Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Who is the good Samaritan? In many ways, that’s an unusual question. In many ways, we’re used to jumping ahead and assuming we know the answer. Even the phrase “good Samaritan” has been separated from this story and taken on its own life in our world today. I did a quick Google News search yesterday and found that journalists think that, in general, a good Samaritan is just about any local hero. I read stories of a man who saved a bird that fell out of a nest, another guy who helped a police officer taser someone resisting arrest, and a whole bunch of stories of people helping strangers after accidents. All these people are called, “good Samaritans.” On top of that, you get politicians of both stripes who take this title and twist it to fit their own agenda. One politician used it to justify her stance on immigration and refugees. Another took it and claimed that Donald Trump was the Good Samaritan, someone who finally stopped to help in her medical crisis. With so many uses of the title flying around, it’s good for us to work our way through this story once again and try to figure out who the good Samaritan really is.
“A lawyer stood up to put Jesus to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’” Let’s pause for a moment there. “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Well, what’s the answer? What do you do in order to inherit something? Absolutely nothing! You don’t do anything! Someone else does everything. They write you into their will and then they die. You do nothing. But maybe we’re taking the man’s words too literally and he’s just asking how to be saved. For the sake of argument, let’s take it that way.
“Jesus said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” That’s as good a place as any to start. The man who questioned Jesus was a lawyer, so Jesus takes him to the Law—the Old Testament. Now, the Old Testament is a whole lot more than simply a book of laws, but that seems to be how this lawyer reads it. He digs through the accounts of God’s faithfulness and man’s faithlessness. He skips right on by the promises of a Savior. He sidesteps God’s words of both warning and comfort in the prophets. And He goes right for the rules and regulations. Here’s what he needs to do.
“And this lawyer 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 said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.’” In Matthew and Mark, this combination of love God, love your neighbor is spoken by Jesus Himself. The lawyer is familiar with Jesus’ teaching on the matter and gives Him the right answer. What does God’s Law require of you? What do you need to do in order to be saved? “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.” There’s a lot packed in those two commands.
How well are you doing on them? Let’s just take the first one for the moment. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” I’m not exactly sure the precise distinctions among heart, soul, strength, and mind, but I can pretty well say that this command refers to your entire being. You and I are to love God with all our entire being. He’s worthy of it, but I’ll tell you, I’m not doing so great with that “all” part of it. I gladly give part of my heart, soul, strength, and mind, but all? I’m ashamed to say I don’t measure up.
“But the lawyer, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” Think about that. This guy doesn’t even blink at the first command. Love God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind? Check. No problemo. I’ve got that one down. I am astonished at his self-confidence on that one. But he does have an issue with the second command to love. There’s a nagging doubt in his mind as to just who is or isn’t his neighbor. The idea of the day was that the term “neighbor” was a specific one, meaning only your fellow Jews. Love those who are like yourself, and go ahead and hate the rest. That’s really what the Old Testament’s all about, right?
To correct this man’s pride, Jesus tells a story: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, [This road between Jericho and Jerusalem is almost unthinkable in our world today. It’s a four-to-six foot wide semi-paved path running in and out of rocky-sandy hills and valleys. It’s a distance of about 14 miles as the crow flies, but many more when you take all the twists and turns.] and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. [Not uncommon in the ancient world. Traveling was dangerous, even more so if you were alone.] Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. [You know priests, the ones who worked in the Temple in Jerusalem, performing sacrifices and saying prayers. They were the professional church-workers of their day. And he passed him by.] So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. [You know Levites, the family that priests are chosen from. They work in the Temple too, but in supporting roles. They’re the ones that are supposed to intercede between God and the people. And here, a Levite passes by.] But a Samaritan, [You know Samaritans, the stereotypical bad guy in later Old Testament times and in the New Testament times as well. In other stories of Jesus’ day, they were always billed as the bad guy.] But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. [This having compassion is a unique word in Greek. Apart from this occurrence, the word is only used in the New Testament as something that God does, and maybe here too.] He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. [The very best medicine of the day.] Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’”
Who is the good Samaritan? He’s the one who sees and has compassion. He binds wounds and gives medicine. He gives honor to the lowly and lifts up the broken down. He cares for those in need, even those who are absolutely helpless. He takes the risk and he pays the price. Jesus is the Good Samaritan. He’s the one who does all these things for you and me, those beaten and broken by the Law. Jesus comes to us where we are, treats our wounds, cares for us—body and soul—and pays the price Himself. When you hear this parable, you are the one half-dead. Jesus is the Good Samaritan.
“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” Jesus, the Good Samaritan, did. “He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise.’” Be like me, Jesus says. Show mercy as you have been shown mercy. Bind up wounds as you have been bound. Pay the price that Jesus has paid for you. Give the medicine you have tasted.
What should we do to inherit eternal life? Absolutely nothing. It has all been done for you. You did nothing to deserve the help and salvation Jesus won for you. You were and are beaten up by the Law each and every day, but Jesus has come to take those wounds onto Himself, to heal you, and to let you loose to do the same. You. Go. Do likewise. Jesus is your Good Samaritan. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell