Do you hope to enter heaven (paradise) one day? What is required for you and me to enter heaven? Isa al Masih (PBUH) was once asked this question by a Jewish ‘expert’ educated in the interpretation of all aspects of the sharia law of the prophet Musa (PBUH). Isa al Masih (PBUH) gave him an unexpected answer. Below is the conversation recorded in the Injil. To appreciate the effect of Isa’s parable on this expert you must understand that ‘Samaritans’ were despised by the Jews in that day. They were considered unclean. In return the Samaritans hated the Jews. The hatred between Samaritans and Jews back then would be similar today to maybe that between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians, or between Sunnis and Shiites, or supporters and opponents of Assad in Syria.
Parable of Eternal Life and the Good Neighbour
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii 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.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37)
When the expert in the Law answered ‘Love the Lord your God’ and ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ he was quoting from the Sharia Law of Musa (PBUH). Isa indicated that he had answered correctly but this raised the question of who was his neighbour. So Isa al Masih (PBUH) told the parable of the Good Neighbour.
In the parable we expect that the religious people (the priest and the Levite) would help the man who had been beaten, but they ignore him and leave him in his helpless state. Their religion has not made them Good Neighbours. Instead, the person we least expect, the one we assume is his enemy – he is the one who helps the man who had been beaten.
With this parable, Isa al Masih (PBUH) commands to “go and do likewise”. I do not know about you, but my first reaction to this parable was that I must have misunderstood it, and then I was tempted to just ignore it and pretend I never read it.
But think of all the fighting, killing, heartache and misery which is happening all around because the great majority of people do ignore this command. If we lived like this Samaritan then our cities and countries would be peaceful rather than full of fighting. And we would also have an assurance of entering paradise. As it stands, very few people have an assurance that they have eternal life – even if they live very religiously like the expert in the Law did who was talking with Isa (PBUH).
Do you have assurance of eternal life?
But is becoming this kind of Neighbour even possible? How can we do this? If we are honest with ourselves we have to admit that being a Neighbour like he commanded is too difficult to do.
And here we may see a glimmer of hope because when see that we cannot do it we become ‘poor in spirit’ – which Isa al Masih (PBUH) had also taught was necessary to enter the ‘Kingdom of God’
Perhaps instead of just ignoring this parable, or excusing it away, we should use it to examine ourselves and acknowledge that we cannot do it – it is too difficult. Then, in our helplessness, we can ask Allah for help. As Isa al Masih (PBUH) had promised in the Sermon on the Mount
7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7-11)
So we have the Masih’s permission to ask for help – and help is promised. Perhaps pray to Allah something like this:
Father in Heaven. You have sent the prophets to teach us the straight way. Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught that I need to love and help even those who consider themselves my enemy, and without doing this I cannot get eternal life. But I find that this is impossible for me to do. Please help me and change me so that I can follow this path and get eternal life. Be Merciful to me who is a Sinner.
By Masih’s encouragement and permission I pray to you God
(The specific words are not important – it is that we confess our need and ask for mercy)
The injil also records a time when Isa al Masih (PBUH) encountered a Samaritan. How would the prophet treat a person who was considered a hated enemy of his people (the jews)? What happened in his encounter with the Samaritan, and what we may learn to help us become the kind of Neighbour we need to be, we will look at next.