In our parable for today, found in Luke 10, there are two big questions on the mind of the lawyer: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” and “Who is my neighbor?” Those are the most important questions in all of life. Today, most people ask the first question in a different way. We ask, “Will I go to heaven?” or “What do I have to do to go to heaven when I die?” The answer that is provided by most people is, “Live a good life.”
The second question really isn’t asked nearly as much as the first. “Who is my neighbor? Who must I love?” Most people just love those who are easy to love, those they like and enjoy, but if you and I are going to follow Jesus then this question becomes of primary importance. If God tells me to love my neighbor as I love myself, then I need to know just who my neighbor is because folk are hard to love aren’t they? I’m getting ahead of myself and ahead of the story of Jesus and the lawyer. Let’s read our Scripture for this morning and then we’ll see what we can learn. Turn with me to Luke 10:25-37 and let’s read together.
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered: “‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37 NIVO)
This is probably the most well-known of all of Jesus’ parables: The Parable of the Good Samaritan. Actually, what we have in Luke 10 are two different stories. There is the story of the expert in the law, or “lawyer” as some translations say, testing Jesus, and then there is the story of the good Samaritan. Let’s take them one at a time.
The expert in the law was not a lawyer like you may have visited at some point in your life. He hadn’t studied civil or criminal law, but he had spent his life studying the law of Moses and applying it to daily life, both for the individual and for the community. Luke tells us the expert in the law came to Jesus to test Him, to try to trap Him, to get Jesus to say something that would conflict with the teachings of the temple authorities. So he asked, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Life is filled with questions, but this, no doubt, is the greatest, most important question in all of life. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” I find it really interesting that Jesus answered the lawyer’s question with a question. Look at verse 26 where Jesus answered the expert in the law.
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” (Luke 10:26 NIVO)
Have you ever noticed how many times Jesus is asked a question and He answers by asking a question? Over and over again, throughout the Gospels, Jesus is asked a question and He answers by asking a question. The Jewish rabbis, though they didn’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah, sure learned from Jesus’ style of teaching. One day a man asked his rabbi, “Rabbi, why do you always answer my questions with a question?” The rabbi said, “Why shouldn’t I?” The lawyer asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” and Jesus answered him by asking, “What is written in the Law?”
I must stop and use this as an example of an important truth I’ve shared with you for years and years. When the lawyer asked his question, Jesus in effect said, “What does the Word of God say?” He didn’t ask, “What do you think? How do you feel? Why don’t you ask your friends and see if you can come to a consensus.” No, Jesus asked what God’s Word had to say about the question? The Word of God held the most prominent position of authority for Jesus. Over and over again He would say to those who were listening, “It is written…” Jesus quoted the Old Testament 78 times. He quoted the first five books of Moses, 26 times. He quoted from Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Amos, Jonah, Micah, and Malachi. He referred to the Old Testament as “the Scriptures,” “Word of God, and “Wisdom of God.” The same Word of God Jesus quoted from and used is the same Word of God you have at the ready for you to use today my friend.
Let’s get back to the story. So, Jesus asked the lawyer what God’s Word says about what one must do to inherit eternal life. The expert in the law answered Jesus by quoting Scripture.
27 He answered: “‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Luke 10:27 NIVO)
His answer is drawn from two passages of Scripture. The first, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength,” is from Deuteronomy 6:5. The second, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is taken from Leviticus 19:18. Jesus commended the man for his answer. In verse 28 we read,
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:28 NIVO)
Now, at this point, the man should have been overwhelmed with conviction. Had he loved God with all of his heart, soul, and strength every minute of every day throughout his life? You already know the answer don’t you? Had he truly loved his neighbor in the same way he had loved himself? Hardly. Feeling the weight of conviction the man should have confessed his failure to Jesus and said, “Lord, I’ve tried, but I’ve failed over and over again. Is there any hope for me?” Jesus would have most certainly shown him the way to inherit eternal life, but that’s not what the man did, did he? What did he do instead? Luke tells us in verse 29.
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29 NIVO)
The man wanted to justify himself. This is, no doubt, the route of the masses, to try and justify ourselves. How do we do that? In a myriad of ways. We compare ourselves to others that make us look good. We try to live a good life, “good” being defined by that which conforms to our definition of “good.” We dismiss our sin while at the same time having righteous indignation for the sins of others. The expert in the law sought to justify himself by defining “neighbor.” He asked, “Who is my neighbor?”
For the Jewish rabbis, the “neighbor” was one of your own. A close relative, a member of your community, a fellow Jew. There were those within Judaism who narrowed the definition of “neighbor.” The Essenes, those who made their home at Qumran, defined “neighbor” as someone who was part of their community, a fellow Essene. Jews outside of their community, as well as Gentiles, were “children of darkness” and they were to be hated. The Pharisees separated themselves from non-observant Jews and all Gentiles because they believed they were contaminated by sin. The worst of the worst of all people on the planet were the Samaritans.
