The Good Samaritan
In our chronological walk through the gospels, we had last looked at how Jesus sent out 70 messengers ahead of Him as he was traveling down towards Jerusalem. And those 70 returned back with joy, despite having probably just experienced uncomfortable life circumstances, having been sent out as lambs in the midst of wolves. They returned excited at how they had witnessed spiritual victory. Jesus confirmed the spiritual authority of His disciples and then told them that it’s an even greater cause for joy to have their names recorded in Heaven. I reminded us that there is joy to be had in realizing the victory Jesus has given us in the spiritual world, and that there is joy to be had as we consider our Heavenly citizenship above our earthly citizenship. And in response to the disciples’ joy, Jesus expressed great joy- let’s read the next passage, verse 21-24 of chapter 10.
Jesus was deeply excited at the disciples’ joy, and excited that they- being unlearned, non-religious leaders, just common folk- were seeing things correctly, with their spiritual eyes open. Jesus had recently experienced much rejection from the smart and educated, yet prideful, religious leaders who felt they had everything figured out spiritually. And he had just been rejected by some in a Samaritan village who perhaps weren’t as smart and educated as the religious leaders, but were just as prideful, feeling that they too had everything figured out spiritually. So, here was a win to be celebrated, these common country folk showed themselves to be the ones whom God was revealing Himself to. And He praised them- blessed are your eyes that are seeing these things. And as if we needed an example of one not seeing these spiritual concepts, right on cue in verse 25, a religious leader stood up to put Jesus to the test. And in the verses that follow, there is the beautiful, well known narrative that many have termed “the parable of the Good Samaritan.” We often think of this parable to illustrate how we are to “do to others as we would have them do to ourselves.” (Matt. 7:12). We see it as a story illustrating compassion, love, and mercy. We understand it’s charge to us to care for others no matter what their race, religion, or creed. This story does prompt these applications, but there’s more to it than mere philanthropy. Let’s read together first about what prompted Jesus to tell the parable, verses 25-29.
This wasn’t a lawyer by modern day standards, as in one who studies/practices civil law; this was a Biblical lawyer, one who studies/practices Biblical law. He was a teacher of the Mosaic Law, one who preserved, presented, and expounded on the Old Testament laws and declarations of God. Luke lets us know his motivation- he asked the question not for personal enlightenment, but rather that he would put Jesus “to the test.” Perhaps he was considering following Jesus and wanted to test him to see where Jesus stood. Or perhaps the test was a little more sinister, and he hoped Jesus might say something like “Believe in Me as the Messiah so that you will inherit eternal life,” and an answer like that in front of the religious leaders at this point in Jesus’ ministry would have been another chance to get everyone riled up again and perhaps make more attempts on His life. Either way I’m sure He didn’t imagine Jesus flipping the question back to him, but when Jesus does, the religious scholar has a really great response: 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. In fact, this is the answer Jesus ends up using later when questioned which is the greatest commandment in the law. (Matt. 22:35-40). It’s obvious that the law expert had put a lot of time into thinking about this question of eternal life. So when Jesus responds by simply agreeing with him, all of a sudden he feels slightly embarrassed. It’s clear to everyone listening that the man already knew the answer to the question he had just asked Jesus. He’s exposed, everyone can see that he had an ulterior motive behind his question. So He scrambles to save face, as Luke puts it: “to justify himself,” and says “And who is my neighbor?” Perhaps there was also some self-justification taking place, as in he might have felt pretty confident in his efforts to love God, but maybe it was a little questionable on how he, over the course of his life, had loved his neighbor.
Again, this guy didn’t ask his first question because he didn’t know the answer, he asked it so that he might test Jesus: to see if He was worthy of being followed as a teacher, or worse yet, in order to trap him. And the question of who is my neighbor, was also a question in which he had probably already calculated his answer, and perhaps he still expected to test or trap Jesus in asking Him this follow-up question. Perhaps he hoped Jesus might say something like, your neighbor is your fellow Israelite, which would then prompt the crowd to question Jesus’ motives in venturing so far into the pagan Greek and Roman territories of the north, or why He spent time teaching and working miracles on the heathen eastern shores of the Galilee, or why when traveling to Jerusalem he went through the unclean, adulterated region of Samaria. Perhaps the idea was to prove that Jesus wasn’t showing love to his Jewish neighbors by spending time with people that Jews considered enemies or unclean. But instead of answering in the way the man might have expected, Jesus told this story… Luke 10:30-37
The setting in which Jesus places this story, is the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. This road goes down and down in elevation, through a valley ravine, and it is about 18 miles long. There is now a modern paved road built to get from Jerusalem to Jericho, but fairly close to it still remains that original road, which at that time, and still to this day, more closely resembles a hiking trail. Along this rugged, wilderness pathway are all kinds of rock out croppings, small caves, and other places where bandits and hoodlums could hide out and rob one passing through. And this is actually what happened quite frequently. The early century historian Jerome wrote that this road was known as “the bloody way” because of the frequent violence that took place there. Jesus wasn’t presenting just a hypothetical situation in his story, but this exact situation had more than likely played out many times over the years.
