Summary: Are you a good Samaritan? We might try to help other people, but is that really what Jesus was trying to teach when he told the story about the good Samaritan? Look to what leads up to this parable and see how Jesus' story is so much more than just a lesson teaching us to help other people.
“Help other people.” When did you learn that lesson? That is one of the very basic lessons that we normally learn at a very early age. Someone drops something, you pick it up. Someone falls down on the playground, you help them up. If there is someone who is need, you share what you have been given with them. Hep other people. But if that’s the only lesson that we take away from the parable or the story of the Good Samaritan that Jesus told, I think that we’re missing something. In fact, if that’s the only point of Jesus’ parable, this could possibly be the shortest sermon I’ve ever preached, something like, “Go and help other people. Amen.” As appealing as a really short sermon might be, if that’s all that we take away from this account of the Good Samaritan, I think that we’re missing what is at the core and heart of this account. To get the full benefit of this story that Jesus told, I think that you need to back up and listen carefully to the conversation that took place leading up to this parable.
There was a man who approached Jesus. The man is identified as, “an expert in the law” (Luke 10:25). This man was recognized as a Bible scholar, someone who had thoroughly studied the Old Testament law of Moses in the books of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy and knew it well. He would have been one of those people that others went to when they had questions about what they were supposed to do in certain situations. This “expert in the law” walked up to Jesus and what did he intend to do? Well, his initial intention was, “to test Jesus” (Luke 10:25). He wanted to put Jesus on the hot seat and see how Jesus answered his carefully crafted question. So the man asked Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). It is not an extremely profound question, but it is a question that every person must wrestle with, and that every world religion attempts to answer on some level. So, what would Jesus’ answer be? But did you notice how this “expert in the law” begins with a faulty premise? Where does he put responsibility for inheriting heaven? “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). He sees it as HIS responsibility to gain to heaven, something that HE must do.
To those who try to depend on themselves to enter heaven, Jesus asks a very simple question, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” (Luke 10:26). Jesus points the “expert in the law” back to what he was supposed to be in expert in. Jesus points him back to the Bible and what he had learned from studying it. He quickly responds by quoting the Old Testament, “’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). Jesus agrees with the man, “You have answered correctly” (Luke 10:28), but then adds, “Do this and your will live” (Luke 10:28).
Now who was sitting on the hot seat? Suddenly the expert in the law found himself in the hot seat. If this man thought he could gain heaven on his own, what would it require him doing? Jesus says, “Do this and you will live” (Luke 10:28). Simple isn’t it? Sure it is. What God demands for people to receive heaven is not complex. It’s simple. Just love God at all times, not just with your words and actions, but with your whole being! Pure motives and selfless attitude. And then love the people around you perfectly, never an angry word, no eyerolling or pursed lips, never a sexual thought towards someone who is not your spouse, always be patient with your kids and generous with your money. “Do this and you will live” (Luke 10:28) Jesus says. Simple? Yes. Scary? Absolutely! Don’t these words of Jesus make you feel a bit uncomfortable? Like that nightmare of standing the middle of the crowd of people wearing only your underwear, the message of God’s law strips away any of those things that we might try to hide behind or hold up as making us right with God and worthy of to inherit eternal life. When we hear, “Do this and you will live” we realize that there is no hope of inheriting eternal life if it depends on us, and what we have done. We cannot love God completely! We cannot love our neighbor perfectly!
But the “expert in the law” wasn’t going to give up. He still hoped to find some way of justifying himself, of proving his worthiness before God, and so he asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). O how stubborn our sinful nature can be! The attempt to find loopholes in God’s commands, some excuse, some way of getting around what God demands of us. We can relate all to well to that “expert in the law.” We hear God tell us to hear his Word at every opportunity, and we respond, “Well, how often is often?” We hear God tell us to be content with what we have and we respond, “Well, how could anyone possibly be content with this little?” We are tempted to hold up our multi-generational Lutheran background, or the amount of time or money that we give to church as something that should make us worthy before God. But dear friends, an honest looking into the law of God leaves no loopholes, no reasons to claim that we are worthy of God’s approval, and that’s what Jesus’ parable was intended to show this man and us.