Summary: To whom should i be a neigbour?
Luke 10.25-37 The Good Samaritan
We often say of someone “they are a good Samaritan.” We have ‘The Samaritans’ who help people in crisis find a listening ear. The term ‘good Samaritan’ has become part and parcel of our everyday vocabulary. No doubt we all know the parable but I am also quite certain that we see it as a lesson about ‘who is my neighbour?’ but this morning I want to help us all to gain a fresh understanding and perspective on this parable. Turn with me to Luke 10 verses 25-37.
The context is important as always. Luke sites the parable between Jesus sending out the 72 disciples and his visit to the home of Mary and Martha. The parable is an extension of the teaching about being a servant of Christ. We read in verse 25 that an ‘expert in the Law’ asks a question of Jesus. If you look at the text it tells us that he stood up to ask his question. Traditionally a Rabbi (or ‘Teacher’ as Luke refers to Christ), sat and his students stood round him to learn of him. We could believe that this expert in the Law was showing respect to Jesus by standing to ask his question but we would in fact be being deceived by him. Like a humble student he is standing, as if he wants to learn, but we know from Luke that he is in fact trying to ‘test’ Jesus. We should note also his question – ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ The natural question of a religious lawyer would have been ‘what must I do to obey God?’ Let me pause there for a moment and ask you to consider this man’s question. What can any of do to inherit eternal life? An inheritance by its very nature is a gift. You do not earn an inheritance and it is not a payment for services rendered. The lawyer here would have known that perfectly well.
Verse 26 – Jesus does not directly answer the question but asks two questions of his own. What does the Law teach…how do you read it? The lawyer replies by summarising the Law – love God and love your neighbour. This summary comes from Deuteronomy 6.5 and Leviticus 19.18. Jesus responds to his answer by telling him to live up to his own teaching. Show unqualified love to God and to your neighbour and you will inherit eternal life. The problem for this man is that the standard is ‘unqualified love’ of God and neighbour and as St Paul says in Romans 7.13-20 the problem is not the Law, the problem is we cannot keep it. This expert in the law knew he could never maintain the standard of unqualified love for God and for his neighbour.
Verse 29 but still this Lawyer is not finished. He now wants a definition of ‘neighbour.’ Look at what the text says ‘he wanted to justify himself.’ In the Bible the word to be ‘justified’ is to be saved and to be saved is to have eternal life. To be justified is to be granted acceptance before God by God. Yet this man seeks to justify himself – to save himself. He wants to achieve salvation, acceptance before God, by his own deeds – a futile pursuit. So he asks Jesus “who is my neighbour?” He, and those listening, are about to be rudely awakened by what Jesus says next.
When we look closely at the parable of the Good Samaritan we can see that there are 7 scenes within the story – 7 being the perfect number within Scripture.
Scene 1 The robbers steal and injure the man.
Scene 2 Priest sees and does nothing
Scene 3 a Levite sees and does nothing
Scene 4 The Samaritan sees and shows compassion
Scene 5 Treats the wounds (the Levites failure)
Scene 6 Transports the man (the Priests failure)
Scene 7 Spends money on him (compensating for the robbers)
The Temple in Jerusalem was served by three sets of people – the Priests, the Levites and the Laymen who helped in various aspects of Temple life. Each priest (and his attending Levite) would do two weeks in Jerusalem serving at the Temple each year. Many of the priests lived in Jericho and would make that journey to Jerusalem for their two week duty service in the Temple. So the priest travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho would have been a familiar sight to those listening to Christ. Priests were a hereditary guild and generally quite wealthy. It is doubtful if a priest would have been walking the 17 miles from Jerusalem to Jericho. Most likely he was riding on a donkey and he could quite easily have stopped and transported this injured man to a place of safety and healing. But you see he had a problem. The wounded man lying beside the road was stripped naked and was unconscious. He couldn’t tell if he was a fellow Jew or not. Under the Law if he was a Jew he was obliged to help but he couldn’t tell if he was a fellow Jew or not. If he was dead and he came near, or touched him, he would be unclean and would be required to go back to Jerusalem to go through a week of ceremonial cleansing rituals and rites. Meanwhile he would be unable to eat from the tithes or to even collect them. The poor priest was in a dilemma, so he passed on by.