All of us have one thing in common with the lawyer who questioned Jesus in Luke 10:25-37. We have a tendency to justify ourselves whenever we do wrong or fail to do what we know we should. For example, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company received the following list of explanations for car accidents:
- “The pedestrian had no idea which way to go, so I ran over him.”
- “The other car collided with mine without warning me of its intention.”
- “I had been driving my car for 40 years when I fell asleep at the wheel and had the accident.”
- “As I reached an intersection, a hedge sprang up, obscuring my vision.”
- “I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law, and headed over the embankment.”
- “The telephone pole was approaching fast. I attempted to swerve out of its path when it struck my front end.”
- “The guy was all over the road. He had to swerve a number of times before I hit him.”
- “The indirect cause of this accident was a little guy in a small car with a big mouth.”
- “An invisible car came out of nowhere, struck my car, and vanished.”
The man who approached Jesus was a lawyer-a student of the Mosaic Law, also called a scribe. He did not ask his question sincerely but intended to trap or test Christ. The religious scholars of the time loved to discuss the urgent social problems of the day without ever wanting to solve them. To this lawyer, love was merely a concept to study.
The lawyer was trying to justify himself by obeying the law. He trusted in his own deeds. Jesus pointed out that the lawyer needed a righteousness that was better than Jesus’ own. The law is designed to help us see our own flaws. When we see them, we’re prepared to welcome Christ’s righteousness which is better than our own.
This lawyer had sufficient knowledge of the Word of God to answer Jesus’ question, but he did not know how to apply its truth. The question, “Who is my neighbour?,” gave him away. He demonstrated that his head knowledge had never penetrated his heart.
The scribes and the Pharisees believed that one’s neighbours were only people who were righteous. According to them, the wicked-including sinners, Gentiles and Samaritans-were to be hated because they were God’s enemies. They cited Psalm 139:21-22, which states that hatred of evil is the natural consequence of loving righteousness. The problem is that the truly righteous person’s “hatred’ of sinners is not spiteful, personal hatred of individuals. It’s a righteous hatred of all that is evil. God’s hatred is represented by grief over the condition of the sinner. This is tempered by genuine love for the sinner. To put it another way, God loves the sinner but hates the sin.
Jesus used the Parable of the Good Samaritan to show the man the proper view of our sinfulness and how short his efforts fell in meeting the law’s requirements. Jesus made the lawyer his own judge and forced him to admit that the Samaritan-someone from a race hated by the Jews-showed the kindness of a neighbour, while the priest and the Levite denied it to their own countryman.
The fact that the Jews and Samaritans didn’t deal with each other rendered the Samaritan’s act of compassion so striking. It was in stark contrast to the conduct of the priest and the Levite. The Samaritan saw the wounded man as a neighbour, someone who needed help. The Samaritan made sacrifices to show kindness to the stranger.
How often do we do something similar? How often do we stop to help someone in need, especially if that person is a stranger or an enemy? Stories of people helping strangers in need are often in the news. In fact, as I prepared this message I heard a news story about a man who was filling his truck with gas when another man jumped into the truck and tried to drive off. The owner and another man who was in the garage subdued the would-be robber and held him until the police arrived.
Who is our neighbour? Neighbours come in different forms. They come from different races, social backgrounds and even different countries. When God puts someone in our path, it’s important to show love to him or her and help meet their need. It doesn’t matter if the need is physical, mental or emotional.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan, perhaps more than any other parable that Jesus told, illustrates what it means to love others. A follower of Jesus cannot separate his or her relationship with God from relationships with other people. Jesus showed what we should do to those who need our help. He showed us who and what a neighbour is and He did it in a way that disarms our prejudices.
The Jews had so many priests in Jesus’ day that each “team” served in the temple for only two weeks out of the year. Perhaps the priest in Jesus’ story did not want to risk missing his term of service by helping an injured traveler. Also, if the man was dead and the priest touched the body, he would be ceremonially unclean for seven days, making him unfit for temple duty. Levites led religious worship and maintained the temple grounds. Both men showed that religious work does not make someone a true servant of God.
