We have before us this evening a well known passage of the Bible. The Parable of the Good Samaritan. The Society is so familiar with the story there are at least half a dozen Hospitals in the US named after the Good Samaritan. So many sermons have been dedicated to it, searching the phrase “Sermon on the Good Samaritan” in Google returns over 481,000 results.
Besides all of you are familiar with the story you might ask why do I want to throw another sermon to the lot. Three important reasons.
- For most people it’s a story about helping someone in need. But it’s not. It’s a parable Jesus said from a perspective of eternity.
- A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. It looses its original value when interpreted differently.
- Familiarity breeds contempt: The parable has become just another story and we have ignored its call for action.
Therefore in this sermon I hope to probe the parable a little deeper in order to understand what it really means and what must we do?
Read Luke 10:25-37
1. Jesus and the Lawyer
The precise motive behind the Lawyer’s question isn’t clear. It’s the question that matters. “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The question itself contradicts the core of Jesus’ teaching because an inheritance of any form is the result of a relationship. It’s not a goal achieved through effort. Likewise eternal life is a gift we inherit from God through our relationship with him. Not something we earn through works of righteousness.
Jesus answered with a counter question. He asked, “What is written in the law? How do you understand it?” The Lawyer answered “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18) The Lawyer was right but got trapped. (He sought to prove that eternal life required the fulfillment of the Law. But his answer proved otherwise.)
Then he pulled out a wild card, in an attempt to justify himself. “Who is my neighbor?” In the Jewish culture only a fellow Jew was considered to be a neighbor. Gentiles weren’t considered as neighbors. The Lawyer was implying he has fulfilled the Law by treating his fellow Jew with respect in keeping with the Law. Therefore he has earned eternal life by complying with the Law not through a personal relationship with God. Our friend thought he finally had Jesus. But Jesus is smarter and wiser. He told him the parable of the Good Samaritan. We are introduced to four individuals.
2. The Priest and the Levite
In Jesus’ time the road from Jericho to Jerusalem was 18 miles long. May be it was not a road at all but a narrow strip of path sandwiched in between rocky mountains. Even today most parts of the highway connecting Jerusalem with Jericho runs in between mountains. It was common for the travelers of ancient times on this path to come under the attack of the bandits and thieves who occupied the mountains.
This Jew was one such victim. (Jesus didn’t say he was but he was speaking to a Jew.) Back then clothes were rare and high in value. A Priest passed by him but did nothing to help. (In the Jewish culture a Priest was a very important person and a symbol of hope. It still is in any other culture also.) He passed by on the other side deliberatly putting a safe distance between himself and the dying man. May be he feared ceremonial uncleanliness or was afraid the bandits were still around. The Bible doesn’t say? The point is the Priest failed to be a neighbor.
Then passed by a Levite. I assume hierarchy wise Levites were little lower than the Priests. Nevertheless they were a well respected group in the Jewish society. The Levite also passed by the other side of the road. May be he too feared ceremonial uncleanliness or was afraid the bandits were still around.
3. The Jew and the Samaritan
The history of the feud between Jews and Samaritans is as old as 722 B.C. The year the Assyrians conquered Israel and took most of its people into captivity. Shortly afterwards the invadors brought in Gentile Colonists to resettle the land. These foreigners brought with them their pagan idols, which the remaining Jews began to worship alongside the God of Israel. Intermarriages also took place. The Samaritans were descendants of these Jews who mingled with the Gentiles. Therefore the other Jews despised the Samaritans.
It was such a man that became the neighbor to the fallen Jew. Did he know the Law of Moses? Jesus didn’t tell. But he said this, “But a Samaritan who was traveling came to where the injured man was, and when he saw him, he felt compassion for him.” Then Jesus closed the story with another question. “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The Lawyer knows the answer but he cannot even bring himself to mention the man’s race. He is picky about his neighbors. He answered, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus said “Go and do likewise.” By telling this parable Jesus wanted us to understand,
- Eternal Life is an inheritance of God reserved for those who love him. But we cannot say we love him if we refuse to show mercy to people.
- Our love for one another truly reveals our love for God. To show mercy and be a neighbor to the needy is the act of that love.
- Be a neighbor to anyone in need. Don’t divide people as neighbors and non-neighbors based on their race or behavior because God creaed everyone in his own image.
Isn’t it interesting in the 10 Commandments only the first 2 commandments deal with our relationship with God? The other 8 deals with our relationship with humans.
Jesus said “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.” (Matthew 5:17 – NLT) We are not under the Law. But when we love others and show mercy its purpose is accomplished spontaneously which makes us hairs of the eternal life.
A call for action
A. Don’t count the reward: Although loving others will make us hairs of eternal life, it’s not the reason why we show mercy. Compassion is. If eternal life is the sole purpose for showing mercy then we areseeking to earn it.
B. Don’t count the risk: The Priest and the Levite counted the risk. The Samaritan didn’t. We can’t show mercy unless we are willing to leave the comfort zone.
C. Don’t shift the blame: The Samaritan didn’t shift the blame. He transformed his convictions into action. God is not pleased when his children shift the blame for what’s not done. God is pleased when his children something about it.
D. Don’t count the sacrifice: The Good Samaritan was a traveler too. He had to be somewhere but rearrange his priorities to attend to the wounded man. Mercifulness calls for sacrifices. We can’t show mercy unless we are willing to sacrifice ourselves.
E. Don’t count the cost: The Samaritan had to shoulder the financial cost of the welfare of the wounded man. Mercy is costly because everything in our society comes with a price. We will not count the cost if we truly want to show mercy.
Jesus showed one cannot hate another human being and still claim to love God. Our love for God and man is best expressed in showing mercy to people in need. Let us show mercy wholeheartedly and God will reward us with eternal life.
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