Summary: The parable of the Good Samaritan surprises - it’s not what you’d expect, as a picture of Christianity - but it works.
Luke 10:25-37 WHAT DOES CHRISTIANITY LOOK LIKE?
Have you ever been surprised when you have met someone in person, surprised by the way that person looked? During the fair, the local radio station personalities are there, and you’re able to see what they look like. And almost always, you’ll hear someone say, “That’s not how I pictured that radio announcer. He looks different.” This past week at the fair, we had a booth, and at times, I would introduce myself to different people. And more than once, people would say to me, “You’re not what I picture a minister would look like.” People have pictures in their minds, pictures of radio talk show hosts, pictures of ministers. And very often, those pictures aren’t accurate.
What about Christianity? What is Christianity supposed to look like? Very often, people have pictures of Christianity in their minds, and those pictures aren’t accurate. Some picture Christianity as a nice person who doesn’t really go to church. Just niceness. But that’s not Christianity. Some picture Christianity as someone who goes to church every Sunday, but he’s very stern and mean and strict. That’s not Christianity either. And then there’s the picture of the sweaty guy in the suit on TV, almost out of breath as he preaches his sermon, asking you to send him money – but that’s not an accurate picture of Christianity either.
What is Christianity supposed to look like? What does a Christian look like? Jesus met a person who basically had the same question. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” the man asked Jesus. He was an expert in all the Jewish laws of the land. He was testing Jesus – he wanted to see what Jesus would say. We’ll call him the “lawyer” as we talk about him. Can you see how he pictured of someone going to heaven? He asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life” – his picture of Christianity was very similar to how people picture Christianity today – it’s a religion of doing things. You gotta do something, and if you do all the right things enough, then you’ll earn eternal life. That’s a false picture of Christianity.
Jesus could see that this man didn’t understand how to get to heaven. And so Jesus decided to let the man talk. “What is written in the law,” Jesus asked the lawyer. And the lawyer answered, “Love the Lord your God with all our heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” The expert in the law quoted the two main summaries of God’s law – love God, and love your neighbor. And look at the high standards in God’s law – Love God with ALL your heart and soul, and love God with ALL your strength and mind. Notice how God’s law didn’t say, “Love God most of the time, or just try hard and God will be happy, or do the best you can.” God’s law demanded total and complete, 100%, 24-7 devotion, to God, and to other people.
Jesus said to the man, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.” In other words, if this is your picture of Christianity, then go for it. Obviously, Jesus knew that this lawyer could never measure up to God’s standards. Nobody could. And deep down, the lawyer knew that too. That’s why it says here that he wanted to “justify himself.” And so Jesus asked the question, “And who is my neighbor?” In other words, “I don’t have to be nice to everybody, do I? I mean, that’s unrealistic, isn’t it? Who do I have to be nice to?” What the lawyer really wanted to know, is,what does Christianity look like?
And that’s when Jesus tells the famous parable of the Good Samaritan. There once was a man, probably Jewish, traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. It was a windy, mountainous path, well-known for thieves and robbers. Sure enough, this man was robbed. He was stripped of his clothes, he was beaten, and he was left half dead in the ditch. Then a Jewish priest came walking down the path. Now of all the people who were considered “good” by the Jews, a Jewish priest was considered to be one of the best. Certainly someday he would have a very high place in heaven, because of his life of good works in the temple. But look at what the priest does – Jesus describes how he crosses over to the other side of the road to avoid the man in the ditch, and keeps on walking.
Can you relate to that priest? Why would he do that? Maybe he was in a hurry, and he didn’t want to miss an appointment. Or maybe he didn’t want to get involved – it would be an unpleasant mess to help that man in the ditch. Maybe he figured, “I did enough good deeds for today at the temple. I’m all ‘good deeded out’.” Maybe he jumped to the conclusion that this man in the ditch was a drunk, and deserved whatever he got. Or maybe, he thought, “This man in the ditch isn’t my responsibility. Someone else will help him.”