July 9 & 10, 2016
The parable of the Good Samaritan is a familiar story. Children learn it at quite an early age, adults refer to those who help others as “good Samaritans,” There is even an organization of campers called “The Good Sam Club,” Isn’t it interested how this image has completely changed since the time Jesus told this parable!
At Jesus time – the two words “good” and “Samaritan” certainly weren’t thought about together! (Luke 9:51-56 – James and John saw nothing wrong with asking, “Lord, do You want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”) The Jews thought of the Samaritans as we might consider the radical ISIS groups that seek to destroy us – certainly NOT “good!” Although this parable is quite familiar, what is the important meaning that Jesus would have us to know?
Jesus told this parable in reply to “an expert in the law” / lawyer (v.25) who challenged Jesus with two questions! Jesus answers not the wrong ones but the two questions that should have been asked!
This lawyer came to test Jesus / to debate. Jesus did not come to debate, He came to teach the truth and to lead all to receive eternal life as a free gift from God. (This is a good reminder to us that we are not to debate God’s Word with people but to share the truth and point them to Jesus as their Savior.)
The lawyer asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v.25) This question was wrong and unnecessary because it was already clearly answered in Holy Scripture. In fact, every Jewish boy could have given the correct answer: “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.” (v.27) This was common “knowledge.” But Jesus knew that this was only “head knowledge,” and this lawyer proved this when he, “wanting to justify himself” (v.29) asked the 2nd “wrong question” – “And who is my neighbor?”
In response, Jesus set the stage for his answer. “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.” (v.30) Along came a priest, and then a Levite, good religious men, the kind who always talked about good works and how to get eternal life. But when these two saw the man in need, they “passed by on the other side.” (v.31) These men, like this lawyer, were good with words, but had no actions to back up those words.
Now, to be fair, I’m sure that they had good excuses. Stopping to help would have gotten them ritually unclean, maybe even late for a service or Bible class, maybe they were afraid for their own safety on this dangerous road. There are always plenty of excuses not to help someone in need.
After Jesus pointed out the hypocrisy of saying one thing and doing the opposite, Jesus said the most shocking thing! He said, “But a Samaritan (a radical ISIS, Muslim) as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, … took him to the inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins (2 day’s wages!) 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.”
To the Jews, especially a Jewish lawyer, the very name of “Samaritan” was unspeakable! (Notice that the lawyer referred to him as “the one who had mercy on him” and would not even speak the name “the Samaritan!”) This despised and rejected man, a Samaritan, showed by his actions of unselfish love that he was better at loving his neighbor than the other Jewish leaders!
Jesus would have the lawyer see that by asking such questions, the lawyer was the priest and Levite, and therefore would miss totally the real “Good Samaritan,” Jesus Himself! Jesus was “despised and rejected by men” (Isiah 53:6a) Jesus came to where the broken and hurting people were and gave of Himself to help them. Jesus came to give both actions and words!
In a much greater way, Jesus came to all who hated Him, while we were dead in trespasses and sins! By nature all of us were enemies of God, doomed to eternal life in hell. Because of sin we had no hope of eternal life, no matter what we tried to do! Therefore, God came to us in our greatest need. And God spared no expense. God’s Word tells us clearly: “…when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son…” (Romans. 5:10) Jesus is truly the greatest “Good Samaritan”! Jesus spared no expense in order to be our “Good Samaritan!”
Today, as always, this saving knowledge of what God has done for us comes through faith. The lawyer asked the wrong question when he asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v.25) Instead, we ask: “What has Jesus done in order that we might receive eternal life?” It is through faith that the Holy Spirit leads us to confess: “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:5-7)
And now instead of asking the question, “Who is my neighbor?” we ask the correct question: “How can I be a neighbor?” And the answer comes as Jesus again reminds us that He is the Real “Good Samaritan” who has provided for all our needs, so that now, through faith active in love we might put away our excuses, repent of the times we have “passed by” on the other side of those who are in need, and through God’s love that flows through us, we might heed Jesus’ command: “Go and do likewise.”
God’s blessings this week as we “serve our neighbors” and see you in church this coming weekend.