The Good Samaritan: Luke 10:30-37
Read Luke 10:30-37. Martin Luther King Jr wrote, “The first question which the priests and Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help, what will happen to me?’ The Good Samaritan reversed the question. ‘If I don’t stop to help this man what will happen to him?’”
The story of the Good Samaritan is one of the better-known parables that Jesus spoke. While we know it, there are always things to think about that should enrich our understanding and impact our behavior.
This is a parable that should never have been given. It is an important one but the reason we have it is that a man asked a question he should not have asked. Jesus answered his wrong question with this parable.
The background is especially important to an understanding of this parable. A lawyer came to Jesus with a question. He was not a lawyer as we think of them today but a religious lawyer who helped people determine the letter of the law so they could live up to the standards set by the Scribes and Pharisees. Luke 10:25 records that he came to Jesus, “to test him.” The religious leaders of Jesus day thought they had all the answers to religious issues, but Jesus constantly challenged them with a deeper commitment and a new approach to God. This religious lawyer approached Jesus to test Him, trip Him up or perhaps get Him to say something that was ground for a charge of blasphemy.
The lawyer asked Jesus what a man had to do to inherit eternal life. Although he probably did not even fully understand what he was asking, he really did ask the right question. There is no question more important for a person to ask and get the right answer to than that one. Whenever someone honestly wanted to know that, Jesus gave a straightforward answer. Read John 3:1-17.
The lawyer in Luke 10 was not interested in knowing the truth since he thought he already knew everything. He was testing Jesus, so Jesus threw the question back to him. The lawyer was well versed in the Old Testament, so he gave the standard rabbinical answer. Read Luke 10:27. The lawyer was half-right. A man can be saved by loving God completely and treating all his neighbors as himself. The problem is that no one can do that perfectly. The law is not wrong, it is just impossible for sinful man to fulfill it. At that point, the lawyer should have said “Yes, but what happens when you cannot do that?” That was, and always is, the real issue. If man was able to keep the whole law, he could save himself, but he cannot and for this reason Jesus paid the penalty of our sin. Read Ephesians 2:8-9.
Rather than admit his own inability to live the law completely, that lawyer asked a question intended to switch the direction of the conversation. It is a decoy play we have all seen when we try to talk to individuals about God. It is extremely difficult for a person to admit to his sin, so he often seeks to change the subject. We don’t want to talk about sin in our day. The politician calls it an indiscretion; the psychiatrists call it a complex, even some pastors call it just a bad choice. God calls it sin and says that wages of sin is death, that is eternal separation from God. We all need to face up to the sin in our own lives, asking, as Nicodemus rightfully did, “What must I do to rid myself of sin?” Jesus answered Nicodemus that we must accept Jesus as our Savior. Read John 14:6.
The lawyer in Jesus’ day was not willing to do that and so he asked the question found in Luke 10:29, “Who is my neighbor?” I’m sure everyone knows that the Samaritans were hated by the Jews. I am not sure everyone is familiar with why that was true. 750 plus years before Jesus, the Babylonians conquered the Israelites and took most of the citizens into captivity, replacing them with people from other conquered lands. A few Jews were allowed to remain in Israel and in time they intermarried with the new inhabitants. When the Jews returned from captivity to reclaim Jerusalem and rebuild the wall, the descendents of those intermarriages offered to help but were refused permission because they were, in the eyes of pure Jews unclean, having a mixed heritage. They were forbidden to participate in the rebuilding of the city or to worship in its temple, so they set up their own temple in competition with the one in Jerusalem. Over the years that animosity grew.
By the time of Jesus, the Jewish hatred of them had reached such a degree that a good Jew traveling north would walk miles around the area to totally avoid them. A good Jew never mentioned them, except as a curse. In fact, it is interesting that at the end of this parable when Jesus asked the lawyer who was a true neighbor, he simply said “the one who had mercy.” He would not even say the word Samaritan.
The story itself was very vivid for all who heard it. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was about 16 miles long and was an extremely dangerous one. It was largely wilderness with thieves living in the caves of that area. Unsuspecting travelers, especially if they were foolish enough to travel alone, were often robbed. As a parable there are lots of things we weren’t told because we don’t need to know it to understand the point. We don’t know who the robbed man was, or why he was on the road in what seems to have been alone. All we know is that he was robbed and beaten and left for dead. He was a man in need. The Samaritan, unlike Americans, never bothered to ask questions about who was to blame etc. The man needed help and that was all that mattered. It didn’t matter if he may had brought it on himself by his foolish ways. He needed help.
There are some other unknowns that may be significant. The parable says that two men who were religious leaders walked by the hurting man and did nothing. We ask, “Why not?” Of all people they were the ones we would hope would be the most sympathetic to the needs of a hurting individual. Jesus did not give any reason for such behavior. I suspect no reason was given as an excuse for their failure because any reason would be just that, an excuse. Jesus wanted us to know that no excuse was acceptable. Here was a man in need. Those who passed by were capable, in some way, of helping him because he was a neighbor. Two did not while one did and it is clear that the one who helped was right in God’s eye. End of story, even as the lawyer who was being told this understood so clearly.
There is one more thing that we know but never hurts to be reminded of. The Samaritan not only stopped and did what he had to do at the moment, he then took him to a place where he could get more help, and then offered to cover the extra cost should there be any. Jesus could have ended the story with verse 34 and everyone would have known who the neighbor really was. So why was verse 35 added? I think it’s to remind us that really caring for our neighbors is going the extra mile, finishing the job, caring enough not only to give the best but to give more than is really required.
After the lawyer declared that the Samaritan was the true neighbor Jesus said, “Now go and do likewise.” Parables are intended to teach us how to act as Christians in a way that is pleasing to God. Jesus was not saying if we are good to our neighbors, we will be saved but because we are saved, we should love our neighbor. Loving our neighbor is an expression of gratitude for God’s love to us.
This parable reminds us of who our neighbors really are. They are the anyone and everyone in any need that we can help with in any way. They are the people all around us who are hurting in any way. They are the people we find easy to love and they are the ones we might have every reason to dislike, even hate.
Our Kenyan friend, Dr. John Njoroge wrote an article in which he told the story of a man whose partially mummified body had been found propped up in a chair in front of his TV, a TV that was still on. They estimate that he had been dead for over a year. Apparently, the TV was his only companion, and being blind he could not even see it. As Dr. Njoroge notes, that raises the question of how anyone can vanish for over a year and not be missed by anyone. Where were his family and neighbors? Dr. Njoroge noted there here was a man “whose life can be summed up with one word, alienation.”
When reading the article, I asked, “Was there not one Christian or maybe even a Samaritan who could have checked on him?” The parable of the Good Samaritan should speak to us not only about those who have perhaps been beaten down by society but of those who have been ignored by society. The parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us that we need to love our neighbors also. Do we walk by, perhaps even being careful to cross to the other side, the lonely and discouraged individuals who live around us? It is easy to ask ourselves what it will mean to us if we get involved with them but maybe Dr. King was right when he asked what it will mean to them if we don’t. As Christians we do fairly well at loving the Lord our God but, too often, we fall a little short on loving our neighbors.