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The Good Samaritan

Today we are going to look at the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.  Although many are familiar with this parable, you might not be aware of the context in which Jesus told it.  In verses 25-29 we are told that a lawyer came to Jesus in order to put him to the test.  Now this is common, whether you are dealing with religious or even political differences.  You test your opponent’s ideas through questions and hypothetical scenarios that will give fuller understanding. 

What was the man’s question?  “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

The Heart of the Law is Love

Jesus asks the man to first share what he thinks the answer is.  It is important to know where a person is coming from in order to give them an answer.  It is sad to what politicians who ask questions, not because they want an answer, but because they have an ulterior motive.  In this case, the man’s answer reveals that he has a good understanding of the Scriptures.  He boils the law down to 2: love God with all of your being and love your neighbor as yourself.  In fact when you meditate on each law you can see that the emphasis is not on restricting a person, but on teaching us how to love God and our fellow man.  The heart of the Law of Moses was restraining our lack of love towards each other and pointing us in the right direction.

Yet, in the midst of a correct understanding of the Law, this man was not sure that he had eternal life.  This is one of the weaknesses of the Law.  As it shows us the many ways that we fail, it also leaves us desperate to know whether we have done well enough to be acceptable.  This desperation can push us in one of two directions.  We can explain away our sin through self-justification or we can beat ourselves trying to accomplish it.  The first path we actually harden our hearts to what the Law is saying and the second we are wounded by it and cycle in despair.  However, there is a third way.  The third way is to agree that we have failed and yet to then throw ourselves upon the mercy of God.

Jesus gives the answer to the man simply “Do this and you shall live.”  In a way Jesus is telling the man to focus upon the main thing the law is trying to teach and trust God to deal with the many ways he falls short of the law.  Yes, they needed to keep the Law of Moses, but not at the expense of its main purpose.  To love people and trust God requires dying to our wants and desires.  The Law doesn’t give life by its rules.  But it can show us our need for the life of God and point us to Him.

God is our justifier, not us.  Instead of running from the “check-mate” nature of the Law through the mental games of self-justification and word redefinition, we can embrace it and ask God to justify us.  Lord, I want to be like you and yet I find myself having trouble loving my brother.  Help me to change and forgive me of my sins.  These are the kinds of prayer that draw us deeper into intimacy with God.

The monkey wrench in this whole situation is our strong desire to self-justify.  Have you ever noticed that when it comes to temptation we tend to ask how close to the edge we can get without falling off the cliff?  In same way when it comes to doing good we tend to ask how far from perfect can we be and still be acceptable.  Both of these questions will lead to ruin.  We should be far from temptation and close to love and yet our sinful nature pulls us in opposite directions.  All people must see the desperate nature of their own “goodness” before they can truly love God.  Now it says that this lawyer sought to justify himself by asking the question, “Who is my neighbor?”  This is the redefinition game that we can play.  As a lawyer he wants the terms defined.  Thus the parable of the Good Samaritan is given to a lawyer who knew he was falling short in this category.

Who Is My Neighbor?

It is clear that Jesus tells the story in such a way as to shock this man and his hearers.  There are parts of the story that would not shock the hearers but others that would not be what they expected.

Now it is good to point out that of the two things, loving God and loving others, the man feels that loving others is his weakest point.  Yet, we need to recognize that God loves the very one that I am having trouble loving.  When you meditate upon that puzzling point you will come upon the shocking truth: I may not love God as much as I think I do.  We see this in the story of the prodigal son.  The elder son loves is dad and is faithful.  But the younger son chafes at his father’s oversight.  He wants to take his inheritance and leave.  Yet, at the end of the story which son truly comes to love his father?  We see the elder son struggling with what this situation reveals about his father’s heart.  In 1 John 4:20-21 it says, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.”  The greatest revelation of the heart of God was Jesus hanging on the cross for the wicked of this world.  He was willing to die that sinners might be saved.  Do you love this about Him?  Some don’t.  Some see this as a stupid and idiotic answer to evil.

Now the parable intends to shock the lawyer’s heart out of the complacent love that he had practiced to that point.  The hero or godly man of the parable is not just a common Jew.  Rather he is a person who is from a minority group that were considered outcasts and defiled.  To be fair the Samaritans did not like the Jews none too much either.  Now think of the story.  A Jew is beaten, robbed and left for dead beside the road.  A religious priest and a Levite both walk by the man and do not help.  They represent the most religious of Israel’s society.  Yet, a Samaritan, who represents an outcast, stops and not only helps the man, but he goes overboard in helping him.  The Samaritan helps him as if he was helping someone very close and dear to him.  He bandages the man’s wounds.  Takes him to a safe place and pays for him to recuperate there.  He also guarantees to cover any further costs that would develop until the man is healed.  This is a love that goes the extra mile and beyond.

It is interesting that the story is intended to make the lawyer stop asking who is my neighbor and to start asking, to whom am I a neighbor.  If I was robbed and dying which of these men would I want to be my neighbor?  Who around me needs me to be a neighbor to them?  Clearly Jesus is telling the man that anyone he comes in contact with is his neighbor.  Now, of course, all the excuses, that our flesh has readily available, come rising to the surface at this point.  But, let’s hear the words of Jesus for a moment.  “Love your enemies.  Bless those who curse you.  Do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”  Why would I do that?  We do it because it is the heart of God.  God has loved his enemies and blessed them and done them good.

Now at this point some will bring up the issue of judgment.  Notice that love does not save people.  But, it does open the door for their salvation.  Yes, a day of judgment will come.  But, God has given long opportunity for those who hate him, to change and be saved.  He does so because he is not willing that they should go into eternity lost.  We can be so concerned about people paying the price, that we can forget how permanent that judgment will be.  It is coming and it is sure.  We need not fret about it.  Instead God asks us to live our life as an offer of grace and mercy to everyone around us; whether they receive it or not.  In fact, what the Samaritan does is actually easy.  He cares for a man who hadn’t done anything to him.  He is just a man with great need of something that was easy for the Samaritan to give.  But Jesus loved those who hated him enough to crucify him on a cross.  He offers salvation to the very one who wounded him.  In fact his words were, “Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they are doing.”  To which the Father’s reply is, “Whoever believes on you shall not perish but have eternal life.”  Not all love is reciprocated, but that is not our worry.  Our call is to simply love others and to do so because this is exactly what we love about our Father in Heaven.

This story doesn’t answer how to be saved so much as it answers how the saved should live.  Whom shall I love?  Everyone!  Yet, there is another layer to this story.

Jesus is the good Samaritan (an outcast of this world who still loves the very world that hated him).  He is that rejected one who picks up those left broken, robbed, and bleeding by Satan and this world.  It is he who comes as a healer to bandage up our wounds and bring us into a safe place where we can be healed.  In fact he calls us into his home to become family with the Father and him.  This is our God and this is His heart!

Good Samaritan audio