Summary: The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of Jesus' most familiar stories, and the way we usually hear that parable is as Jesus' way of getting us to ask ourselves, "Am I willing, when the circumstances arise, to be a Good Samaritan to other people?"
A man approached the gates of heaven and asked to be allowed to enter. Saint Peter asked, "Tell me one good thing you did in your life." The man said, "Well, I saw a group of punks harassing an elderly lady, so I ran up and kicked their leader in the shins." Peter asked, "When did this happen?" The man replied, "About 40 seconds ago."
I'm sure that at least a few of you were fans of the Seinfeld show. If so, you may remember the episode that aired at the end of the 1998 TV season. It received a lot of flak for being disappointing. Perhaps the reason so many were disappointed in the show is because it wasn't funny-in fact, it was self-deprecating. All of the characters receive a one year jail sentence for failing to help someone in need.
That episode could have been taking right out of Luke's Gospel reading for this morning. The story of the Good Samaritan is really a parable about the Mosaic Law and how it is to be understood and lived. We know God's Law-love God and our neighbor. The problem is, we sometimes want to debate the law and justify our lifestyles. We sometimes do not want to be confronted with the task of keeping the law. Acts of kindness which a man is bound to perform for his neighbor when in distress, he should perform for any person, of whatever nation, religion or kindred whom he finds in necessity.
The priest and the Levite were the most obliged to perform works of mercy and from whom a person in distress had a right to expect immediate help and comfort. Their conduct here was a breach of Mosaic Law. They were obligated to help because of the nature of their offices. Law is the knowledge of sin, NOT the cure. By comparing ourselves to the law, we see our own defects and are thus prepared to welcome a better righteousness than our own-that of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The lawyer in this Gospel reading wanted to show that he had kept the law. The Pharisees believed that only Jews were to be regarded as their neighbors-not the Gentiles. Christ says we are to treat EVERYONE as our neighbor. At the time of Luke's Gospel, the Samaritans and the Jews were enemies. The Samaritans were Jews who, after Israel had been defeated by the Babylonians, stayed behind and intermarried with the Assyrians, who were an abomination in the sight of the Jews. They even built their own temple on Mount Gerizim and refused to worship in Jerusalem. If you really wanted to insult a person 2,000 years ago, all you had to do was call him a Samaritan. That's why the Pharisee said to Jesus in John 8:48, "Do we not say rightly that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?"
If we are listening and surrender ourselves to the parable, chances are we will learn something new about God, ourselves...and our neighbor. What the Samaritan did in this parable shows us what we are to do friends and foes when they are in distress. This parable disarmed prejudice, fixed the attention, took the mind gently yet irresistibly, and prevented the possibility of objection.
Law-oriented faith has two flaws:
1. We can't keep God's law and win our way into heaven. The spiritual application here is that religion can't do a thing in the world for you. All religion can do is take you through a ceremony, take you through forms and formality.
2. Jesus shows us that a legalistic concept of religion leaves no room at all for other people, at least for treating them as our neighbors.
When we love others and show that love through our deeds, we show God's love.
Christ is a metaphor for the Samaritan in this parable. The phrase "as he journeyed" means putting himself in man's place and bearing the punishment for our sins. "Had compassion" refers to redemption accomplished through the love and compassion of Christ. "Went to him" means that Christ first seeks the sinner. "Bound his wounds" means that He gives us comfort. "Pouring in oil" refers to his pardoning mercy. Jesus, as the Samaritan, pays the bill and promises to come again. "Paying the bill" is a metaphor for Christ's death on the cross for our sins. "Promises to come again" refers to the Second Coming of Christ. The inn represents the church, where believers are cared for. "Two pence" refers to the sacraments of baptism and communion. True religion teaches us to regard everyone as our neighbor, prompts us to be good, to forget all national or sectional distinctions, and to help all those who are in circumstances of want and poverty. It preaches the need for tolerance.