Then an expert in the law stood up to test him, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the law?” he asked him. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,” and “your neighbor as yourself.”
“You’ve answered correctly,” he told him. “Do this and you will live.”
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus took up the question and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him up, and fled, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down that road. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way, a Levite, when he arrived at the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion. He went over to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine. 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. When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend.’
“Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
“The one who showed mercy to him,” he said. (The good Jew could not even bring himself to say “the Samaritan”)
Then Jesus told him, “Go and do the same.”
The initial question was “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” We know that Jesus gives different people different answers.
You must be born again.
Sell everything you have and give it to the poor.
Believe in Him.
And in this case, Jesus says, “What is written in the law?” he asked him. “How do you read it?” He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,” and “your neighbor as yourself.” and Jesus says, “Good answer”. And the Jewish legal scholar asks another question.
The purpose of Jesus’ parable was to answer the second question – who is my neighbor? It did not take a Jewish legal scholar to figure out which one was being a loving neighbor. And Jesus told the Jewish legal scholar to go be a loving neighbor to everyone – obviously including people you despise and people who despise you. This is the plain and simple explanation of this parable – to teach us the necessity of actively obeying the second great commandment to love our neighbor.
Yet, as in all Scripture, the more we study it, the more God may reveal. There is often a depth that eludes a plain and simple philosophy.
For example – I just preached on this Scripture in February – the point the Lord gave me then was why the Samaritan helped. Do you remember why I said he helped? Because He knew what it was like to be looked down upon. He knew what it was like to be beaten up.
Here is a rather lengthy take from German priest and theologian Martin Luther, who lived in the 1500’s and has a sermon on the Good Samaritan. Luther and many others have the general view that
“The certain man” is Adam as the head and representative of the human race. The “going down from Jerusalem to Jericho” is emblematic of going out of the Paradise of the garden into a world of thorns and briars, his “falling among thieves” represents the malignant powers of hell, who assaults humanity and makes us sinners, robbing humanity of our birthright, the “being stripped” is the removal of our original innocence, his “wounded” state shows the work of sin upon man, “leaving him half dead” exemplifies the fact that Adam did not die in body the day in which he sinned, but had the sentence of death pronnounced against him, making him “half dead”.
The priest and levite stood for the religious and patriarchal leaders which themselves could do nothing to reconcile man to God “for it was not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sin” Hebrews 10:4 – they were but a reminder of sin Hebrews 10:3 says.
But what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, was at length effected by Him who the Jews called “a Samaritan” – Jesus the Messiah. Jesus Himself journeyed from heaven to earth as the great physician, having oil and wine. The wine of his purifying blood, and the oil of his annointing grace, which healeth all our infirmities.
He set him on his own beast, because of our inability to move in the direction of salvation without the hand of/leading of God. The ministry is the host, the two pence in the Old and New Testament.
Martin Luther King, Jr. also preached on this. He said Jesus told the parable for one purpose only and we are not to take it as the entirety of our social responsibility. He said to do so makes it a parable with too many shortcomings describing true neighborliness. MLK says we have no idea what important works the priest and the levite may have been on their way to do.
It is quite probable the Levite was on his way to Jericho to make a survey of crime in the vicinity, and perhaps the priest was en route to Jerusalem to serve on the National Committee for the Improvement of Public Highways. So by a slight stretch of the imagination, or at least for argument sake, quite an excellent case can be made for the priest and Levite. Before we completely condemn the Levite and the Priest we should consider this. But not only is it possible to elevate the roles of the Priest and Levite, it is also easy to see the shortcomings in the conduct of the Samaritan (a) There is no suggestion that the Samaritan sough to investigate the lack of police protection on the Jericho Road Nor did he appeal to any public officials to set out after the robbers and clean up the Jericho road. Here was the weakness of the good Samaritan. He was concerned merely with temporary relief, not with thorough reconstruction. He sought to sooth the effects of evil, without going back to uproot the causes. Now, without a doubt Christian social responsibility includes the sort of thing the good Samaritan did. So we give to the the Red Cross, to all types of unfortunate conditions. In the midst of such staggering and appalling conditions we cannot afford to “pass by on the other side ”. Like the good Samaritan we must always stand ready to descend to the depth of human need. The person who fails to look with compassion upon the thousands of individuals left wounded by life’s many roadsides is not only unethical, but ungodly. Every Christian must play the good Samantan. But there is another aspect of Christian social responsibility which is just as compelling. It seeks to tear down unjust conditions and build anew instead of patching things up. It seeks to clear the Jericho road of its robbers as well as caring for the victims of robbery.
