The Good Samaritan

Scriptures: Micah 6:6-8; Luke 10:25-37

As we continue the series on the parables of Jesus, we come to another very familiar parable, and one that is very straightforward in its telling and its application, in its response to a challenge by one of the experts in the law, someone who is a teacher in the synagogue or in the temple itself.

I want to hopefully give it a little more depth by sharing with you some of the context that we have here. First of all, when Jesus replied to the lawyer and said, “What is written in the law and how do you read it?” the lawyer answered with the shema.

This is Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one, and you show worship the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength, and Him only show you serve.” And then he added, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

So he was kind of covering all bases. Actually, if you look at the Ten Commandments, the first four (depending on how you count them – they actually count the commandments differently in the Catholic Church and a lot of the Reformed churches), the first four (or three) deal with God and our relationship with God.

The remaining Commandments deal with our relationships with each other. Honor your father and mother. Don’t steal. Don’t murder. Don’t covet your neighbor’s goods. Don’t slander them. So they deal with how we should be treating one another. So the lawyer answered very fitly, summing up the law, the first part, loving God, and then second part, loving your neighbors as yourself.

But the Jews have always been exclusive, in a way. I mean, they were tribal They started out as the twelve tribes of Israel. They’re a nation who is called by God and set apart by God. And it’s very clear in their Scriptures, in the Old Testament, that they have to take care of brothers.

They have to take care of family. That’s important. It goes family first, then tribe, nation, and then everybody else. And when the lawyer was thinking of “love your neighbor as yourself,” he was probably not thinking about Gentiles, or those outside of the nation of Israel.

He was probably thinking about your neighbors, in your town, your fellow tribe inhabitants, and on a greater scale perhaps, in the nation of Israel, all the tribes together. You want to take care of your own.

I don’t know if he was trying to trap Jesus, but he was trying to get Jesus to agree that we didn’t have to worry about the Gentiles, the Romans, the Greeks, and all those others that were out there. So he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” And Jesus gives the parable as a response.

Now, as we look at the parable, let us consider a number of things, as we consider God’s holy ways and his desires for us. We, too, sadly tend to limit our obedience according to what comes most easily for us. When we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves, for instance, we tend to seek out people that are like us and are easy for us to love.

Today we will examine the parable of the Good Samaritan, and a well-known passage that conveys a Biblical understanding of what it truly means to love one’s neighbor.

Herman Ridderbos said, “For the love Jesus demands, his love of one’s neighbor, that is to say, not some general love of mankind, but a love that does not pick and choose, that is unreservedly and principally committed to God’s will and guidance, also with respect to its object, for the neighbor is anyone whom God places in our way, as is described in such an unparalleled and beautiful way in the parable of the Good Samaritan.”

R. C. Sproul, who is a very-well known conservative, Reformed theologian, one of my favorites, said something I found fascinating. “Though the Bible denies universal brotherhood, it affirms universal neighborhood. Every human being created in the image of God is a neighbor. Christians are called to love every human being on earth as much as we love ourselves. Even if a person is not a part of the household of faith, that person is still a Christian’s neighbor. The Christian’s task is not to condemn those who have fallen into the gutter, but to help them out of the gutter. After showing this picture of mercy, Jesus bids his listeners to go and do likewise.”

We will come back to this, but I found it fascinating that he said that the Bible does not affirm a universal brotherhood. In fact, it denies it. We have songs like “Let there be peace on earth” and all these other things that try to talk about the brotherhood of humankind.

But really, if we believe in election and the call of God in our lives, those who are our brothers and sisters are those who are in the faith. To say that we are universally brothers means that everyone would be saved – universal salvation – and we don’t believe that. We believe that only those who profess faith in Jesus Christ will be saved.

But that doesn’t mean that we should forget about those other people. We’re not to wall ourselves off, like a gated community somewhere, and say, “Let the rest of the world go to hell, we’re fine in here,” and I mean it literally. Jesus gives this pointed parable to show us how that is true.

This man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell in the hands of robbers, we don’t know who he was, and we don’t know whether he was Jew, Gentile, slave, free, whatever. But we can make some assumptions, based on the point of the story.

My guess is he was a Jewish man. And that’s important to know. He was stripped of his clothes, so he was naked. And there are two things about the Jewish law that you need to understand. One is that even on the Sabbath, people were called to help those who were in danger of death. And it says he was half-dead.

And number two, nakedness was a shame, but not for the person being naked, if they couldn’t help it, because of being poor, or, in this case being beaten. What was shameful was the Jew looking upon it and not covering it, not doing anything about it.

So we have two very high-class Jews that come by first. One is a priest, and when he saw the man, instead of going to the man, like the very law proclaims, he went to the other side of the road, and went on his way, pretending he didn’t see him.

