One of the most famous parables of Jesus is the parable of the Good Samaritan. It is so well known that many states actually have “Good Samaritan Laws” which protect those who out of a sense of neighborly compassion render aid in an emergency, from lawsuits. Most people know this story. Today we want to look at the point of the story.
The story was provoked by a man described as an expert in the law who tried to expose or test Jesus with a question of theology. He asked Jesus what a person needed to do to have eternal life. We saw last week that the man had asked the wrong question. We can’t do anything to earn eternal life! Jesus knew however that confrontation would only inflame the man. So He took another approach.
Jesus asked the man what the Bible said. The man knew the right answer.
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.’”
Jesus responded to the man’s answer, “Well there you have it! If you do that you will live.” That wasn’t what the man wanted to hear. No one who understood the requirement of the Shema would dare say that he had loved the Lord with all of heart, soul, mind and strength. We all know that we fall short of this standard. This, of course, is the point that Jesus wanted to make.
The teacher however “wanted to justify himself” (none of us like to be exposed as a sinful person) so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (29) He turned the focus to a side issue. He looked for a loophole.
The theologian quoted Leviticus 19:18: ‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” Jewish leaders interpreted the law to say that they were to love their “fellow Jews” as they love themselves. Jesus tried to expand their vision and their heart. To do this He told a story. Illustrations, word pictures and parables are very effective way to help people “feel” truth. Let’s retell the story in a contemporary setting.
A Suburban man was walking through a dangerous neighborhood on his way to a business meeting. The man was robbed and mugged and left on the sidewalk in bad shape. A local minister came walking down the street. He saw the man and crossed over to the other side of the street and kept going. Next a community leader came down the street. He came a little closer to the man but he too crossed over to the other side of the street. Next a leader of one of the neighborhood gangs was driving by and saw the man. He stopped his car, administered first aid and called 911. Later he came to visit the man in the hospital and organized a benefit to help defray the man’s medical expenses. Of the three people (the Minister, the community leader or the gang leader), which one was a neighbor to the man in need?
The account is not what we expect. The hero is a surprise. And of course, that was the point that Jesus was making.
The man in Jesus’ story was in an area he where he should not have been traveling alone. We are told that the man went “down” from Jerusalem. A person would always be going “down” from Jerusalem because it is on a mountain. Jerusalem is around 2600 feet above sea level and Jericho is about 825 feet below sea level! The journey between the two cities was about 17 miles winding through the desert and surrounded by caves. Because of the isolated roads it was a common place for muggings. Wise people traveled in groups for safety.
We are surprised by the hero in the story but also unsettled by the callous disregard of the people who passed by.
Some years ago CBS anchorman and reporter Hugh Rudd was mugged outside his New York City apartment complex. He lay conscious, eyes open, but unable to move. All he could do was moan and mumble, though he was quite lucid. Rudd lay from 2:30 until dawn at the doorstep, watching life pass by. Returning theatergoers walked past him into the building. The man who delivered milk came and left. No one even stopped to see what was wrong—despite his pathetic attempts to ask for help. His experience is as old as history.
How could this happen? Were the people afraid to get involved? Were they paralyzed by the fact that they did not know what to do (they could have called for help!) Were they afraid a similar fate might await them? Or, were they just too busy? In Jesus’ story these men may have been so busy “being faithful” that they neglected to act with the heart of God!
We all hope that we if we had been on the road we would have responded differently. However, I am haunted by a memory. I vividly remember a time when as a teenager I was walking down the street in the winter. About a half block ahead of me there was a woman walking. She hit a piece of ice and her legs went up while the rest of her went down. Sadly I literally crossed the street and pretended to see nothing. The lady was not hurt (I saw her get up) and she probably hoped that “no one saw her fall”. But, I am still troubled by my response.
How we Respond to the Hurting Reveals Our True Heart
The men in this story were not real men (it seems) so any speculation as to why they did what they did is a waste of time. What we need to see is the fact that our actions say more about our faith than our words do.
