Today we’ll be continuing on with our series on stories Jesus Told. Next week we’ll be wrapping up this sermon, and will be continuing on with our next series on Prayer. I want to encourage you to not miss that series. We’re going to study both the spiritual and the practical aspects of prayer. I promise you are not going to want to miss it!
Most famous of Jesus’ parables
This week, we’ll be studying what is probably Jesus’ most famous parable; the parable of the Good Samaritan. Even if you’ve never actually heard this story before, you are most likely common with the title we give to a person who helps another person, even if that puts them at risk, or if the action causes inconvenience.
So where did this cultural reference come from? Let’s take a look at Luke 10:25-37
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
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?”
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[c] 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.”
What’s going on here?
This story takes, head on, the issue of what it means to love one another.
This story starts by a religious lawyer speaking to Jesus, in hopes that he might trick him into saying something that would get him in trouble. The man first asks Jesus what he needed to do to gain eternal life.
Jesus, knowing the man is a man learned in the Jewish law, flips the question back to the man. The man answers correctly, that a man can gain life by loving God and loving your neighbor as you would love yourself.
Jesus then tells the man to go and do likewise. Now, many of the commentaries say this passage hints and the truth that this man, obviously learned in the law, and probably dedicated to following that law, is either known as a man who treats others poorly, or has a very guilty conscience.
This is thought because of the way he comes back to Jesus with the second question. He asks, “Who is my neighbor?”
Thus, Jesus begins the story.
In this story we see a man who is heading from Jerusalem to Jericho. Now, to give a little geography lesson, the distance from Jerusalem to Jericho was around 17 miles long. The road, descending sharply, wound it’s way through rocky and rough patches of road…and the path was riddled with crevices perfect for thieves and bandits to hide and wait for those they might rob.
In a day when travel was already considered dangerous, this was a road famous for being dangerous.
So it’s no surprise to anyone listening to this story that this man, walking alone on this road was mugged, robbed, and left for dead.
The Three Travelers
So, laying there on the road, we now witness 3 travelers passing by this man.
First, we see a priest or a person of the law. You will recognize his position to be the same as the man who asked Jesus who his neighbor was.
This man was what we would consider a religious lawyer, or someone extremely knowledgeable in the scriptures. He would be someone who was able to recite chapters and books of the Torah (or Jewish Scriptures- Our old Testament) by heart. Though, with all his knowledge of our call to care for others, he saw this man, had no pity on him, and he passed by the man on the other side of the road.
This man is still dying.
Second, we see a Levite. Now, a Levite was a religious leader of his day, as well. They were responsible for care around the Temple as well as partaking in the religious ceremonies in the temple. These were well-respected leaders in their day, and it shows. This is the only time Jesus speaks negatively about a Levite.
The Levite, seeing the man, did the same as the Priest. He saw the bloody man, and he passed on the other side.
Now, it was not uncommon for religious leaders to live in one city and commute to Jerusalem to serve in the temple. And many have argued in this story that the Priest and the Levite, serving under strict rules and strict regulations, needed to be careful handling dead bodies because they were making their usual trip into Jerusalem to serve in the temple. Were they to touch a dead body, they would be unable to perform their duties.
However shallow that reason might be, it soon falls apart.
Down a same road
The story starts by giving us a clue that the man was walking down the road. If we remember our geography lesson from before, down indicates that this man was walking away from Jerusalem towards Jericho.
Likewise, we read the same description from, “down the same road” being used in relation to the priest and the Levi.
They were not walking towards Jerusalem, soon to perform their sacred rites. They had already finished, and they were walking home!
If this isn’t enough, it was common knowledge that when priests made their journey to Jerusalem, they would make the journey together, in groups. This man, however, was walking alone. Pointing, again, to the fact that he was walking back home.
What was Jesus getting at here? He was saying that these men were without excuse, and everyone in the crowd would have known and understood that.
But along comes the third traveler
And he’s a Samaritan.
Israel and Samaria had bad blood between the two nations. While they initially came from the same place, and shared a similar ancestry, they had little in common. Early on in history, Israel was a mighty nation. It stretched a great length (looking at the map), and during it’s golden age, Israel was a nation that was feared.
But not all ended well. Through conflict and differences of religious beliefs, the Nation of Israel divided into 2 kingdoms. The Northern (called Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (called Judah).