There were many priests and Levites who lived in Jericho. The priests would serve terms there at the temple in Jerusalem, and the Levites were assigned to assist the priests in their duties. So, often there would be priests and Levites traveling this pathway either going up to Jerusalem, or coming from Jerusalem back down to Jericho. Both the priest and Levite appear to be heading down, back to Jericho, so really the excuse that they could be defiled by touching a man who perhaps was dead, or defiled by touching a man who could be a foreigner, is invalid. They had completed their temple duties that required spiritual cleanliness, and were heading back home. What is striking to me in this story is that Samaria was to the north of this region, and it would be strange, even highly dangerous, for a Samaritan to even set foot into Judea and visit Jerusalem or Jericho. But Jesus chose this striking element of His parable to make His point even sharper. And in order to prevent the story from being shut down at the introduction of this character, He explains the Samaritan’s presence in Judea through stating that he was “on a journey.”
And his stop to help was not motivated by pressure to fulfill a requirement, duty, or law, but rather his compassion. He applied wine and oil to his wounds, the wine cleansing, serving as an antiseptic to prevent infection, and the oil to moisturize, soothe, and seal open wounds.
In verse 35 the Samaritan gave the innkeeper 2 denarii, which was the equivalent of 2 days’ worth of work, enough to cover the injured man’s housing and meals for a least a few days as he recovered. Notice it really wasn’t that major of an inconvenience. It’s not like the Samaritan changed his whole plans and didn’t continue on his journey because of this man. All he did was give him some triple antibiotic ointment, some Band-Aids, a ride in his car to the nearest motel 6 and paid for a few days stay. And he was back on his journey, not significantly delayed, the biggest inconvenience perhaps being he was out a few dollars.
And then notice Jesus’ question to the law expert at the end of the story in verse 36… The man had asked “Who is my neighbor?” a question seeking to understand where the boundaries between mankind lay. The question was seeking how to properly divide people, should they be divided up by geographical boundary, nation and state borders, community centers, race, religion, ethnicity, social status? But the way Jesus posed the question in verse 36 reframed the question from “who out there is my neighbor and who isn’t?” to “I, right here, am being a neighbor to who, and not being a neighbor to who?” In asking who is my neighbor the law expert was asking “who do I have to love?” and “who do I not have to love?” Because loving sure would be easier if one could narrow down and focus on just certain candidates for love. But instead of telling who the right people are to focus on loving and treating kindly, Jesus shifted the perspective and described one who is properly loving. In the words of one commentator: “One question focuses on who is the right person to love; the other, [on] who is loving rightly.” (Vince Miller https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/mercy-would-make-america-great)
In verse 37, the law expert seems to have gotten Jesus’ point, and reveals in his answer his prejudice- he’s not even able to answer “the Samaritan,” but rather says “the one who showed mercy.” And Jesus, for the 2nd time in this passage tells the man to take action. The first time in verse 28, after the man answered “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus responded “Yep- do that.” And here in verse 37 when the man answered “the one who showed mercy toward him,” Jesus again said “Yep- do that.” It’s not enough to just know the correct answer, salvation comes from personally applying (doing) the correct answer.