The hatred between Judea and Samaria went back over 400 years and centered around racial purity. While the Jews had kept their purity during the Jewish Captivity in Babylon, the Samaritans had lost theirs by intermarrying with Assyrian invaders. In the Jews’ eyes the Samaritans “sold out”. The hostility between the Jews and Samaritans was pretty intense. One author suggests that if the Jew in the story were not half-dead, he probably would have refused to be helped by the Samaritan!
Notice that the Samaritan does not simply stop by this man to see how he is doing. He gave him first aid (wine to disinfect the wounds and oil to ease the pain), he put the man on his own donkey (forcing the man to be inconveniences) and then when they got to town (Jericho?) he brought the man to the hotel and paid the man’s fees for a couple of weeks and promised that he would pay anything beyond this when he returned. Caring for this man cost the Samaritan time, comfort, and resources.
This is what truly loving a neighbor means. Anytime we truly care about others there will be a cost. Caring may cost us money, time, or inconvenience us. It may have an emotional price tag and may even threaten our immediate safety. Think about the cost to care for some of the people we might encounter
- One who needs someone to listen as they talk through a problem
- One who would appreciate a visit in a hospital or nursing home
- Someone who needs help paying a bill
- The person who is hostile to the faith
- The one who needs help getting chores done around the house
- The person who needs a ride to a doctor’s appointment
- The one who needs time away from children who tend to be “out of control”
- The couple going through a rough time in their marriage
- The person who has suffered a great loss
Each of these people will need our time, our energy and sometimes even our finances. We all have plenty to do. Caring for others is inconvenient. However, as Christians we understand that our society is only as strong as the compassion shown to the weakest our society.
Applying the Parable
When Jesus finished telling the story he asked the expert in the law a simple and obvious question,
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 10:36-37]
Jesus refused to let this guy off the hook. He said the question we should be asking is not: “Who is my neighbor?” but “Am I a neighbor to the person in need?” When we focus on the first question we are like a student in the classroom who is always asking: “Will this be on the test?” What that student really wants to know is: do I have to learn this stuff? That student is not really interested in learning; they just want to pass the class.
Many people live their Christian lives this way. They aren’t really interested in living with the heart of Jesus . . . they just want to do what they have to do so they can feel they have earned God’s blessing. They want to get eternal life but they aren’t really interested in following Jesus. Jesus calls us to something deeper.
Let’s go back and look at the whole text and draw some principles. Last week we saw that We must remember that we cannot do anything to earn eternal life. The mistake this teacher in the Law made was assuming that he could earn (or do something) to gain God’s favor. Jesus went through this dialogue to help him realize he could not attain God’s standard on his own. Once you realize you cannot save yourself there are three things to do.
- Repent. We must acknowledge our sinfulness and then seek to turn in a different direction. Repentance is more than sorrow over sin, it is a life-altering realization of the emptiness of living in rebellion to God that leads us to return what was stolen, to restore broken relationships, and to change our habits and direction.
- Believe. We must recognize that only in Christ can we be made new . . . only through His sacrifice can we find the new life that we desire. We must embrace Him, trust Him, and lean on Him.
- Follow. True faith is seen in our behavior. True discipleship means living in a way that is consistent with the way Jesus calls us to live. It means adjusting priorities, attitudes, calendars and spending habits to line up with the heart of Christ. We do not live this way to earn salvation; we live this way because we want to express or live out the salvation that has been given to us. Truly following Christ means living with a new heart.
Second, we were reminded that both the Old and New Testament continues to express the heart of God. When we are faced with a question of what we should do we must always start with the same question: “What does the Bible say?” There is no warrant for dismissing the Old Testament moral law as no longer relevant to our lives.
I encourage you to regularly read the Old Testament as well as the New Testament. Study and memorize the Ten Commandments, listen for moral requirements as you read through the Old Testament books; regularly study the book of Proverbs; become very familiar with the New Testament. Don’t read the Bible as a textbook of facts you need to master. Read it like an instructional manual. Read it like you would read a auto repair manual or a recipe for something you had never cooked before. Read attentively and carefully. As we truly listen to the Word of God we will see God’s heart and this will guide us in the way we live our lives.
