The Good Samaritan
1. In the passage of scripture that we read for today, beginning at verse thirty in particular, is a well-known illustration entitled "The Parable Of The Good Samaritan." Today as we read and enjoy this story that Jesus told, I would like for us to think about what it still means.
Put It Into Practice
2. First, let's take a look at the setting in which the parable was given. At the very start, a certain expert in the law threw a question at Jesus that went as follows, "Teacher, by doing what can we inherit eternal life?" This question was asked over and over too many times to count among the Jews. They enquired after eternal life. It is the ultimate quest for humanity. What do we have to do to inherit eternal life? It is the ultimate question that anybody could ever ask; therefore, I would think that it is a most serious of questions.
3. But then, Luke writes that the lawyer was "asking trying to test Jesus" as the true intent of this question. In it there was some hostility towards Jesus. He had a hostility of trying to trip Jesus up in his words some way or another. Though holding in his hand a question on the supremest of truths, he was trying to slash out at Jesus brandishing the truth in his question as an ill-willed sword. Though asking about "eternal life," what he was really all about was totally on the opposite side to eternal life.
4. Therefore, Jesus had no intention to give a direct answer to this kind of question. The Lord asked him back, "What do we have written in the law? What have you read in it?" The lawyer replied, "It says, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your strength, with all your will; and also love your neighbor like you love yourself.'" The Lord heard his answer and said, "That's a correct answer." But, then the Lord added to that with, "Put that into practice. By doing that life is obtainable."
5. "Put that into practice." That's a very simplistic statement. But, the Lord's statement hit him deep down inside. He knows the right answer. He can talk it. But, the part of him not putting it into practice is penetrated. The truth of his life is brought out into the open, that the guy talking about matters pertaining to eternal life is so far far from it. The cloaking coat is yanked away by the Lord's statement.
6. But, he won't let himself be uncloaked. He puts his rags of "his own righteousness" back on right away. He sought to justify himself. He replied, "So, who is my neighbor?"
7. To ask "who is my neighbor?" is also asking "Who is not my neighbor?" These two questions are a set. Since he said "Love your neighbor as yourself," it might be all right not to love unless they are your neighbor. As long as we draw a line between "they're my neighbor" and "they're not my neighbor," we can justify ourselves when we don't love them. It would be fine for us to say, "That's not my neighbor." That's how a person can justify his or her unloving self in so many cases. They are not only not loving. They are aggressively able to self justify hating others. They can even justify standing up against someone with animosity and ill will. They are able to make so many justifications by the drawing of lines!
8. Then, the next words from Jesus for the man so ready to justify himself were of "The Parable Of The Good Samaritan." But, what in the world is this parable really saying?
A Person Not "A Neighbor" "Is The Neighbor"
9. The story, so far, is simple. A man comes down from Jerusalem to Jericho. The steep journey of more than a vertical drop of one thousand meters in about thirty kilometers from Jerusalem to Jericho had been known to be dangerous. Along the way the man is attacked by highwaymen, robbed to the bone, and left half dead. Then, a priest, who served at the temple, happens to come by. He spots the man who was almost killed. But, he winds up crossing to the other side of the road. Next, a Levite, who served at the temple, happens to come by. He, too, spots the man attacked by the robbers. But he, too, crosses over to the other side of the road and winds up passing him by.
10. Why didn't these men of religion help this poor man? Various reasons have been considered. They may have thought he was already dead. According to the law, if you touched a dead person, you were unclean for seven days. While you were unclean, you couldn't take part in temple services. In that sense they may have felt that they were being loyal to their duties of work. Or they may have even thought that the robbers were still lurking nearby, and if so they were in danger themselves. They had to get away from there as fast as possible. Whatever may have been the case, since the Lord did not give those reasons, they don't have all that much importance in the matter. The important thing is the facts. The fact is they crossed to the other side.
11. A Samaritan, who had been traveling, happens to come by. When you think about how it deliberately says here that "a Samaritan" comes into the storyline, it probably means that the person who was attacked by the robbers was a Jew. There was between the Jews and the Samaritans a hostile relationship from of old with a long historical background. The root of it traces back to the eighth century B.C.E. when Assyria made conquest of Samaria [then the northern kingdom of Israel] and let several different races from the east settle in that land. As a result, the Samaritans became a people of mixed races and its religion intermixed with the religions of the different races. Therefore, the Jews would scorn the Samaritans as a people who had lost the purity of their faith and their blood, and the Jews would thoroughly detest them as such. Of course, the Samaritans also deeply hated the Jews as such. This Samaritan, being in such a relationship such as it was for who he was, happened to come by that way.