Through this conversation, the law expert was forced to see that he had a deficiency not in his knowledge of how to inherit eternal life, but he had a deficiency in his practice of that knowledge. Hopefully most of us here today have the knowledge of how to inherit eternal life. We have studied the Bible and know what it says concerning eternal life. And part of inheriting eternal life, is realizing that we too, like the law expert, have a deficiency in our practice of our biblical knowledge. Each one of us could have been standing there before Jesus that day, and said “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus would have responded “Good answer, do this and you will live.” And I believe that each one of us, if put into this event with Jesus looking us directly in the eye- each one of us would have gotten slightly nervous, thinking about if we have “done this” as Jesus says to do it, to the degree in which he requires. Each one of us would have perhaps asked a question to define more narrowly His requirements as we contemplated our own life. Jesus, what exactly do you mean by love God with all your heart? Could you define heart? What do you mean by strength- how strong does it have to be? Which parts of my mind have to love you? And I think if we were all honest with ourselves, we would begin to realize that we have all fallen short in meeting Jesus’ requirements for eternal life. We all have a deficiency in loving God and our neighbor, and perhaps even ourselves at times- we need a better love, we need a better righteousness, and this is exactly the point I believe Jesus wanted to make to this man, and to those listening that day. I believe Jesus wanted this expert in law to realize that, as Paul says in Galatians 3:24, “…the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”
Yes, we have a beautiful story exemplifying compassion, love, non-prejudiceness, charity- these are all Christ-like qualities that we as His followers must model, but Jesus’s main desire for this man was not that he show a little more compassion and a little more love for those outside his circle. Jesus’s main desire for this man was that he realize his inability to fulfill God’s perfect requirements, that he would repent, and trust in Jesus’ ability to fulfill those requirements on his behalf. Then because of his trust in Jesus, he would have greater capacity to love, to show mercy and compassion, in the way that the law required.
Often today, philanthropy takes the place of religion. Serving mankind is at times equated directly to serving God. Jesus did say that when we serve the “least of these” we are serving Him. (Matt 25:31-46) But the context is, that Jesus said that statement to those who were entering into His kingdom- they were in right relationship with Him. Serving the least of these, devoid of a right relationship with Jesus, is missing the whole picture. Likewise, a right relationship with Jesus, devoid of serving the least of these, only proves that you’re not really in a right relationship with Jesus. In the words of Alexander MacLaren: “Philanthropic unbelievers and unphilanthropic believers are equally monstrosities.”
You see, there are two commandments here in this verse 27. The first is to love God, taken from Deuteronomy 6:5. The second is to love others, taken from Leviticus 19:18. These two commands are found within two different places of God’s law. They aren’t mentioned together, back to back like this anywhere in the Old Testament. It was very studious, thoughtful, and wise of this law expert to come up with this answer and pair these two commandments together. And Jesus says that answer was 100% correct. Again, he later stated that “no other commandment was greater than these” (Mark 12:28-31), and that “on these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:34-40) Some of us are better at the first- at loving God. And some of us are better at the second- loving our neighbor. But true followers of Jesus realize that these two commands are connected, and cannot be separated one from the other. They go hand in hand. This was the message Jesus was trying to convey. That the man hadn’t fulfilled the 2nd commandment, which means he hadn’t really fulfilled the 1st commandment, which means he desperately needed help in his quest for eternal life. You and I need this same help. Perhaps there are some listening today that need to make that first step towards loving God, by accepting His free gift of forgiveness and salvation through Jesus. And perhaps there are others who have made that first step towards loving God, and now are working on loving their neighbor with Jesus’ love. We all are in one of these two categories. As we pray, I want you to personally consider how you are doing in fulfilling these 2 commands: to love God, and to love your neighbor. Let’s pray…
There was a trend of the early church, during the first couple of centuries and even through the middle ages, to interpret the bible allegorically. As in taking the words and attempting to assign spiritual meaning and insight beyond the face value of the words. Now this method of Biblical interpretation is mostly rejected today, since it’s mostly based on the reader’s speculation. It’s more logical to let the original author drive the meaning and intent through the words they wrote rather than to let the reader attempt to drive the meaning. Now there are some passages of the Bible that seem to be intended by the author to be read as allegory, the book of Revelation has several such passages, but I believe this story Jesus told of the good Samaritan was not intended to be assigned meaning in an allegorical sense. It has straight forward meaning and application by interpreting it in its original context, which is what I have attempted to do in this morning’s message. With this being said, I do want to present to you an allegorical interpretation that our early church fathers presented on this parable- not because I believe this is how to properly interpret this story, but rather now that we have properly interpreted it, I believe we can still recognize some beauty and gleam some insight from the allegorical picture the early church fathers painted.
In the allegory, the wounded man represents mankind at large. And mankind’s sin, caused him to travel down from Jerusalem, the heavenly city- the paradise of creation- down to Jericho, a once evil and cursed city. Along the way he was stripped and beaten up by Satan and his demons, and left wounded to die. Along came priests and Levites with the law of Moses, yet they were powerless to save. Only a foreigner- one not from this land- the true, good Samaritan Jesus, was moved with compassion and worked to heal the wounds. He placed mankind in “the inn” of His church, the innkeeper being its pastors and teachers, with the 2 denarii given representing the Old and the New Testament. And one day, He will return.