Summary: Jesus sees us in our plight, naked and left for dead by the ravishes of sin in our lives. He picks us up, binds us, anoints us, and takes us to a place of safety.
THE NEIGHBOURLY KINDNESS OF THE HATED SAMARITAN
This well-known parable is best understood within the framework of the question-and-answer narrative between “a certain lawyer” (an expert in the Scripture), and Jesus (Luke 10:25). The motives of the would-be student may well be suspect: he stood up, as a scholar might do to respectfully address a teacher, but seems to have desired to tempt Jesus to say something wrong. This becomes clearer later, after the first round of questions, when he gets his hackles up “willing to justify himself” (Luke 10:29).
The first question of the lawyer is also coming at Jesus from a presumptuous basis, not unusual for mankind: “What shall I DO to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). An heir does not have to DO anything to deserve his inheritance: it is his birth-right. We do not do good in order to become Christians; rather we become Christians by being declared righteous in God’s sight through the blood of Jesus (Romans 5:9), and being born anew of the Spirit of God (John 3:5).
As a good teacher, Jesus turned the question back upon the impertinent questioner. In effect he turned the lawyer back to the Law, the expert in the Scripture back to the Scriptures: “How do you read it?” Jesus asked (Luke 10:26). This is a good method, forcing the Bible scholar back to the basics of the Bible.
This debate was ongoing among the Rabbis, and each had his treasured formula. The lawyer (Luke 10:27) directs us to the love of God first (Deuteronomy 6:5), and the love of neighbour second (Leviticus 19:18), as Jesus Himself also taught (cf. Matthew 22:37-40; Mark 12:30-31). “This do and you shall live,” answered Jesus (Luke 10:28).
Yet, who can do it? Wishing “to JUSTIFY HIMSELF,” the lawyer posed the second question: “Who is my neighbour?” (Luke 10:29). This is where Jesus inserts the parable of the neighbourly kindness of the hated Samaritan (as I have called it). A man was travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, winding up naked and half-dead on the roadside (Luke 10:30).
Jericho was a city designated to the priestly clans, so it is not surprising that the next person who ‘happened’ along that road was a priest – but instead of showing pastoral compassion, he passed by on the other side. Likewise, a Levite - who served a secondary function in the Temple - following the example of his superior, also passed by on the other side (Luke 10:31-32). Now if you know how jokes go, the punchline would be expected to be that the third person was a Temple lay-worker.
However, the punchline was a cultural shocker: the third person was a Samaritan, and Jews had no truck with Samaritans (cf. John 4:9)! Had Jesus already forgotten how shamefully a certain Samaritan village had treated Him (Luke 9:53)? Yet we must not profile the members of a particular group as if they were all the same as each other.
This stranger had compassion, tended the unfortunate victim’s wounds, put him on his own beast, and took him down to the inn in Jericho (Luke 10:33-34). A Samaritan, of all people, came into Jericho, with a wounded man – presumably a Jew – on his beast: this sounds like a prelude to a lynching, but there is still no doubt that the Samaritan did right. The kind man pays the innkeeper, and promises to come back on his return journey to pay any further expenses which the innkeeper might incur in looking after - and clothing - the victim (Luke 10:35).
The lawyer was obviously looking around to see the boundaries of his own neighbourly obligations. To love our families is natural enough, and by definition to be neighbourly to those in our immediate community: but it is much harder to reach out to those who might feel an antipathy towards us, and we towards them. Yet this is what the hated Samaritan had done.
“Which of these three do you think was a good neighbour to the man who fell among thieves?” asked Jesus ((Luke 10:36). Sad to say, the lawyer could not bring himself even to admit ‘the Samaritan’, but merely generalised: “he that showed mercy on Him.” Jesus hammered the lesson home in terms of the debate which they had just had: “you go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).
Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, to die for the sins of His people. He sees us in our plight, naked and left for dead by the ravishes of sin in our lives. He knows that all our efforts to keep the law will ultimately fail (Romans 3:20).
He picks us up, binds us, anoints us, and takes us to a place of safety. There He pays the full cost of our sins. Jesus is the last person we would have expected to do this for us – but is that not one of the points of the parable?