Summary: A message that uses the parable of the Good Samaritan to explain the doctrine of Justification by Grace Through Faith.
Our Bible passage today is one of the most celebrated and renowned of our Lord's stories, the parable of the Good Samaritan. Well-known as it is, though, I believe it has a point that's easy to miss. Let's give it a close look, and see if you agree.
Our passage begins in Luke 10:25 when a lawyer asked Jesus, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" That's a big question. It's the question that religious people have always asked whenever the subject of eternal life has come up. However, it is built on the assumption that our deeds--the things we do or don't do--are the things in our lives that our most important to God. We believe that He most cares whether we DO the right things. Now, this is a most natural assumption to make because it's what WE care about the most. You may have all kinds of nasty thoughts in your mind, but as long as you don't say them, you can stay out of trouble. It's also what our law cares about. The reason for this is not hard to find. The law passes judgment on our actions because we can control them. The law tells us not to steal from the couple next door. It doesn't care if we obey because we like our neighbors, or because we're afraid of getting caught, or because we're too snobbish to want what our neighbor has anyway. We can't control our thoughts or our motives. Our law has the good sense not to require of us things we can't control.
This lawyer, of course, is concerned about God's law rather than human law. So the Lord asks him what he thinks God's law requres, and the maybe the guy was pretty sharp, for he says the same thing as Jesus: "You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself (see Matthew 22:37). But wait! There's a problem. Right at the heart of God's Law is the command to love, but love is one of those things that cannot be commanded. It's not what you do but why you do it. Someone can tell you to cover your mouth when you sneeze. You can do that because your actions are at least partly under the control of your will. The same thing applies when they tell you not to break into your neighbor's car and steal her purse, or not to say bad things about your boss. If you try, your will can control your hands and your tongue. However, the attitude you have toward your neighbor or your boss--what you think about him or her when nobody's around--that's just something that occupies your heart no matter what your will says. I believe that the Lord was giving this lawyer the opportunity to perceive the paradox contained in the command to love, I imagine Him smiling sadly and perhaps slightly emphasizing the "do" when he says, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live."
If that is the Lord's intention, though, the lawyer completely misses it. He's too interested in finding a loophole--"And who is my neighbor?" I guess the first part of the command was no challenge! In response, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. It begins as realistic fiction. A man traveling down the Jerusalem-Jericho road is waylaid by bandits and left for dead. If it were a freakish occurrence, it would be more likely to provoke pity. Sadly, though, we become numb even to life-threatening brutality if it happens routinely enough, and that road was notoriously dangerous. So when we hear of a priest. God's representative to the Jews, spying the victim and passing by on the other side, we do not need to think of him as some great hypocrite. Like anyone else, a priest probably wouldn't want to be a standing target in that place. Also, if he did stop to help and the victim recovered, then all would be well; however, if the victim died, then the priest would be unclean (because he touched a dead body) and would have to go into quarantine for several days. That would put a major crimp in his business, and if he did not have important business, he would not be on that road. Of course, all these observations apply to the Levite in the story as well.
Now our story turns into a fantasy tale. A Samaritan comes by and sees a half-dead Jew-Jews and Samaritans despised each other, by the way--lying on the ground. What happens? Our English Bible says, "he had compassion". A more literal translation of the Greek word would be, "his inward parts were moved." A good English paraphrase might be, "he felt it in his gut." Have you ever felt something in your gut? It's more than just thinking that you should help someone, isn't it? You don't decide what to do; you do it. (Read verses 34-35) Three things stand out to me about the way the Samaritan acts: