Some of the stories of Jesus are extremely popular. The story of the Good Samaritan is one of those stories. Some people may not know where the story came from, but they have a pretty good idea of how the story goes. In fact, most of the states in the United States have what are called “Good Samaritan” laws on the books. Those laws state that if someone is trying to be a good Samaritan they cannot be sued for their actions.
One of the problems we face this morning is our familiarity with this text. Because we know the story, we will have to work that much harder to hear it with new freshness. This morning I want you to try to look at this story with fresh eyes.
First, let’s look at the context of the parable,
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 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’ a; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29)
Notice that the parable is in response to a dialogue with a teacher of the law. He would have been one of the theologians of the day. One of the things characteristic of a Theologian is that they are going to ask questions. This teacher however asked a simple question, “What must I do to be saved?” Like you, I would love to hear his tone of voice. Was this a sincere question? Was it a question designed to test Jesus? Was this man simply interested in having a philosophical debate? We’ll never know.
What we do know is the answer that Jesus gave. Jesus turned the question around on the lawyer. He asked him what the law said. The man had a good answer. He knew that the Bible said to love the Lord completely and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
We have to conclude that this teacher of the law was convicted by his own answer because we are told that he was trying to “justify himself” when he asked, “Who is my neighbor?” The man was looking for an intellectual answer, but instead Jesus tells a story. We don’t know if the story was true or if it was a story that was simply plausible. From the story we can learn several things.
A TRUE NEIGHBOR CARES FOR THOSE WHO ARE HURTING
The main message of the story is pretty clear. The Jews believed that you were supposed to be kind and neighborly to other Jews. People who were not Jews did not need to be treated with kindness or respect. (This mentality continues still somewhat in the middle east.) Jesus sought to expand their understanding without having to fight through their prejudice. That’s why he tells this story.
A man was on the 19 mile road between Jerusalem and Jericho. This is a road that goes through many hills and crevices and is notorious for being the home of robbers. The man fell victim to assault along that road and was left for dead.
A Priest came walking along the road. He saw the man that had been assaulted, and moved over to the other side of the road and walked on by. A Levite (a man who worked at the temple assisting the priests) also came along. He saw the man on the side of the road and also did nothing to help the man. Next a Samaritan came down the road. (The Jewish people hated the Samaritans. Samaritans were descendants of Jews who had intermarried with non-Jews during a time of occupation. As a result these people were viewed by traditional Jews as traitors, half-breeds, and counterfeit Jews.) But in the story of Jesus the Samaritan who was walking down the road stopped, cared for the man who had been brutalized, put him on his donkey, and brought him to an Inn where he could be taken care of. He paid for his care and established a line of credit to make sure he was well cared for.
Now, Jesus looked at the teacher of the Law who had been listening to the story, “Who do you think was the better neighbor?” The man had no choice but to say, “The one who showed mercy”. This expert in the law could not bear to even say the name “Samaritan”. It would be the equivalent of Jew making a Palestinian the hero in a story.
The main point of this parable is that our neighbor is not just the person who lives closest to us. Our neighbor, by God’s definition, is any person who is in need.
TRUE COMPASSION IS ACTIVE AND NOT PASSIVE
If you could ask the priest and the Levite why they didn’t care about the man who had been beaten, I’m sure they would tell you that they did care. They might say that they were concerned. They might say they were worried about the man. But . . . they didn’t do anything. Jesus is making the point that true compassion is active. In the book of James we read,
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (James 2:14-18)
Chuck Swindoll has a great illustration in his little book “Compassion”.
It reminds me of a scene out of Winnie the Pooh. Even though the little creatures are imaginary, we can see ourselves in them. This particular scenario reveals how downright insensitive we often are.
Pooh Bear is walking along the river bank. Eeyore, his stuffed donkey friend, suddenly appears floating downstream …on his back of all things, obviously troubled about the possibility of drowning.
Pooh calmly asks if Eeyore had fallen in. Trying to appear in complete control, the anguished donkey answers, “Silly of me, wasn’t it.” Pooh overlooks his friend’s pleading eyes and remarks that
Eeyore really should have been more careful.
In greater need than ever, Eeyore politely thanks him for the advice (even though he needs action more than he needs advice). Almost with a yawn, Pooh Bear notices, “I think you are sinking.” With that as his only hint of hope, drowning Eeyore asks Pooh if he would mind rescuing him. So, Pooh pulls him from the river. Eeyore apologizes for being such a bother, and Pooh, still unconcerned, yet ever so courteous, responds, “Don’t be silly. ..you should have said something sooner .”
I find it absolutely amazing how closely that episode reflects the world of real people in real need How many Eeyores there are, soaked to the ears and about to drown, yet we keep ourselves safely separated with nice-sounding questions and always courteous remarks! We’ll even say, “Give me a call if you need me.” Honestly now, when’s the last time someone in need gave you a call?
Do you really believe that will ever happen? And even if the person worked up the courage to call, would you be serious about helping? We learn early how to say all the right words, yet deep down mean none of them. [Swindoll, Compassion p. 30-32]
Compassion should lead us to prayer but not JUST to prayer. Compassion may stimulate a true concern for another person . . . but should also provoke action. Even if it is a phone call, a meal, an offer of a ride, compassion is active.
How many times have we seen a need and done nothing? How many times have we
Ignored a tear in someone’s eye?
Walked away when another was talking?
Raced by when we saw someone stranded on the road?
Resisted visiting someone who was sick and dying?