The Jews had their reasons for hating the Samaritans and, I might add, the Samaritans hated the Jews. Here’s a thumbnail sketch. In 722 B.C. when the Northern Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians, non-Jewish people were brought into the Northern Kingdom and they intermarried with the Jews there. These folks were half-breeds to the Jews in the Southern Kingdom. To the “true Jews” who had never intermarried with other people groups, these folks were mongrels who should never be allowed to participate at the temple or in any aspect of the community.
The Misnah is like a commentary on the Hebrew scriptures. “This” is what Scripture says and “this” is how we live it out in the community. How do we observe a Jewish wedding? Can cheese and meat be on the same table? What are the limitations of liability for someone who is watching another person’s property? What must we do and refrain from doing to keep Sabbath? The Mishnah contains the thoughts of rabbis about these and many more questions that Scripture raises. According to the Mishna, “He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like the one that eats the flesh of swine” (Mishna Shebiith 8:10). If you didn’t already know, Jews won’t eat a ham sandwich to save their life. No tacos al pastor, no pork ribs, no pulled pork sandwiches, no bacon wrapped jalapenos, no carnitas– no puerco en absoluto (no pork at all!) To sit down to a meal with a Samaritan is like eating pork, you just don’t do it, ever!
So when the expert in the law asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus told him a story. Turn with me to verse 30 and let’s read together.
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. (Luke 10:30 NIVO)
The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was treacherous. The road was about eighteen miles long, beginning in Jerusalem at 2,500 feet above sea level and dropping to 800 feet below sea level once you arrived, if you arrived, in Jericho. A section of the road was called the “way of blood” because of the blood that was shed by bandits robbing unsuspecting travelers.
An unidentified man, Jewish man no doubt, was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was jumped, beaten, stripped of his clothes, robbed, and was left in the road half-dead. Horrible story, but lucky for him a priest was traveling the same road and happened upon the man who was lying in a pool of blood. Jesus says the priest saw him and then passed by on the other side. Some time later, we don’t know how much time had passed since the priest saw the man and did nothing, a Levite came upon the man who was now even closer to death, lying in the road naked and bloodied. The Levite responded in the same way as the priest–he saw the man, but he did nothing.
Those who represented God, who were called to love their neighbor as they loved themselves, those who were professional church workers, who worked at the house of God…did nothing. Why did they do nothing for the man who was lying in the road? How could they see him and just walk away? I’m certain that if someone would have popped out from behind the next bend in the road and asked them, “Why?” they would have had a perfectly good explanation. “I’ve been working in Jerusalem and haven’t been home in weeks. I promised my wife and kids I’d be home today.” “I had an important meeting in Jericho and I was already running behind.” “I’m a priest, not a doctor. It’s just not in my skill set.” “In our faith we are considered unclean if we touch a dead body. I couldn’t tell whether the guy was dead or alive.” “I was concerned that the men who jumped him were still in the area. I couldn’t take the risk. Who would provide for my family?” And endless list of perfectly logical reasons why it just didn’t make any sense for the priest or Levite to stop. Jesus wasn’t done telling His story. Turn with me Luke 10:33 and let’s read it.
33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ (Luke 10:33-35 NIVO)
There is not one soul who heard Jesus speak that would have ever expected Jesus to choose a Samaritan as the hero of the story. I want you to notice something. The priest, Levite, and Samaritan all “saw” the man. It’s the same Greek word used to describe what each of them did, but the outcome was radically different. The priest and Levite saw the man, turned a blind eye, and went on their way. The Samaritan man saw the man lying in the road, but he had “?????????????” (splagchnizomai), he had compassion. The NIV says, “he took pity on him,” but I think our word “compassion” better represents what Jesus is teaching.
Pity is a strong feeling, but compassion goes beyond merely feeling sorry for someone. Vocabulary.com says, “If someone shows kindness, caring, and a willingness to help others, they’re showing compassion.” Pity enabled the priest and Levite to feel for the man who had been beaten, stripped naked, and left for dead, but it was compassion that moved the Samaritan man to do something. This powerful Greek word for “compassion” is used to describe Jesus over and over again in the Gospels. In Matthew 14:14 we read,
14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:14 NIVO)
In Matthew 15, the crowds had been following Jesus for three days when He recognized they were tired and hungry. Jesus told His disciples, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.” (Matthew 15:32 NIVO) Jesus asked His disciples what they had to feed the people? Seven loaves and a few small fish was all. It is amazing what can happen, with our limited resources, when we are filled with compassion for others.