I’m just curious. In this small town, it has probably never happened, but I’ve seen it in the big cities. Maybe you have, when you’ve been visiting Burlington or the Quad Cities or something like that, where there is a panhandler or something like that. People will actually go across the street to avoid having to interact with them. Or they’ll keep their heads down and start walking faster, basically to show the panhandler, get out of my way or I’m going to run you over like a train.

Have any of you seen that happen? I know that I have. And it’s because of this discomfort with dealing with someone who is, in our minds, well, they’re dirty, they might smell of alcohol, they’re just not “good people.” Or so we think. And we’ve pre-judged them before we even meet them.

Now the priest, I’m sure thought he had good reason to justify his going around the man. He was a priest in the temple, and it was already during the day, and so he had done his original ritual washings and was clean, and if he handled the man, who was bleeding and things like that, then he was going to have to go through all this ritual purification again, before he would be able to serve the Lord in the temple.

So you know, you keep your hands clean, and then you can just go in and you can serve God, which is more important anyways. Right?

Then we have the Levite, also of the clan of the priesthood, though not necessarily directly involved in the temple process, but very concerned once again with the ritual cleanliness, with obeying the law, and choosing, for the sake of convenience, if you will, to avoid hassle, to do the same thing that the priest did.

He went on the other side, refusing to help the dying man. As a member of the consecrated tribe, he had been set apart to teach and do the work of God. Which was interesting, because although this man’s vocation including doing deeds of mercy (we just heard it read from Micah), he was willing to let the injured man perish alone and unaided. His job, as he saw it, his vocation, was more important than getting involved with this pitiful lump of flesh.

Then third came a Samaritan. You need to understand the Samaritans, and the Jews’ understanding of the Samaritans. This was not a peaceful story. The lawyer would have been made really, really uptight by this story. And in fact, when Jesus said, “Who do you think was a neighbor?” the lawyer was probably gritting his teeth, as he said, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Because the Samaritans were seen as mongrels, half breeds. They even worshipped on the wrong mount. They thought that the holy mount of God was mount Gerizim, not Zion, were Jerusalem was. The Samaritans were the result when the Jews who had been left behind during the diaspora, when the Babylonians took most of them out and replaced them with outsiders, inter-married and interbred.

So even though they passed on this Jewish faith and understanding, they were seen as heretics, half breeds, and an affront to the Jewish people – and of course to God (or so they were assuming on God’s behalf).

And this is the hero of the story. This person who was despised by the Jews, in particular by the lawyer, almost as much as the bandits themselves. He comes up and does not ignore the victim. He had compassion upon the dying man, and his compassion, notice, led him to action.

He bandaged the man’s wounds, and anointed the man with oil and wine. Again, we need to put that in a little bit of context. Back in those days, they didn’t have penicillin and alcohol swabs and things like that. Wine was used to disinfect, because it’s got alcohol in it.

Oil was used medicinally – you covered a wound with oil, much as we would cover it with some antibacterial ointment today. It would be almost kind of like putting Vaseline over it, basically. And you do that to help keep the wound from getting infected, to help speed the healing. So they would apply this oil.

So he applied the oil and the wine, and then, notice, placed a man on his own horse. He didn’t leave him there, but got down to walk. Now first of all, if the man had a horse and he was a Samaritan, he was probably pretty wealthy. I do want to mention that as aside because, again, there is classism.

So many times, people will avoid folks that they’re sure going to ask them for something. And the wealthier you get, the more often it seems to happen. And I have to admit that, even in my household, we have the landline there and we keep it solely for telemarketers and messages. That’s the number we give out whenever we have to sign up for anything. Why? So we don’t have to talk to them. Because they’re going to ask us for something.

And they can be really persistent. Hope College, where my son went to college, has been calling and asking for me. Not him. Probably because he moved and he hasn’t sent them what his new information is. So they’re going to either ask me for a donation, or ask me for my son’s information, and I figure it’s up to him to talk to them. And sometimes we take that to an extreme, without meaning to.

So this rich Samaritan puts the man on his horse and walks, gets his feet all dirty, maybe walking through the residue of horses and other animals when they’ve gone by. He stops his journey. After all, he was probably on his way somewhere, and if he was on a horse he wanted to get there quickly.

And he takes the injured man to an inn. Again, inns, in the Jewish tradition and understanding, were not seen as good places. These were not five-star hotels, because hospitality was sacred to the Jews, and an innkeeper charged for you to stay at his place and to eat his food.

They were looked down upon by many of the Jews. You only stopped in an inn when you absolutely had to, and somebody who was an innkeeper was probably not well-liked or respected in the community, even though he served a necessary purpose. Any Gentiles and others that might come in, they can stay with him – which of course, by the way, would make him unclean, if he handled their food after they had eaten, for instance.

