This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on July 10, 2016.
Luke recorded Jesus’ telling of the story of the Good Samaritan. The title, Good Samaritan, is today synonymous with a person doing good deeds for another person. Jesus told the story to answer a question posed by a man regarding eternal life. Luke painted the scene for us this way: Jesus was sitting down teaching, a customary position of a Rabbi as he taught. Suddenly, an expert in the Law of God stood up, interrupted the lesson and asked Jesus a question. This man was a member of the Sanhedrin, which was a 72 member group consisting of experts who studied, taught, and interpreted Hebrew Semitic law, and were typically antagonistic toward Jesus and his teachings. By standing, the man either showed respect or attempted to show authority over Jesus. The latter seems to best fit the context. He tried to examine Jesus intellectually, but with wrong motives, and test Jesus by asking a potent question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus exposed the man spiritually and reoriented the conversation by answering the man with a question of his own, “What is written in the Law?” The man would know the law, as it was his job. He quoted passages of the law found in Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19. Basically, he answered his own question. Jesus gave this same answer in Mark 12 when someone asked about the greatest commandment of all the 613 commandments found in the Torah.
The passage he quoted, “Love the Lord your God with all your strength and with all your mind” is known as the Great Shema. It was familiar to every faithful Jew. Devout Jews would write the Great Shema on parchment and secure it in wooden boxes called phylacteries, and wear them on their wrists and foreheads. They would also place the Great Shema in a case and nail it to the right side of every doorpost. It was a type of post-it note that said to everyone entering or leaving the home, that as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Jesus responded to the man by telling him he was right, and if he lived according to the law he would live. Jesus exposed the absurdity of thinking anyone could keep the perfect law. God gave us the law to show how we fall short, it was never designed to save us, but rather point us to God. Jesus used sarcasm to say, if there was something you could do to inherit eternal life, this is it.
Obviously this law expert realized he could not keep this law perfectly, so he attempted to justify himself with a second question, “Who is my neighbor?” This question revealed that he did not understand justification. He still wanted a checklist of things he could do in order to inherit eternal life. Jesus answered him by sharing the story of the Good Samaritan.
Jesus gave the setting of the story: a man traveled down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. This road was approximately 15 miles and because Jericho was below Jerusalem, the road was steep and treacherous. In addition to the terrain, there were many caves and rock formations along the way which made for great hiding places for thieves. Robbers attacked this man, stripped him of his clothes, robbed him, and left him for dead. A priest passed by and saw the man lying there half-dead. It is possible the priest had come from Jerusalem where he could have spent several weeks away from his home, performing priestly duties. If a Priest touched anything unclean like a dead body, he would have to return to Jerusalem to be cleansed. Perhaps he just wanted to go home, and helping the man would be inconvenient, plus it was dangerous to be on the road to Jericho. The second man to pass by, a Levite, also ignored the hurting man. A Levite assisted Priests in performing their duties. Jesus revealed that neither the Priest nor the Levite demonstrated loving their neighbor.
The third man to pass by was a Samaritan. Because the man lying on the road was stripped of his clothes and unconscious, the Samaritan had no idea as to his nationality. Jews had great disdain for Samaritans, much like the disdain between Seinfeld and Newman. Actually, the disdain would be better linked to the relationship between Al-Qaeda and American soldiers. However, the Good Samaritan was not concerned about the stranger’s nationality, whether he was a Jew or a Samaritan. Either way he generously took out of his abundance to give to the poor man. In addition to risking his life by remaining on the road, he spent money on oil and bandages, paid two days wages for a hotel, and offered to pay any other expenses incurred by this man. If the injured man had to stay longer and could not pay his bill, he would be required by law to work for the owner as a servant until he paid off his bill. Therefore, the Good Samaritan also kept the man working as a servant to pay off his debt.
Jesus again answered the expert’s question with a question, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Jesus turned the question from “who is my neighbor” into “to whom must I be a neighbor.” The Jewish law expert wanted to discuss being a neighbor in a general way, but Jesus made it specific by using the mortal enemy of the Jews as the hero in his story.
Jesus in a creative way exposed the man’s attempt at self-justification by revealing that eternal life cannot be earned. He also pointed out that real faith results in good works. It was the Samaritan, not the Priest or Levite, who demonstrated he loved God by loving his neighbor. In Luke’s account, Jesus can be seen as the ultimate Good Samaritan. He rescued us from death, healed our wounds, paid our debt, and set us free from slavery to sin. He expects those who follow him to imitate his behavior toward others, by showing grace and mercy through action. Not in an effort to justify oneself, but rather as a natural response of a life lived like Jesus.
Dr. Ronny Marriott
First Baptist Church, Temple, Texas
Tags: neighbor, sacrifice, justification, love, Samaritan