The Samaritan man had compassion for the man who was on death’s door so he did something about it. He wasn’t a doctor, but he used what he had and bandaged the man’s wounds. He poured on oil and wine to soothe the man’s wounds. He loaded him on his own donkey and walked it to the inn. He paid the man two silver coins, two days wages and then told the innkeeper, “Look after him,” he said, “and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.” Bible teachers debate whether the two silver coins would cover two weeks or two months of care at the inn, but more important to me is the fact that this stranger was moved with compassion. Jesus turned to the lawyer and asked,
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37 NIVO)
“Go and do likewise.” Those words weren’t simply spoken to the expert in the law, they are spoken to every man, woman, boy, and girl who wants to follow Jesus. Jesus raised the bar far, far beyond the commandment of Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34) Yet, like the lawyer, we want to ask, “Who is my neighbor?” so we can continue to love and care only for those we want to love and care for. Those early followers of Jesus took this parable to heart and they set out to love their neighbors, not those who attended their church, not just those in their family or circle of friends, but all of those who were hurting, suffering, marginalized, and in need.
Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire in 313 A.D. Within a generation, Constantine’s nephew, Julian, used all his power to resurrect paganism. He organize a pagan priesthood and used the courts to deny Christians the rights they had gained under Constantine’s rule. He succeeded in many ways, but there was one obstacle he couldn’t seem to overcome and it drove him crazy: Christian charity. He vented about his frustration in a letter he wrote to a pagan priest named Arsacius. Julian wrote,
‘Atheism’ [i.e. the Christian faith!] has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them. (Julian the Apostate)
Those early followers of Jesus, not yet four hundred years after Jesus died for them, loved their neighbors. Their care, concern, and compassion wasn’t limited to those who attended the same church or were part of their family. They didn’t spend their time trying to decipher who was and who wasn’t their neighbor. Instead, they put all of their effort into being a neighbor to anyone the Lord brought their way.
“Who is my neighbor?” My neighbor is the one God places in my path who is in need. My neighbor is the one God places in my path who is lonely. My neighbor is the one God places in my path who is lost. My neighbor is the one God places in my path who is broken and scared by a broken and scary world. My neighbor is the one God places in my path who can’t come up with one single reason to continue to live. It’s not enough to have pity for these God places in my path, I must be moved with compassion to the point where I am willing, like the Samaritan, to do something. I must be willing to be inconvenienced. I must be willing to sacrifice my time, my money, my heart to be a neighbor. I must be willing to step outside of my comfort zone, outside of my realm of expertise, outside of myself. The question is not who is my neighbor, but am I willing to be a neighbor? I was moved this past week when I read something Robert Murray McCheyne wrote in 1847. McCheyne, speaking to his congregation, said,
I fear there are some Christians among you to whom Christ cannot say ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.’ Your haughty dwelling arises in the midst of thousands who have scarce a fire to warm themselves and have but little clothing to keep out the biting frost, and yet you never darken their door. You heave a sigh perhaps at a distance, but you do not visit them. Ah my dear friends, I am concerned for the poor, but more for you. I know not what Christ will say to you on the great day. You seem to be Christians, and yet you care not for his poor… And I fear that there may be many hearing me who may know well that they are not Christians, because they do not love to give. To give largely and liberally, not grudging at all, requires a new heart. An old heart would rather part with its life-blood than its money. Oh my friends, enjoy your money. Make the most of it. Give none of it away. Enjoy it quickly, for I can tell you, you will be beggars throughout eternity. (Robert Murray McCheyne, Works. New York, 1847.)
What we are talking about, in talking about being a neighbor, is not “works righteousness.” Nobody can earn their way into heaven. What we are talking about is being mindful of the One who is the greatest of the Good Samaritans, Jesus Himself. You see, the truth is, none of us has it within us to be the kind of neighbor Jesus requires. We just can’t, we won’t. But, for those who see themselves as the man beaten down by life, by our own sin, and left for dead, but rescued by Jesus, the Good Samaritan, we will never forget. Even more, we will be filled with compassion for those who are still laying on that road and we will see them and be moved by compassion to act. Pastor Spurgeon wrote,
What the Samaritan gave to the poor man was generous, but it is not comparable to what the Lord Jesus has given to us. He gave him wine and oil, but Jesus has given His heart’s blood to heal our wounds, “He loved us and gave himself for us.” The Samaritan lent himself with all his care and thoughtfulness, but Christ gave Himself even to the death for us. The Samaritan gave two pence, a large amount out of his slender store, and I do not depreciate the gift, but “He that was rich for our sakes became poor that we through his poverty might be rich.” Oh, the marvelous gifts which Christ has bestowed upon us! (Spurgeon, Charles. The Good Samaritan. June 17, 1877)
He who has been the best of Samaritans to us calls us to be a neighbor to others–all others that He leads our way. To be a neighbor is the overflow of grace my friends. Grace poured in flows out into the lives of those who are hurting and in need of our Savior’s love. Won’t you hear His call this morning? Won’t you hear the teaching of this parable, won’t you see the hurting, listen to their cries, and follow Jesus to them?
January 6, 2019