So the Samaritan takes him to an inn, and spends the rest of the day taking care of him. He probably took him to the inn because, being a Samaritan, he couldn’t take him to anybody in town. They would have shut their doors to him. No compassion. No hospitality. So he had to pay to get the man taken care off.

Do you see how this would point the finger at the lawyer and the Jews who were listening in the audience out there, challenging them on their preconceptions and their own practices of hospitality? A Jewish man would have been refused entry into a Jewish home because he was being brought by a Samaritan.

So he had to go to an inn to be taken care of. Then the Samaritan shows great generosity, making arrangements to pay for the wounded man’s expenses. Two pieces of silver was a lot of money. And he says, “Take care of the man, and I’ll be back.”

So he’s going to hold the innkeeper accountable. The Samaritan cared not just for the immediate need of the man that he had helped, but he was making sure that he was going to continue to be cared for, with this unspoken carrot and stick. I’ll be back, and if it cost more than I’ve already given you, I’ll pay more.

Of course, if it doesn’t cost more than he’s already given him, he’s not going to ask for change, and the innkeeper makes out a profit. That’s the carrot. The stick is the warning that he’ll be back, so you can’t just dispose of the man and pocket the entire amount.

This was an incredible act of compassion and strength by the Samaritan. He was the only one who showed himself to be a neighbor to the injured man. And it does not simply exhort us to have compassion upon those in need. It answers the question “Who is my neighbor?” by demonstrating that there are not ethnic or geographical limits to the kingdom of God.

Jesus was pointing, in many ways, to the birth of the Church, and the responsibility of each Christian to understand that everyone is their neighbor, and their race doesn’t matter, their economic status doesn’t matter, their education level doesn’t matter. Even their faith doesn’t matter if they are in need.

And this is a sidetrack, but one of the most effective forms of evangelism today is not the Billy Graham-type crusade. One of the most effective forms of evangelism today is what’s called Kitchen Table evangelism.

What you do is, you get a neighbor and you invite them over to eat. You share a meal with them, and some laughs and a good time. And then a week later or two weeks later, you do it again. And you get in a habit.

And as they get to know you and a relationship begins to form, then you are provided with opportunities and openings to share your faith. “Why do you do this?” you might be asked. Or “What do you think about that issue?” Then you answer from the Christian perspective. And of course you can invite them to church.

Not right away. If you have your first meal with them and you say, “By the way, I go to First Presbyterian Church and I’d love it if you came with us one Sunday,” then they’re going to think, they just invited me over here so they can try to get me to church. No relationship will be formed, because they’ll put up a wall.

But it takes time. It takes effort. It takes money, in terms of the food and things. It takes forming that relationship. This is what the Samaritan did. He was treating this Jew – somebody who hated him, somebody who was definitely not his people – as someone to be loved and cared for.

I wonder sometimes. We’re not told what happened, what the man who was attacked thought of the one who saved him. I can’t help but wonder whether his own preconceptions might have been shattered because someone, whom he assumed would be rigid and set apart from them and other than them, reached out in such a generous an open way.

It’s a real challenge to us in our faith. I think it’s an even greater challenge to those of us who are in small communities. Because, let’s face it, small communities can be very insular. If somebody comes in from the outside –

I’ve literally heard this. A family at a church that I served (not here) said, “Well, we’ve only been coming to the church for twenty-six years, so we’re still seen as newcomers.” They had started coming to that church when they were about forty. And I thought to myself, man, twenty-six years and they’re still seen as newcomers, somebody “other.” They’re welcomed in, but they still feel outside.

Doesn’t that sound kind of harsh? But it happens all the time. It happens in the church. It happens in the community at large. And we as Christians need to turn it around and show the world that there is a different way.

That’s your challenge that’s the purpose of this parable – to show you, not just to your neighbor is but what are you supposed to do about it, how are you supposed to treat the people that are in the world, how are you supposed to bring them into the kingdom of God, which means the rule of God in their lives, which means that they need to know who got is.

Because they see God in you. And they understand God’s love by your love for them.

We’re going into Thanksgiving this coming week. We’re going to be giving thanks for a lot of things. Remember those that may not have as much to give thanks for. Include them in your prayers.

Look for opportunities. Some of the most meaningful Thanksgivings for me, since I’ve been an adult and married to Pauline is the times we have invited somebody over for Thanksgiving (that wasn’t family).

I wish we could do it more often. Serving in these two communities here and living thirty miles away and having such family links, it gets a little tougher. But we used to do it. (Pauline said she liked it because it made us clean the house.) It was very good for us. It made the Thanksgiving better, because we were having an enjoyable time with someone that we wanted to know and love.

Try to do that, this Thanksgiving, yourself. Something like that. Reach out. Be a Samaritan to someone else, and show them what the love of God is really like.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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