12. The priest and the Levite, both of the same race [as the victim] and considered neighbors [to the victim], crossed to "the other side of the road" away [from him]. Yet, the Samaritan, who was not considered his neighbor, "looked at the man, felt compassion for him, and drew closer to him." He poured oil on his wounds and poured him some wine, dressed his wounds, let him ride his donkey, and took him to an inn to nurse him. Then, as it would be [till] the day after next, he took out two silver coins of denarii, handed them to the owner of the inn and said, "Please look after this man for me. If other expenses are made, I will pay them on the way home." Why did he help him? Jesus only gave the reason that "he felt compassion for him." The various different reasons and motives he might have had in his heart did not seem to be of very much importance. The important thing is the facts. The fact is he went right up to the man.
13. Upon telling this story, Jesus asked the man skilled in the law a question. He said, "So, between these three men, who do you think was the neighbor to the man who had been attacked by the bandits?" So, we see here just as shortly before that the question is repeated back which the lawyer had asked as he tried to justify himself. He had asked, "Who is my neighbor?" The Lord asked back, "Who had been the neighbor?" The Lord is saying, it is not that "Someone 'is' my neighbor," but that "I 'be' a neighbor." Then, we cannot justify ourselves by the lines drawn on those not regarded as neighbors.
Who Do You Think Was The Neighbor?
14. But, when you really give it some careful thought, the story was not all that simple. The parables of Jesus almost always have a twist for you. If he were just teaching, "If someone is not a neighbor to you, but you will become his or her neighbor. You will cross the divide already in existence and become a neighbor," then you will think that's all there is to the lesson. Perhaps it could even go like this. The story could have said, "A Samaritan came down from Jerusalem to Jericho, but along the way, he was attacked by bandits. The bandits almost killed him and left him so. Then, a Jew happened to come by. He looked at the Samaritan and felt compassion for him, went right up to him to pour oil on his wounds and pour him wine, and then took him to an inn to nurse him." - Because the lawyer conversing with Jesus was a Jew. If he were only teaching him to "Be a neighbor," then we'd expect him to speak of the man being the neighbor and helping his neighbor as the Jewish man.
15. But yet, in this parable Jesus spoke of the man almost murdered and on the verge of death as the Jewish man. The place in which the legal expert was supposed to put himself in this story was not in the position of the Samaritan because he was not actually Samaritan. That's not the way it was supposed to go, rather the one with whom he must compare himself is the man so near to death. He must be helped!
16. We readers of this will come to realize it, too. In this tale, we cannot merely compare ourselves with the Samaritan. Instead we are the man almost murdered and near dead. Don't you see it? We're always trying to justify ourselves but if we take off the ragged clothing we have worn with all our strength, what comes out into the open is our truly miserable condition. We may know what is right. But, there we are not practicing it. We know that we ought to love others, but we don't love them in the world of reality and we cannot love them. Instead we harbor animosity and we wield our swords of ill will. And so, there we are justifying ourselves with all our strength, even though we are like that. Eternal life really lies on the opposite end to that, eternal life is totally unrelated to that but there we are, that's the way we really are in this world. There we are on the verge of destruction. We are the ones in need of help!
17. Neither the priest nor the Levite were a help to the man who had been robbed by the highwaymen and at death's door. They represent the world of law and ritual. But, they weren't a help. They crossed to the other side. But, in their blurred vision was a lone figure made clear. The figure of a man coming closer was made visible to them. It was the Samaritan man whom they had detested. But, the Samaritan, in spite of their animosity, [still] came near and was their neighbor to them. Who was this Samaritan and what does he mean? It could be none other than Jesus. It was this very Jesus, whom this lawyer was showing animosity, this very Jesus who had come to be his neighbor in order to save him.
18. It is the same for us, too. When we still hadn't known the Lord, when we used to be against the Lord, a person from Jesus had kindly come up to us. [Someone] had compassion on us and came to us. Since we were dead the way we were, since we were being destroyed in that condition, [someone] became neighbor to us, and [that someone] poured his or her life and all his or her love on us.
19. The Lord asked, "Who do you think was the neighbor?" Jesus became our neighbor for our benefit. So now, Jesus tells us to "Go and you too do the same."