The Good Samaritan

Luke 10:25-37

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.”

There are so many things we could deal with in this passage, but we’re going to focus just on a few. First, however, reflect on this question briefly:

What is the key / primary teaching of this passage?

No problem, right? We’re called to love one another and to have mercy on people. Pretty clear right?  I never really studied this parable in depth until now because I thought I GOT it. As Christians, we’re supposed to show the love of Christ to people, have mercy on the poor, help those in need, etc.

Well let’s take a closer look. We see this priest and a Levite walk right past this man in need and we might have thoughts like this:  “wow that’s messed up.”  Or, “how could they walk right past him?” Especially priests and Levites! And if we’re not careful we could really judge these people…right?

But here’s the thing: the road to Jericho was commonly known to be extremely dangerous. It had steep cliffs and rocky passes – Jerusalem sits at about 3000 ft. above sea level while Jericho is only 1000 ft. at 17 miles away.  People at that time referred to it as the “bloody way” – criminals would hide in the mountains and amongst the rocks where they would rob passersby, or even kill them, and because of the rocky nature of the area and the mountains, it was easy to hide and therefore easy to get away as well. And this was well known, so when Jesus told this story the audience definitely would have known this. It would have been an important detail to them, otherwise Jesus wouldn’t have included it.

And so before we judge these other men, I want to give you a more modern scenario: YOU are driving (more modern form of transportation) through the streets of let’s say the ghetto of Detroit – currently the most dangerous city in America – or if it strikes more strongly, Riviera Beach, FL or South central LA. Next, your car breaks down. Its night-time, you’re alone, you’re scared, and you see someone on the side of the road that’s hurt. You don’t have a cell phone to call 911. You know danger is lurking all around – after all, someone must have just beat the you-know-what out of this guy. And here you are trying to figure out what to do so you can get the heck out of there.

Now, be honest: no one is looking…what do you do? What would you really do?

The truth is, if we’re being honest, many, not all, of us, are more likely to drive over someone (if our car wasn’t broken down) and let the Good Samaritan come help them! And guess what? That’s exactly what these guys did: they kept going. What would you do??

And it’s likely that the people in Jesus’ audience, including the lawyer, if they were being honest with themselves, most or many of them would have related to the Levite and the priest and said “man, I probably wouldn’t have stopped either.”

And maybe some of us do as well. We could come up with all kinds of reasons as to why we shouldn’t stop: our personal safety, our family, someone else will help him. Or, not to mention for the priest and the Levite there could have even been a “religious” reason for not helping this man. Levitical law says that touching a dead body would have caused them to be unclean; what if he’s dead or is going to be very soon, I’ll be unclean and therefore unable to participate in certain rituals for 7 days.

Here’s the question to consider today: Are we, as Christians, obeying this command personally?  Are we?? Is Jesus really calling us to do this??

There are couple of things going on here I think. One, the lawyer is coming to Jesus, like many of the other Pharisees, with an agenda; the scripture says that he came to “test” Jesus. The Pharisees were constantly trying to test and trap Jesus and to get him to say something that would be contrary to the LAW, but Jesus being the master teacher that he is isn’t about to get trapped by this guy, so when the lawyer comes to him with a question, Jesus turns it around to him and asks him a question so that he takes control of the interaction. So Jesus says:

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.”

I want to dwell here for just a moment – Jesus says “do this and you will live.” In other words, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all you soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.” If you do that, you’re good to go.

Let’s talk about this for a minute. First:

Did the idea of “mercy” and love for one another start with Jesus?

NO!  I think this is a common misconception that when Jesus gave the greatest commandment he was simply quoting Deuteronomy! The rabbis taught this; the Ten Commandments are all about loving God and loving people. Go read them! Take no other God before me, no idols, name in vain…all God. Don’t envy, don’t murder, don’t steal…all about people. This idea was well known! Not to mention Leviticus 19:34 says that we are love even strangers and foreigners! Jesus teaches that all the law boils down to those two simple things: love God, love people. But when you think about it, these are incredible, profound, and crazy things, even perhaps IMPOSSIBLE things – to truly love God and people perfectly. And Jesus knows they’re impossible. And indeed the lawyer knows they are impossible as well if there are not constraints put on them. And so that’s exactly what the lawyer does: he seeks to put some constraints and says “who is your neighbor?”

But then Jesus turns the whole thing on its head to show who the neighbor is and now the Samaritan shows up.

In the context of this story, what is significant about Samaritans?

