The story begins with a lawyer asking about eternal life. When Jesus asks him what is written in the law, he responds with the answer Jesus himself has given in Matthew 22 and Mark 12. My personal opinion is that this was a little bit of a setup. The lawyer wanted to give Jesus an answer he knew he would like, so that he could ask his next question. So in 10:29 he, “desiring to justify himself,” now asks, “And who is my neighbor?” A narrow definition of neighbor can make “Love your neighbor” an easy command to obey, but Jesus was not about to limit his definition.
He now tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan. A man is attacked by robbers. A priest and a Levite both pass by “on the other side.” A Samaritan comes along and helps. To digest the parable’s full meaning we have to remind ourselves that Samaritans and Jews typically hated each other. They were both ethnic and religious rivals, and the mixed-race Samaritans only appeared in the land after the norther tribes of Israel were dragged off into exile.
If Jesus told the story today in Israel today, he might say “Along came a Palestinian Arab …” When Christ asks his final question (10:36), “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” the lawyer gets it right. “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus delivers his punchline (10:37), “You go, and do likewise.”
To find a proper application for “Go and do likewise,” it might help to think of someone we dislike or someone we believe dislikes us. Who really irritates you? Who do you feel most uncomfortable around? Who do you suspect feels uncomfortable around you? Who is to you an ethnic and/or religious rival? What about the atheist next door? Now go and do likewise. According to Jesus, the “neighbor” we need to love most may come to us dressed as our enemy in need.