Summary: A familiar parable that goes deeply into the heart of Christian service.
Reach Out and Touch Someone
A lawyer once came to Jesus, in order to put the master to the test. Now, he asked some tough questions—good questions, that many of his own people were struggling with: what do I do to inherit eternal life? was the first question on his mind. We can only speculate what his motivations were—but, Luke has already let us know, he had more on his mind that going to heaven. Perhaps he was wanting to show Jesus up—to make himself look good to the crowds. Maybe he had even rehearsed the whole thing in his mind before he came to the rabbi from Nazareth; you know—he’d ask a question; Jesus would answer; then, he would throw Jesus a curve and win the game. Only, Jesus wouldn’t play the game fairly! Instead of answering the man, Jesus put the lawyer on the spot. “What does the Scripture say, how do you understand it?” Immediately, the expert in the law answers—he doesn’t want to appear stupid. After all—anyone raised in Judaism knew the answer: “Love the Lord your God . . . love your neighbor as yourself.” I can see the smile on Jesus’ face as he responds: “Good answer: do that, and you’ll live.”
Suddenly, the man’s well-laid trap is sprung right before his eyes! It didn’t work out at all like he planned. The lawyer has been likened to a school boy, who’s allowed to make up his own test, and then proceeds to flunk it. His mind races—he can’t be shown up like this; how could he justify asking such a simple question? How is he going to save face? Quickly, he decides to ask another question: “Well, then, who is my neighbor?” Another good question, one that would clearly interest the crowd. Only problem, like the first question, it’s good, it’s just the wrong question: The lawyer’s very question condemned him. “Who is my neighbor?” is a wrong question because it is a selfish question. The right question would have been, “Am I a neighbor?” The lawyer looked for limits to his obligation to love (Stagg, Luke, 79).
But, now, he’s certain he’s got Jesus. Now, he’s ready for debate. Only Jesus doesn’t debate him at all. Jesus doesn’t offer any philosophical rambling. He simply tells a story—one of the simplest, yet profound stories in all of literature: the story of the good Samaritan.
You know the story well. A man is on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho (it really is going “down” you know, a drop from twenty-five hundred feet above sea level to eight hundred feet below sea level, in only seventeen miles—that’s quite an incline). On the way, a group of thieves waylay him—beat him, strip him, and leave him for dead. After while, a priest, on his way home from Jericho, strolls by (how the beaten man’s heart must have leaped with hope)—and proceeds to walk on by on the other side of the road. Next, a Levite, a sort of “associate pastor” makes his way past the man, and then, he too goes away without helping. Finally, a Samaritan, a no-good half-breed comes by (I can almost hear the “boos” from the crowd). He doesn’t go away, though—instead, he reaches down to help the man, going beyond expectations to take care of him and give him shelter.