I realize that many of you know this already, but this is important context. Samaritans, according to Jewish account, originated when Assyrians intermarried with Israelites, and during exile they occupied much of the land of Judea, including Jerusalem. These “Samaritans” at first worshipped the idols of their own nations, but being troubled with lions and wild animals, they assumed it was because they had not honored the God of that territory.

A Jewish priest was therefore sent to them from Assyria to instruct them in the Jewish religion. They were instructed from the books of Moses, but still retained many of their idolatrous customs. The Samaritans embraced a religion that was a mixture of Judaism and idolatry (2 Kings 17:26-28). And because the Israelite inhabitants of Samaria had intermarried with the foreigners and adopted their idolatrous religion, Samaritans were generally considered “half-breeds” and were universally despised by the Jews. In other words, the Jews hated the Samaritans.

A couple other reasons, if you are interested:

  1. The Jews, after their return from Babylon, began rebuilding their temple. While Nehemiah was engaged in building the walls of Jerusalem, the Samaritans vigorously attempted to halt the undertaking (Nehemiah 6:1-14).
  2. Samaria became a place of refuge for all the outlaws of Judea (Joshua 20:7;21:21). The Samaritans willingly received Jewish criminals and refugees from justice. The violators of the Jewish laws, and those who had been excommunicated, found safety for themselves in Samaria, greatly increasing the hatred which existed between the two nations.
  3. The Samaritans received only the five books of Moses and rejected the writings of the prophets and all the Jewish traditions.

Also, in what was intended as a terrible insult, they Jews call Jesus a Samaritan in John 8:48:

John 8:48

48 The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”

And so Jesus using a Samaritan as the hero of the story is significant! And this Samaritan comes along and risks his safety, probably messed up his schedule, he got dirty, and maybe even got some blood on himself, all to help a needy person from another race and another social class. That’s what he did – and what did Jesus say about this??? He says “Go and do likewise.” Jesus says that THIS is what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.

What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself?

Who is your neighbor?  Is it just the people in your church?  Or your city?  Or what about that dying man on the side of the road?  The hurting, the helpless? Aren’t they our neighbors? And the lawyer sees this conundrum as well, so he says “well who is my neighbor?”

And Jesus goes into this parable and gives us a clear answer that our neighbor is ANYONE who is in need. Doesn’t matter if they’re in your hometown or not – these guys weren’t – one was a Samaritan and the other a Jew. Doesn’t matter if they’re your race or not – they’re likely not. Doesn’t matter if they’re your religion or not – they’re likely not. Jesus says that our neighbor is everyone, and that we should help everyone we can!

Jesus teaches this over and over again. What about the rich man? What does Jesus tell him he must do to inherit eternal life?

Matthew 19:21

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Jesus even says in Matthew 25

Matthew 25:34-36

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

According to Jesus, helping the poor and the broken and the suffering is part of the very foundation of what it means to be a Christian. The problem is that like the Levite and the priest, if we’re not careful, we can very easily become desensitized, or self-focused, or even comfortable where we are. And we can make excuses for why we don’t help the poor and the broken. And we’re really good at this stuff! Coming up with excuses for not doing the right thing, right?

Aren’t we really good at that!? WE can say things like:

  1. Oh come on guys, let’s be reasonable: I’ve got all this other stuff on my plate. Jesus doesn’t mean THAT!!
  2. This isn’t my gifting. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard say that evangelism isn’t my gifting, so I don’t tell people about Jesus.
  3. I’m so busy. I’m already serving at my church.
  4. I barely have enough money for myself!!
  5. We even will use scripture! Jesus said stuff like this show us that we need him – he doesn’t actually expect us to do these crazy things. Sort of true, but we’ll come back to that though.
  6. Oh they all use the money for alcohol and drugs so I don’t help homeless people. – I don’t want to be an enabler

I wanted to share with you briefly a story about a woman. This was written by a seminary professor about his encounters with a woman:

“A once beautiful woman, Angela, is withering away in front of the library on our urban campus.  She wears many layers of clothes.  They are plastered on her brittle body like clashing layers of peeling paint.  She doesn’t have socks on, but it’s cold and the weather is growing hostile.  I offered her food once, but she rudely rejected it.  She turns away abruptly when I try to talk to her.  Stung with bitterness I recoil.  But then I gradually begin to understanding how prejudiced we are with expectations of the poor.  My arrogant anticipation of gratitude kills the goodness of the deed.  She is hungry, exposed and sick; yet I resist reaching out, because she might not welcome me.  Which one of us is truly sick?  Angela, you’re a mirror thrust before us, but can we bear the sight?”

WOW! Can anyone relate? Anyone had a similar experience with a homeless person. I have, I was STUNG when I read this. The reality is that we are SURROUNDED by neighbors in need, and Jesus is calling us to respond and to “go and do likewise.”