Third, we learn that God wants us to show love to anyone in need . . . even if they have brought the problem on themselves. Why the man was mugged was never the issue. Maybe he shouldn’t have been in that neighborhood. Maybe he should have been more careful. That’s not the point. We all make mistakes and sometimes make bad choices. The Lord would have us reach out and help anyone in need.
- The unmarried pregnant person
- The person who made really bad choices in their business
- The person who holds political beliefs opposite those of our own
- The person who has serious legal problems
- The person who scorns the Christian faith
- The person of a different race, culture or socio-economic background
- The person who is an outcast because of an abrasive personality
- The person who has hurt us in the past
- The person who is wildly inconsistent because of their hurt
We do not help these people because we are naturally drawn to them because of what we hold in common. Just the opposite, we naturally want to avoid such people. Jesus calls us to help because these people are cherished by God.
Keep in mind that really helping someone doesn’t always mean giving that person whatever they ask from you (sometimes merely writing a check is a way of ‘getting rid of someone’ rather than truly helping them). If you watch a physical or occupational therapist working with a stroke victim you will see that the therapist refuses to do some things for the patient. They force the patient to do these things for themselves even though it is difficult (and sometimes exasperating) because this is the only way for the patient to truly recover. If the therapist did whatever was difficult for the patient they would not really be helping them . . . they would in fact be lengthening the time of disability. Sometimes we need to help people do things for themselves.
Finally, the help we are to give is to be practical, not merely theoretical. Right doctrine is important. However, Jesus wants us to see that right doctrine is not just about answers we give on a test or a slogan we put on our T-shirt. Right doctrine starts in our head and expresses itself through our hands and feet.
This expert in the Law knew the right answers. The problem was that the answers didn’t penetrate deep enough to make a difference in the way he related to people and the way he lived his life.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is a classic story. But if we take the time to hear what Jesus is saying through the story, the parable challenges us. It pushes us to get off our chair and get dirty. It encourages us to show faith by engaging with those around us. Compassion may call us
- To be a friend to the person who feels like they are an outcast
- To take time to teach someone who lacks the skill to do what they need to do
- To lovingly confront the one going down a dangerous path
- To offer assistance to the person who needs a hand
- To take some of the burden off of the person who feels overwhelmed
- To share the love of Christ with the person who doesn’t seem interested
- To love a child who feels discarded
- To transport someone to a Doctor’s appointment
- To refuse to give up on someone who has given up on themselves
- To lend practical aid to a missionary
- To serve in an understaffed area of ministry
- And let’s not forget that the most profound act of compassion is to share the message of eternal life with someone. This can turn someone from an eternity in Hell to eternal life in Heaven.
We need to start somewhere. So start with little things. Say “Hi” to the person on the street. Take time to pick up the garbage that is on the street but “is not our responsibility”. Let someone else go ahead of you in line. Resist the lure of gossip. In other words, give people the benefit of the doubt by considering that there may be more to the story. You could deliberately strike up a conversation with a stranger who seems stressed out. Sometimes simply saying, “Bad Day?” will give a person a chance to share their hurt.
Our goal is to try not to “look past” people. It’s easy to do. We are busy and active. However, once we look past one person it will be easier to look past the next. We need to look people in the eye and try to see their heart and their need rather than drawing conclusions based on their appearance. These are all little things but they help build a foundation for something greater. Little things help us learn better habits.
I suspect the expert in the law felt the sting of the story. Perhaps he was humbled and even challenged in his faith. Maybe that same thing is what needs to happen in us. Maybe we need to see hurting people differently. Maybe we need to look for opportunities where we can help (and then do so) rather than expend so much energy trying to find excuses or loopholes for why we don’t have to help. Perhaps we are being called to stop trying to impress God with our “good lives” and instead humbly depend upon Him to change our hearts. Maybe we need to examine and expand our own definition of neighbor so that we stop looking at the labels people wear or the scars they carry, and instead work to see people who are loved and treasured by God.
If we will do these things it will show that we have not only learned the story of the Good Samaritan . . . we will have grasped the point of the story.