Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He 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.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Everyone knows the story. Almost everyone would know what we mean if we said someone was a “good Samaritan.” Everyone would usually say they understand the point here. I am supposed to love my neighbor. I know Jesus, I know Jesus, I do a pretty good job, but some neighbors are a real problem. I love them, I think I would help them if they were in dire straights but on most other days there are some I don’t love if I really am honest with myself. But I am better than most and besides Jesus you will forgive me when I realize that………and repent.
Isn’t that your take on this story most of us know? We think we know the point. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, I pray that we broaden our minds and get closer in our relationship with God by understanding that these stories are like a multi-faceted diamond and we are often treating them in only one dimension.
The lawyer asked what must I do to inherit eternal life. He was hoping to trip Jesus up right off the bat. He was seeing if Jesus knew our Old Testament scripture today and he was hoping Jesus would say something else. Then he could claim Jesus was a heretic or false prophet.
Instead Jesus did to him what he often does to us, Jesus didn’t answer him. Wouldn’t it be simpler if God would just answer us? Instead Jesus answered the question with a question about what was in the law that the lawyer would know. Before we get to that answer though, don’t miss the first big point. How often have you prayed to God for guidance in daily living and NOT turned to the Bible? You know the answer is often there, maybe a seemingly “no answer” from God means he wants you to check out the Bible first.
You see the Bible gives us relationship answers, it gives us simply living answers, it tells us to not worry, yet we do. It tells us to give, yet we don’t because we need to make sure we have enough daily bread before we decide what we give. The list goes on and on. Our Bible usually has the answer, we just often want God to provide a possible plan B.
Back to the question by the lawyer, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Inheritances are NEVER earned. They are gifts. Nonetheless the lawyer says the old love God and love your neighbor thing we all know. Then Jesus says “right and do this and you will live.” The Greek means that in essence this is the correct behavior to get into heaven. Is Jesus advocating a works based theology here?
Name anyone in the Bible or in the world that during every minute of their life meets this criteria? Nobody can and here is Jesus’ point, if your going to live by the law then you had better live by it 100% of the time perfectly. Live it every second of the day because the love here is present tense. One slip up and you are out. The purpose of the law is to know we can’t keep it.
Paul said no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law but rather by through the law we become conscious of our sin. James said it to. Good people who know of Jesus yet have not recognized that they need Jesus to be redeemed before God will not inherit eternal life. Until one consciously in their heart understands that Jesus paid the price for them, eternal separation from God awaits.
I think the lawyer understood that he could not follow the law 100% of the time so he wanted to see if he has a loophole. The lawyer wanted to justify himself before God so he wanted to understand exactly who his neighbor was. The Jews typically saw their “neighbor” as fellow Jews. Leviticus says do not bear a grudge against “your people.” That meant only Jews. Jesus, can you reduce the requirements for heaven a little bit? I might be able to handle that, you know I am a good person to my family and Jewish friends.
Jesus tells him a story to make his point to the lawyer. The story is Jesus’ graceful way of giving him a chance to understand what a neighbor is. Since you all know the story as is, I offer up to you a different version and I pray you will trust me in this because it is a great parallel story.
There was a cowboy out on the range and Indians caught him and he resisted and the Indians shot him full of arrows and beat him to where he was totally covered by blood, robbed him, took his horse, took his clothes and left him naked. An unrecognizable bloodied human being and along came Sheriff Matt Dillon. Well Matt had urgent business taking care of his people in Dodge City and if he stopped who knows what might happen there, plus the guy looked all but dead and also maybe he was an Indian, couldn’t tell because he was so beat up. Priorities you know. Well Festus wasn’t far behind and his mule couldn’t keep up with Matt. Being Matt’s assistant, if Matt didn’t stop then why should he?
Besides if he didn’t show up right behind Matt, he might get in trouble. Then along came an Indian. The Indian stops, takes the time to care for him, leaves the arrows in him because maybe a doctor can remove them better, puts him on his Indian pony and he walks instead slowly down the road to Dodge City. Imagine an Indian walking into town with a naked arrow filled man. Miraculously he makes it to the inn, stays overnight, cares for the man, then gives the innkeeper two days worth of wages for expenses, plus a promise for overages, then miraculously he is able to ride out of town.
See the problem here? How long do you think the Indian would have walked into Dodge City? Do you even think that when he did make it in that he would have been able to leave? Do you think a normal Indian would have given two days worth of wages PLUS his word to return to take care of any overages?
This is the risk the Samaritan took today. That’s radically loving your neighbor. That is far and beyond any place I bet you have ever considered this story. You see I think that we have a little bit of the priest in us and the levite in us and while we wish to think we are like the Samaritan, the fact is we are often all too often choosing who our neighbor is or we judge our neighbor then maybe we choose to do just a little then let it go. You know, maybe the Indian would stop and work on his wounds but that riding into Dodge City thing….you gotta be kidding me.
Recognize that the Samaritan sacrificed everything he had, all his available resources. He sacrificed: oil, wine, clothe wrapping, riding animal, time, energy, money and risked his life. Have you ever considered the cost of the love for neighbor that Jesus really asks of us here? Who was stripped and beaten and in fact killed in the Bible? Jesus. In this parable what kind of love does the Samaritan give? Again a love that is a sacrifice of everything. This parable says we are to give of all our resources for Jesus and Jesus is our neighbor along the Jericho road.
The beaten person along the road is not just our neighbor who we kind of like but it is Jesus. This person along the road is every person, every person. Based on this parable what should we not say? Do not say, “I will do more when I know more.” You know enough already. Do not say, “If I am ever going down a lonely road and happen to see a dying man, I will stop and help him.” No, that person is all around us. He or she is young or old, rich, poor, black, white, asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Muslim, Hindu, atheist, homosexual, a child, a begger, a divorcee, a cancer victim, unemployed, single parent, and a lonely widow.
I firmly believe that God puts all kinds of people in our path and we are given the choice to present tense love them. I know that the list seems overwhelming but this begs the question that you must ask of yourself. There are three basic groups in this parable, who are you?
1. The robbers: “What’s yours is mine and if I want it, I’ll take it from you.”
2. The religious: “What’s mine is mine and if you need it, you can’t have it, if I have extra.”
3. The redeemed: “What’s mine is yours and if you need it, I will give it to you.”
How will we walk on that Jericho road? When we see someone in need, what will we do? Where does Jesus see our priority? Before we decide to do anything will we ask, “Who is that and how did he get there?” Will we consider, “Is this a friend or foe?” We consider, “Do I know this person?” Will we consider first, “What did he do to deserve this?” Will we consider, “Is he my religion, my family, my tribe, my background, my language, and my people?” Did Jesus ask or consider these things ever?
Charles Spurgeon said: “I never knew a man to refuse to help the poor who failed to give at least one admirable excuse.” What has been ours? I was in a hurry. I wanted to get home. The needs are greater than I alone can meet. I need to make sure I have enough cash for my future. Let someone else do it. As I listed these things as well as some other things in my mind, I find myself feeling that all to often I really am like the priest and the levite because all too often I love my neighbor………………………..sometimes…..a little.
I think the actions required of us in the story of the Good Samaritan was best summed up by John Wesley and I know I need to apply this in my life….do you? He said: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.” In light of what Jesus did for us…our redemption…..if we love Him…. should we do anything less than that?