. As my mum always said, you have to love people into the Kingdom.
Tony Jordan, writer of BBC1’s Eastenders, Hustle and The Nativity:
Although I’ve struggled to work out exactly what my faith is, I have always tried to live by the doctrines of Jesus. It’s not rocket science: be kind, be thoughtful, be respectful, don’t hurt or judge other people. If anyone has a better blueprint for getting through life, I haven’t heard it yet.
Lord Maurice Glasman, founder of London Citizens and campaigner for the London living wage:
There has never been a greater need for the gifts that the Christian tradition brings, of which the greatest is love. We’ve got no love in the System.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1906-1945, German theologian executed for his opposition to Nazism:
Give me such love for God and men as will blot out all hatred and bitterness.
Robert Runcie, 1921-2000, Archbishop of Canterbury:
When a man realises that he is a beloved child of the Creator of all, then he is ready to see all his neighbours in the world as brothers and sisters.