Here’s the reality – just a few stats:

  1. In 2013 46 million people live in poverty, including 15 million children, and 5 million senior citizens
  2. 50 million don’t have enough food to eat reasonably healthy, including 16 million children – maybe these are so common stats that we’re desensitized to them – how about:
  3. Human trafficking generates $9.5 billionyearly in the United States. (United Nations)
  4. Approximately 300,000children in prostitution in the United States. (S. Department of Justice)
  5. The average age of entry into prostitution for a child victim in the United States is 13-14years old. (S. Department of Justice)
  6. A pimp can make $150,000-$200,000per child each year and the average pimp has 4 to 6 girls. (S. Justice Department, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children)
  7. The average victim may be forced to have sex up to 20-48times a day. (Polaris Project)
  8. Department Of Justice has identified the top twenty human trafficking jurisdictions in the country: Houston
El Paso
• Los Angeles
• Atlanta
• Chicago
• Charlotte
• Miami
• Las Vegas
• New York
• Long Island
• New Orleans
• Washington, D.C.
• Philadelphia
• Phoenix
• Richmond
• San Diego• San Francisco
• St Louis
• Seattle
• Tampa  (Department of Justice)
  9. One in three teenson the street will be lured into prostitution within 48 hours of being on the street. (National Runaway Hotline)

And the reality is this: We live on the road to Jericho.

You do and I do. And Jesus teaches us that we’re supposed to do something about it. But Jesus does it in this crazy way: he says if you love perfectly you’ll inherit eternal life. He says if you help your neighbors, love God more than anything, then you’ve got this!

But in normal Jesus style there’s a twist here, because many of us know that the reality is that NONE OF US have GOT THIS! The lawyer didn’t have this and nobody does and Jesus knows it! And Jesus does this to everyone who wants to come to him and says Jesus I really want what you’re offering. The first thing he does, in every case in the bible, is he first shows you how inadequate you are. If you think you’ve got this, then you can’t really come to me. If you think you can self-justify, go for it, but the truth is you can’t. The interesting thing is that according to surveys, 90% of people in America think they love more than the average person – sort of like drivers: everyone thinks they’re an excellent driver. Jesus says to them, if you think that, then you can’t come to me. You first need to acknowledge this fact!!! And the lawyer apparently didn’t get it yet because look what it says: “BUT HE WANTED TO JUSTIFY HIMSELF!” This is profound language…

What does “justify” mean?  Biblically?

To make something right. In other words, the lawyer wanted to make himself righteous. The lawyer, like many of the Pharisees, wanted to “justify” themselves and Jesus says “ok – if you are perfect, you’re good to go. Perfect love is what God requires.” But really what Jesus is teaching is that you CANNOT DO THAT! So he corners him with this story and shows him that this self-justifying Pharisee who thought he obeyed the letter of the law, and who came to test Jesus and try to get him to deny the law, instead Jesus shows him that he cares more about the law than him!!!

I care about the law!! And you’re not following it!  You may THINK you are, but you’re not.  So this is what you need to do to justify yourself. The Samaritan is following the heart of the law more than you!!!

And like the accusers of the adulteress who walked away humbled, like the rich man who walked away bummed out, we don’t know for sure, but the lawyer probably walked away realizing his inability to follow the law completely.

Why does Jesus do this?  Show people that they cannot “self-justify”?

Because it is only then that we realize our need for a savior. It’s only when we acknowledge our inability to save ourselves that we realize we are inadequate. It’s only when we realize that our love is not perfect love that real love can begin to take root in our lives. It’s only when we realize that it was (or is) US that was on the side of the road to Jericho. It was US that was dead in our transgressions and sins. It was US that was dying on the side of the road, when the one that DOES have perfect love came along and picked us up and bandaged us up, cleaned us up, and paid the expense for us! It’s when we realize that was US!!! That real love can even begin to grow and manifest itself in our lives. Because like or not, that was you, and that’s a key point:

We were (or are) the man on the side of the road to Jericho…

When we see that; when we see that not only are we not showing perfect love and not getting it all right; when we see that, in fact, we actually were dead, we can begin to see Christ’s love for us! And now we can show true compassion. Now we can show true empathy because God had it for us and we realize it. Now we can actually show MERCY towards others because we see the immense mercy that God showed towards us. It’s at this moment that we recognize what it means that to be a sinner saved by grace.

And a sinner saved by grace has a new outlook on everything and everyone, and this will inevitably lead to compassion and love even for the neediest, ugliest, most ungrateful people in our communities. Let that sink in.

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