In the story of the Good Samaritan Luke 10:25-37 we are immediately introduced to a lawyer, he poses a question to Jesus as a "test" - "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus answers this question with one of His own. "What is written in the law? What do you read there?"
The answer comes back, "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." Good answer. And Jesus agrees. But the lawyer is not satisfied with that answer. So he asks another question "And who is my neighbor?" In other words, "OK, Jesus, I understand I am supposed to CARE, but what are the limits of my caring? When can I quit?" And here Jesus tells His famous story.
The first person to which we are introduced is the poor traveler. He had taken the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, which was notoriously dangerous. It descended nearly 3,300 feet in 17 miles, running through narrow passes at points. The terrain offered easy hiding for the bandits who terrorized travelers. This unfortunate man had been stripped, beaten, and left for dead. Jesus’ audience that day knew how easily it could happen and I would suspect that we Jesus audience today could easily identify by glancing quickly through the newspapers or watching the news on television.
Suddenly who should come along but a priest? If anyone could be expected to stop and help it would be a priest. But wait. The priest does not come over to help; he passes by on the other side. No reason is given. Perhaps it was fear. Those who beat the man in the ditch might be lying in wait to beat him as well. Have you ever come upon someone after an ugly accident? And simply passed by for fear of becoming involved." [It is worth noting that if a priest found a body on their journey they had a duty to bury it] Next there came a Levite...an "assistant" priest. As the text has it, "he came to the place and saw him, [and] passed by on the other side."
Enter character number three - a Samaritan. The GOOD Samaritan! Nowhere in the Bible will we find the words "Good" and "Samaritan" next to each other. For those folks who first heard this story, the phrase "Good Samaritan" would have been an oxymoron, anyway - the only GOOD Samaritan would have been a DEAD Samaritan. Why such depth of feeling? The hostility between Jews and Samaritans was hundreds of years old. It went back to the time of the division of the nation into the Northern and Southern kingdoms - Samaria came to be identified with the North and Judea with the South. Samaritan were considered that they had also perverted the religion. They looked to Mt. Gerizim in their own land as the place to worship God, not Jerusalem. They interpreted the Torah differently than the southern Jews. Still vivid in the memory of Jesus’ audience was a Passover night, between AD 6 and 9, in which Samaritans scattered human bones through the Temple. They were publicly cursed in the synagogues as heretics and prayers were offered begging God to deny them eternal life.
By the time of Jesus, the animosity toward Samaritans was so great that some Jews would go miles out of their way to avoid even walking on Samaritan soil. The hatred between Jew and Samaritan in Jesus’ day was at least as deep as the feeling Jews and Arabs have towards each other today.
Jesus used a master-stroke when he selected a Samaritan as the hero of the story. It left the Jewish legal expert almost speechless. If Jesus had told the story of a Jew helping out a Samaritan, it would have made a powerful point, but to turn it on its head as he did, and portray two pillars of the Jewish establishment as "non-neighbors" and a Samaritan as a true "neighbor" was radical teaching. Let’s see what we can learn from this Good Samaritan as an example of loving our neighbor as Jesus told it, in very human terms. He painted a picture of someone with:
The Heart of Love
Jesus said that the Samaritan "took pity on him" (33). The Authorized Version uses the word "compassion" which is more descriptive. There was such a compelling power in the Samaritan’s heart that he couldn’t just stand still. He had to do something. A heart full of compassion is always followed by action. It might result in moving into situations which, humanly speaking, might be avoided. The Good Samaritan broke through the racial barrier, putting the priest and the Levite to shame. (After my visit to Palestine I was asked why did I shake hand with Yasser Arafat? Am I a communist?) A heart of love always results in some positive action, as we see in the next characteristic:
The Hands of Caring
The Samaritan ministered to the victim of the mugging: "he bandaged his wounds, pouring in oil and wine" (34). Caring is costly. It took time to stop by the beaten-up man to give him first aid. The priest and Levite were both busy men, but they were too busy if they couldn’t spare the time to help a fellow traveler in need. Orderly lives are good and proper, but sometimes they have to give way to a priority call if the Spirit of God urges us in this way.
The Samaritan gave freely of his own resources: "He put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him" (34), promising the innkeeper that he would pay the bill. Following Jesus Christ is a costly business. It cost Jesus His own life while teaching this model of life to live for others. C. S. Lewis tells a story in “God in the Dock, Essays on Theology and Ethics. He said, “I have an elderly acquaintance of about eighty, who has lived a life of unbroken selfishness and self-admiration from the earliest years, and is, more or less, I regret to say, one of the happiest men I know. From the moral point of view it is very difficult! As you perhaps know, I haven't always been a Christian. I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don't recommend Christianity. The heart of the Gospel is not how rigid we are in following the religious canon laws but how generous we are in expressing the life of Jesus through our daily living. That is God of the Gospel in action which has legs of mercy to walk to the needy and healing hands to touch the sick and weary in the name of Jesus Christ to heal, to encourage, to bless, to feed the hungry and bring peace to our troubled world. This is mission of the church being “Good Samaritans” in our communities and in our world.