So giving you the previous two great takes on the parable of the Good Samaritan, and sticking with the theme of going deeper – I want to explore with you my own new thought. When asked who we are in story, the question is always – are you the priest/levite or the Good Samaritan.
Go with me on a journey to explore another option.
I have the Roomba set to run one night early in the week and an early morning late in the week. This morning was the early morning it runs. I walked toward my office about 6:30 and wouldn’t you know it, there was the Roomba out in the hallway where it was not supposed to be. On Tuesday I blogged about it getting lost in the hall and me having to carry it back to the base. Here it is Friday right back in the hall. One could make the argument that it was my fault it was out there because I left the door open, that the Roomba was only doing what it does: wander around finding openings to move through and clean. And this time it could have ended up worse for the Roomba. It could have tumbled down the steps.
I want to touch on this idea of the Roomba simply doing what it does and parlay that into a message on the plight of humanity, and ask ourselves if it is possible that in the story we might be the robber.
The design of the Roomba – it’s nature, if you will, is to move around sweeping the carpet. It goes wherever it can. It will get tangles in wires, fall down steps, go through doors wandering so far from the base that the battery goes dead and you can find it anywhere. That’s what it does.
While it may not seem fair, when we are born, our own “do what we do” – our natural tendency, if you will, is to commit sin. Why God allows it, how He cures it, or even if there is a God are not the issues at hand in this early point in the conversation. We can call it sin or wrongs or mistakes or whatever we like. We can minimize them, we can compare them to the dastardly things the worst of those in our society do, and tell ourselves that overall we are good, but surely we can all agree that each of us have done and continue to do things that are wrong. I do not feel like I have to spend a lot of time on this. Do you agree that you are not perfect, that you have done and do things you know you should not do?
We do not have to be taught how to do things wrong. If we grew up alone, we would still sin. Our surroundings certainly help decide which things we do wrong. Just as the Roomba moves through any open door, so do we. Some of our wrongs are committed because the opportunity is there.
One of my favorite studies on the idea that we do not have to be taught to do wrong comes from a 60 minutes or 60 minutes type show where they had little kids and they hid a figure under one of three cups. The kid and the kid’s friend saw where the figure was. When the friend left the room, the adult moved the figure to under one of the other cups. The kid still in the room was asked where the friend would think the figure was when the friend came back in the room. At 4 years old, the kid who remained in the room always said the friend would think the figure was under the new cup. The 4 year old did not understand that they knew things that their friend did not know. Then they did the experiment with a 6 or 7 year old. The kid who stayed in the room said, I know it is under this new cup, but my friend will think it is still under the original cup. Somewhere along the way, as the child gets older and they understand they know things that others do not know, they instinctively begin to lie. And so a life of lying begins – a life of deceit. It gets kids grounded, ruins marriages, costs people jobs, devolves into porn and gambling addictions, substance abuse. And lying is just the tip of the iceberg.
Like the robber in the story, we do our wrong and then run away from it. And we act as if justice is served if we simply do more good than we do bad. Yet the Bible says when we do things wrong, when we sin, we alienate ourselves from God forever. The Bible also says no matter how many good things we do, it will not overcome the wrong we have done. We can never reconcile ourselves to God by the good things we do. The attacker/robber could have completely turned his life around and worked to help people the rest of his life, but what was done was done. The bad things, the mistakes, the wrongs – large or small – they are all still on our permanent record. I understand why people would not believe that. I agree that this does not seem fair because I am basically telling you what the Bible says – that we do not have a chance to not commit sin!
And the law shows us where we fail. I will grant you that on a moral chart, or immoral chart, likely none of you deserve to be considered the robber in this case. But on the “separated from God by sin” chart, we would all fit nicely in this part. And to admit this is the first step toward true redemption and reconciliation.
This is only Good News because God did intervene. And when we were helpless to help ourselves, at just the right time, God sent Jesus to pay the price for us on the cross and give us the opportunity through His sacrifice to reconcile us to Himself, covering our sins with the blood of Jesus, and casting them as far away from us as the east is from the west.
The good word for you and me today is while there are times in each of our lives that, like the Roomba and like the robber: we have strayed, we get stuck, we run out of juice, we feel lost, or we even feel like we are dirty, at just the right time God will pick us up, set our feet on solid ground, and when necessary even spit on his finger and wipe the dirt from our cheek. He is never far away.