In his gospel Luke tells of a lawyer who asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life.  (Luke 10: 25-37)  Jesus responded with a question, leading the lawyer to cite the two great commandments of charity: love of God and love of neighbor.  The lawyer, in an effort to justify himself, asked “and who is my neighbor?”  Jesus replied with the story   of the Good Samaritan.

To see the real force of Jesus’ story we need to look at some of the things Scripture scholars tell us about this passage.  One thing they note is that the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was very dangerous.  Because of its physical characteristics, it was attractive to robbers.  It seems the traveler in the story making the trip alone was somewhat reckless, perhaps even foolhardy.

It is also important to note that the lawyer would have had a rather restricted notion about what “neighbor” meant.  For strict Jews the word neighbor included only fellow Jews.    As he often did, Jesus sought to correct the misunderstanding of the religious Jews of his time. Especially he wanted to instruct them about what God wanted of them.

Jesus’ answer to the lawyer involves three things.  First, it shows we are called to help people even if they have brought trouble on themselves, as the traveler had done.  To say someone deserved what they got is hardly a Christian response.

Secondly, Jesus’ answer tells us any person in need is our neighbor.  The commandment to love our neighbor does not allow us to be selective.

Finally, help must be concrete and practical.  More is required than just feeling sorry for a person in need.  No doubt the Levite and the priest in the story felt some pity for the wounded man but did nothing to actually help him. Compassion to be real must result in action.
Jesus ended his conversation with the lawyer by saying: “Go and do likewise.”  What Jesus asked is not easy.  Just as the Samaritan made sacrifices to help the wounded man.   It cost him time and money.  Helping a neighbor will require sacrifice on our part.

Jesus never presented the commandments of love as soft and undemanding.  He never said loving God and neighbor would be easy to practice.  Neither divine love nor human love exclude sacrifice and suffering.  Love and sacrifice are not the same thing, but they are inseparable.  Sacrifice is what shows love is genuine.