The usual trio of characters expected in such a story would have been a priest, a Levite and a Jew. But when Jesus substituted a Samaritan for a Jew, He forced the lawyer to change his thinking. The thought of a kind Samaritan would have been intolerable.
The priest, the Levite and the Samaritan all noticed the man, but the Samaritan was the only person who saw the man with eyes of compassion. The word compassion means “a deep moving within the inward spirit.” Matthew’s Gospel uses this term three times to describe Jesus’ loving and active relationship with people.
Compassion is not the same as “fixing” people. Genuine compassion is first being willing to feel the pain of other people. If we can’t prevent pain, we can lessen the load with compassion. One of the reasons we are forced to deal with difficult people is because the more pain we experience, the more compassionate we will be.
The injured man saw love in action. Love bandaged the man where he hurt and took him to a place of safety. Love cared for him and paid to do it. Love acted without needing to be repaid. Love will do more than seems reasonable and do it with joy.
When people understand the depth of God’s love, they can learn how to love even the least loveable, becoming Good Samaritans to those around them. Compassion does not originate in religion or responsibility, but in a relationship with God. While people may have different opinions on the subject of religion, and while they are zealous for what they hold to be the truth, they should still be kind to each other and help each other when necessary. Christian kindness is not to be hindered by worship.
We are to give from a heart of love because God gave, not because someone deserves it. The heart of love doesn’t look to do as little as possible, but rather it goes as far as it can to express God’s love.
When we realize that we are loved by God now and forever, we can be like the Good Samaritan and say, “Whatever is mine is God’s and whatever belongs to God belongs to my neighbour because my neighbour belongs to God.” The Good Samaritan does what is instinctive and natural because of who he is.
If we want to find ourselves living with total freedom, we would find ourselves loving God with all our heart and our neighbours as ourselves. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Society is full of examples of people who have the attitude of “me first” or “What’s in it for me?” They rarely (if ever) show compassion by helping someone who is in need.
As Christians, we can be the best neighbours around because our love for others flows out of the life of the ultimate neighbour-Jesus Christ-who loved and sacrificed His life for us. Compassion is not based on wealth, social status or political party lines. It’s based on a willingness to help with whatever we have.
When Jesus entered this world, His priority was to save us. When the world’s representatives challenged Him, when Satan tempted Him, Jesus held on to His Father’s priorities. Nothing was able to move Him from His desire to save us from our sins. The empty tomb of Resurrection Sunday is God’s sign and seal that Jesus was successful in His work of saving us.
Now He wants us to have proper priorities. He tells us, even as He told His original listeners, that we should “go and do likewise.” Jesus wants us to be a witness to the world. He wants us to show that we love others because He first loved us. He wants us, through our words and our actions, to bear witness to the forgiveness, grace and salvation we have received. He wants us to show the world that the Saviour has changed our priorities.
This story tells us about another way to live-as people who are living as inheritors of eternal life and not as people trying to earn their salvation. We are to live lives that model the Samaritan in this story-as people who have no reason to serve others save for the love they have for God. It is the kind of love that spills into the world as mercy, love, kindness and compassion for the less fortunate people in society. What keeps us from living and loving as the Samaritan did? What might give us new hope or energy to more closely follow the Samaritan’s example?
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp.1407-1408)
- Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Part of Wordsearch 12 Bible software package.
- Larsen, B. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 26: Luke (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983; pp. 189-190)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Mary Southerland, “I Feel Your Pain.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- “To Capture Our Heart’s Devotion.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Kelly McFadden, “Love Your Neighbour.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- Pastor Ken Klaus, “Proper Priorities.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Richard Innes, “I Know It but I Can’t Explain It.” Retrieved form www.actsweb.org
- Marvin Williams, “A Good Neighbour.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dr. David Jeremiah, “Compassion for Your Neighbour.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Vikki Burke, “Love in Action.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Rev. Janet Hunt, “The Samaritan: Where is God at Work in the World?” Retrieved from http://dancingwiththeword.com/the-samaritan-where-is-god-at-work-in-the-world/