Refused to help when we had it within our means to do so?
The parable of the Good Samaritan should make us a little uncomfortable too.
CARING IS INCONVIENIENT
Do you wonder what was going on in the head of the Priest and the Levite in the story? I think both of them were “too busy”. They had other things to do. If they were on their way TO Jerusalem they were probably going to serve their assignment at the temple. This was an honor. If they got involved with this man and he was dead or died while they were there, they would be defiled for seven days and unable to serve at the temple. If they were coming FROM Jerusalem they were eager to get home to their families.
It’s certain that people won’t be in need when it is convenient. You will always be going somewhere, rushing to something, A crisis will come in the middle of the night at a time when you really need a good night’s sleep. I really think these times are tests of our faith. They are opportunities for us to show what is really important in our lives. If you are like me, you often fail the test. We make excuses instead of making time.
CARING CAN BE COSTLY
One more thing we need to state quite honestly. If we are going to care for someone it could be costly. Look at the cost for the Samaritan to get involved.
There was a risk that he would be viewed as the assailant
There was the risk that this man was a decoy and he would be robbed
There was the risk that the robbers were still in the area
There was the cost of time
There was the cost of the oil and wine
There was the cost of the hotel
The compassionate person may pay an emotional price as well. It is hard to go through times sharing the burdens of others. Doctors, nurses, Social workers, Counselors, teachers often carry a heavy load. It is difficult to really care about others because it affects you emotionally. Let me quote Swindoll again,
Compassionate people are often hard to understand. They take risks most people would never take. They give away what most would cling to. They reach out and touch when most would hold back with folded arms. They don’t usually operate on the basis of human logic or care very much about rules of safety. Their caring bring them up close where they feel the other person’s pain and do whatever is necessary to demonstrate true concern. An arm’s length “be warmed and be filled” comment won’t cut it. [Swindoll. P. 50]
But there is also a payoff. There is nothing more satisfying or gives a greater sense of fulfillment than to help another person. There is nothing that solidifies a friendship like going through hard times together. The hard times show us what we are made of and show us who we can count on. Yes, it may be costly to care, but it is a price worth paying.
Let me make several points in conclusion. First, this parable will make everyone uncomfortable. We can all care more than we do. This parable like most, should make us aware of our need for forgiveness and grace. Please understand that Jesus never intended to tell the man that if he was more caring he could earn his way to Heaven. (Remember the original question was, “What must I do to gain eternal life?”) Jesus was trying to show the man that the whole notion of earning heaven was foolish. The standard is a devotion and love that we do not possess.
But even as I say that don’t conclude that grace sets us free from the need to be compassionate. The New Testament is filled with commands to love one another, to bear each other’s burdens, and to be compassionate toward one another. God still wants us to be loving and caring, but now He wants us to do so because we represent Him and are empowered by Him.
Second, we should take some practical steps to be more caring. What should we do?
1. We need to slow down. We are so busy that we don’t have time for each other. We don’t have time in our schedules for the interruptions that call for compassion. Work at “making time” to be attentive. You can do this by planning extra times at the beginning and end of appointments so that you are available to care. Plan a night when you make phone calls to people, write notes or visit.
There is a wonderful story going around on the Internet that drives home this truth.
During my second month of college, our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions, until I read the last one: “What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?”
Surely this was some kind of joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50’s, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade. “Absolutely”, said the professor. “In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say ‘hello'”.
I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.
2. We need to learn to listen better. This is something I want to be better at in my life. I love to talk and I need to learn to listen. We need to hear what is said and what is left unsaid. We need to listen with our ears, our eyes, and our hearts. We need to learn to forget our agenda and to pay attention to someone else. Sometimes all someone needs is someone who will take the time to listen. Sometimes we don’t have to say anything.
3. We can get out a Bible concordance or find a list of all the “one another” passages and study them. It’s important that we remind ourselves that we do not exist as an island. We depend on each other for our life and our joy. Here’s a few of the passages you can begin studying:
John 13:34 Love one another
Romans 12:10 Be devoted to one another
Romans 14:13 Stop Passing Judgment on one another
Romans 15:7 Accept one another
Ephesian 4:2 Bear with one another
Ephesians 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another
Colossians 3:13 Forgive one another
1 Thessalonians 5:11 Encourage one another
1 Peter 4:9 Offer hospitality to one another
4. We need to be on the forefront of the battle against prejudice of all sorts. When someone is diminished because of their race, gender, income level, appearance, reputation, we should be there to stand with that person. We should stand up for them as an act of love and compassion. We know better. We know God looks past these superficial measures. We know God cares even about those the world rejects.
I must confess that I’ve been convicted. It’s so much easier to talk about compassion than to extend it. It is easy to hide behind “all I have to do” and “how tired I am” or any number of other excuses. I know I can do better. And I suspect you can as well.
None of us can care for everyone. In fact, it’s hard to care at all. It is draining. We need help. Compassion and prayer go hand in hand. I think this is why Jesus prayed as much as He did. He loved being with the Father, but also knew He needed the Lord’s strength and the heart of compassion that only the Lord could give. Jesus knew that if he didn’t spend time in prayer He could easily be too concerned with building monuments than touching lives. He could become more concerned with being famous than being faithful. He might become more concerned about organization, programs and methods than people and their needs. So He prayed. He spent time with the Father to remind Himself why He was here and to get the strength He needed for the job that needed to be done. If we want to be compassionate people and be considered good neighbors by those around us then we would be wise to follow our Lord’s example.