Summary: People want to limit who their neighbors are; Jesus wants us to ask who we can be a neighbor to.
Rev. David Holwick
First Baptist Church
Ledgewood, New Jersey
THE GOOD SAMARITAN
I’m going to give you my version of the parable of the Good Samaritan.
A bum was walking along old Route 16 between West Lafayette and Coshocton. While he walked he stuck out his thumb hoping for a ride. After awhile, a Methodist minister cruised up. He saw the bum but kept on going. Shortly another car approached, driven by the Nazarene choir director. She slowed down and looked him over carefully, then changed lanes to avoid him. Then a red Honda CVC came by. The Baptist preacher felt pity for the bum but he was late for the Thursday night Bible study, so he stepped on the gas. Finally a station wagon saw the bum and pulled over. The driver got out and helped the bum in. She was a Jehovah’s Witness. She took him to Coshocton hospital and waited till he was treated, then she set him up at the downtown motel. She handed him five dollars for dinner and said, “This should tide you over for a while. If you need anything else, just call this number. I’ll be back from the Kingdom Hall in an hour and a half.”
Which of these four people was a neighbor to the bum? “Go and do likewise.” You go and live the same way. The parable of the Good Samaritan is pretty clear-cut which is why it is so well known. Unlike many parables, it is not supposed to teach you about Jesus or God. Instead, it’s what is known as an example parable. It’s supposed to teach you how to live.
There are really two parts to our passage today. The first part deals with a Jewish lawyer. He wasn’t the kind of lawyer who sues people. He was more like a Bible college teacher. This lawyer asked Jesus a very important question in verse 25:
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
That’s a great question but his motives were lousy. It says he was trying to tempt Jesus. This means he was trying to trip Jesus up. In verse 26 Jesus turns it around. “You’re the expert – what does the Old Testament say?” The lawyer immediately quotes two passages. First Deuteronomy 6:5 –
“Love God with all your heat, soul, strength and mind.”
The second comes from Leviticus 19:18 –
“Love your neighbors as yourself.”
In verse 28 Jesus zeros in on the lawyer’s real problem. In effect he says; “You know what eternal life is all about – Now go and practice what you preach.”
Lawyers have always seemed to prefer technicalities instead of ethics and this one was no different. If Leviticus 19:18 says we have to love our neighbors, then the concept of a neighbor has to be clarified. What are the limits? Just who is my neighbor? The Jews spent a lot of time discussing this and they usually decided other Jews could be considered neighbors. Gentiles, on the other hand, were not.
Let’s say a wall collapsed on some person on the Sabbath. It was permitted for Jews to clear away enough rubble to find out whether the person was a Jew or a Gentile. If he was a Jew you could rescue him but if he was a Gentile you had to leave him.
Jesus gives his definition of a neighbor in the parable. The parable is about a man who gets mugged on the way to Jericho. This is a very realistic detail because the road winds and dips through rugged territory. Up until the 1930’s it was plagued by robbers. As the man lay unconscious, various people walked by. The first one was a priest. He would have a couple reasons to avoid the man. For one thing, he might be afraid of an ambush. For another, if the man was dead then the priest would be ceremonially defiled. Basically he just had a hard heart. So he passed by on the other side. The next man was a Levite. A Levite was a religious person but not as high as a priest. For whatever reason, he also passed by. This brings us to the third person. The Jewish audience listening to Jesus probably expected a layman to come by. They liked stories where ordinary people showed up the religious hotshots. But someone far from ordinary showed up, a Samaritan. We miss the impact of this because most people know nothing about Samaritans except this parable. Our attitude is typified by the Good Sam Club. This club of RV-ers helps out people who are stranded on highways. Their club bumper sticker shows a smiling man with a halo.
Samaritans had a completely different image in Jesus’ day. The Jews hated the Samaritans and the feeling was mutual. The Samaritans were remnants of what we call the 10 Lost Tribes of Israel. Seven hundred years previously the Assyrians wiped out Northern Israel and sent most of the people far away. A few poor Jews were left in the land. Eventually the Assyrians moved other nationalities in and they inter-married with the Jews. Because of this the Southern Jews always considered Samaritans to be half-breeds.