Both Kingdoms eventually fall, but eventually a small remnant of people were allowed to re-settle the old land of Judah. The Northern Kingdom (now called Samaria) didn’t like this, and worked to fight against their re-settling.
This obviously stoked the fires of conflict and hatred.
And so the relationship was spite-filled and angry between the Samaritans and the orthodox Jews. The Orthodox served only one God, while their northern cousins worshiped many gods.
So walls of bitterness were erected on both sides and did nothing but harden for the next 550 years.
In Jesus’ time, a good, respected Jewish person would not be caught dead talking with, helping, or doing business with a Samaritan. And the same would be said about the Samaritans withholding help from the Jews.
This was a fractured relationship filled with race-centered, and religious hatred.
But the Samaritan stops
And this is ground breaking, isn’t it?
First, if you first described the cast of characters in this story to those listening at the time, there would have been the assumption to the readers that the hero, or good-guy of this story was the man lying on the ground near death, and the villain would have been the Samaritan.
Because, to the Jew, there was no such thing as a good Samaritan. That was the same as saying a purple orange, or a healthy slice of bacon!
But in this story, Jesus creates a world in which the respected Jewish leader was the villain, and the Samaritan was the hero!
Again, it’s no wonder people wanted to kill Jesus!
And he offers aid
Let’s take a quick look at what the Samaritan does for the wounded man.
First, he gives emergency help.
Second, he takes the man to an Inn where he would be well cared for while he took care of his pressing business.
Third, he paid for every bill in advance.
Fourth, he offered further assistance, if needed, when he returned.
There was neither kindness nor service withheld by the Samaritan that was within his power to perform.
He gave everything to the man whom many would have called his enemy. He loved the untouchable, and he was moved to feel compassion for a many who he probably grew up being taught to despise.
One of the things we know about racism is that it is passed down from one generation to another. And this man went against the common and prevailing beliefs of the day and served someone thought below him.
To the question, “Who is my neighbor?”
Jesus responds by saying, “you neighbor is the one you despise the most. And what’s more? You are required to love your neighbor.”
We are a divided country
We live in a world of taught racism and hatred. We are taught to judge and we are taught to cast judgment on another based on stereotypes.
We do it without thinking, don’t we? We begin to post things on Facebook that speak derogatively about a specific group of people, maybe of a different race, or different economic background than us.
Maybe it’s the poor who mooch off the system.
Maybe it’s the rich who keep all their wealth to themselves.
Maybe it’s the talking heads on television who keep stoking the fires of anger and resentment.
Maybe it’s those who follow a different religion.
Maybe it’s people who dress differently or talk differently.
Maybe it’s people of a different sexual orientation.
Maybe it’s the republicans.
Maybe it’s the democrats.
Maybe it’s the whites.
Maybe it’s the Hispanics.
Maybe it’s the African-Americans.
Maybe it’s the guy who cut us off on the way to church.
Maybe it’s the boss who won’t cut us a break.
Maybe it’s our president.
Maybe it’s our congressmen and women.
We are taught to look at people who are different from ourselves as lower than we are, or as lesser people. Maybe we would, if asked, say that they are children of God, but when we talk, do we really speak the truth that God created all equal?
We are not talking about…
Our differences, rather no matter the lists, no matter the terms, we are now and will forever be talking about men and women whom God loves.
We are a people who have forgotten who our neighbors are.
The question remains…Who is your neighbor?
When the story wraps up and Jesus asks the man of the law who was the neighbor to the man lying on the ground, the man responds with “the one who had mercy on him.”
Two interesting thoughts:
First: The man of the law, even when confronted with his own deep seeded resentment towards another, is still unable to mention the name “Samaritan.” All he can say is, “the one…”
Second: Jesus takes the conversation about loving someone from the passive to the aggressive. He takes the idea of “love” out of the “I feel for you” into the “I’ll act on your behalf.”
One theologian writes that one can only respond to this story by acting in 3 ways:
First: We MUST help a man (or woman) even if he has brought the trouble on himself.
Second: Any man (or woman), of any nation, who is in need, is our neighbor.
Third: Our help must be practical; not just our “feeling sorry.”
In other words, “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, it doesn’t matter where you’ve come from, whatever is in my power to do, I will do it to help you because we are both children of the same Father.”
So I want to ask you, today, two questions:
Do you have a Samaritan? (I want you to think long and hard about this)
Are you withholding help from a neighbor?