It’s hard to believe this story is two thousand years old. And, every time you hear it or read it, it seems fresh again.
I think one of the things that we fail to remember when we study the gospel of Luke, he is a wonderful storyteller and he just knows how to tell a story. And this, of course, is one of his best.
And we can profit from this by just going into it in a little more detail.
First of all, if you notice, they’re all questions. The scholar, who is probably a scribe, he asks Jesus a question. Jesus doesn’t answer it, he asks a question in answer to it.
This is kind of a way of writing and speaking that certain cultures have.
And he says to Jesus, “Teacher,what must I do to inherit eternal life?”Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law?”He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
And then Jesus says to him, “You have answered your own question, and you have answered it correctly.”Then he says to him, “If you do this, you will live.”
And, of course, it’s hanging out there, “And if you don’t do it you will die.” Of course, he’s not talking about physical death, he’s talking about spiritual death.
If you love God with your whole heart and soul and mind, it will fill you with new life. It will open your heart to receive Him and, once He is in your heart, then you will have life itself.
The questioner wants to show that he really wanted to justify these questions, because both he and Jesus now know that he knows the answers to these questions.
And so he says to him, “Yes, but who is my neighbor?.”
And Jesus says, “You still don’t ask the right questions, so it’s very difficult to give you the best answers.”Because if you say, as he does, who is my neighbor, it means he wants Jesus to pick out the people deserving of his love.
Are we only talking about Jewish people here? but those outsiders, those foreigners, we’re not talking about them?
And what Jesus says?What he does is he tells him a story. And how does the story go? It’s the story of the Good Samaritan.
And Jesus talks to him and he says:
“A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.”
Now, that’s about a twenty-five mile walk from the city of Jericho up to the city of Jerusalem.
As you remember, Jesus is leading his disciples into the Holy City of Jerusalem where he will suffer and die. Who is the Good Samaritan then? Jesus is, he is talking about himself as a Samaritan.
Who is the victim then? It is a human going opposite way to Jesus!
So everything in Luke has a two- or three-layered meaning.
So it’s on this road which was known for bandits and thieves because some of the path was windy and it led through mountains that were four hundred feet tall and with twisty bends.
It was a dangerous place and probably everybody felt that this man who got waylaid in this area should have been travelling, with somebody else at least for protection! Anyhow, he fell victim to robbers and “They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.”
Here’s a man laying and, all of a sudden, a priest happens to be going down that road, but, when he saw him, he crossed the road and hurried on to the other side.
Where was he going? He was going to Jerusalem. And what was he going to do in Jerusalem?
He had to be in the temple and, if he thought the man was dead, if he touched him, just touched him, he wouldn’t be able to, for seven days, he would not be able to perform any of the ceremonies that the priest must perform.
So he had an excuse. He had a rationalization.
We know what rationalizations are. It’s always to figure out an excuse not to do what we really should do. We justify it to ourselves. Well, I have to serve the people, I have to do this, I have to do that. He walked on. Then a Levite came. Now a Levite is like a sacristan. It’s someone who works within the temple, and he helps the priest in carrying out and ensuring that everything is clean and orderly, and he is highly respected as well. He himself can touch the dead and not cause impurification. Now this is liturgical impurity. It’s not impurity of the heart or something like that.
But he’s kind of wondering, if he goes over and he touches this guy, who might or might not be dead, he doesn’t know what to do after that. What am I going to do with him?
Or he’s saying, maybe, as is the custom in that area, maybe he’s just been put out there by the robbers so that someone else will come, an innocent person, and they will be able to waylay him while he’s doing this task. So he crosses over and goes away as well.
Then, Luke tells us, a Samaritan traveler comes!
He is from the north , and he is traveling in heavily Jewish territory, sacred territory as well, and so he would have to watch his step because there was deep hatred between Jews and Samaritans .
Now he comes along and then Jesus says he “was moved with compassion.” Let us remember Jesus is talking about himself!
This is a very important word compassion. Not just compassion, it’s mercy. It is a pain and discomfort on the inside when you want to reach out and heal someone who is suffering so that you both suffer. Now we say that when God shows His mercy, it is God reaching out, seeing our pain, experiencing it as Jesus does on the cross, and wanting to heal it.
It’s a very deep kind of feeling. And what does he do?
He goes over to him, he comes to the suffering human. He wraps his arms around him. He puts oil on his wounds, he cleans him, and then he picks him up and puts him on his own horse and he takes him to an inn, God knows how far away.
And he stays with him all night long. And he’s awake all night long caring for him. And in the morning he says to the innkeeper, who probably knew him from previous journeys, he says, “Now you take very good care of this man. And I give you these two pieces of silver. And I’ll be back on the same road and, when I come back, if he has spent more or you have spent more, then you can tell me what that is and I’ll repay that as well.”
This is very remarkable. Why? Because his heart goes out to this man.
Is he Jewish? Is he not Jewish? Is he a Samaritan? It doesn’t matter.
It matters that his heart touches this man’s tragedy and that’s the only thing that matters.
He’s a carer: one who cares. A carer is somebody who doesn’t say, “Ooh, I think I’m going to do a good deed and be kind to somebody.” The carer means in his heart he cares.
We think of God as our carer. He cares for us. Caring is not just loving us. Caring is going out of His way to help us and heal us and make us feel, once again, joyful and belonging and happy.
And so then Jesus turns to the questioner.
The original question was, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”And Jesus is saying nobody inherits eternal life. It’s a gift. You don’t earn it. You don’t do things to get it. It’s a gift of God. All you have to do is open your heart and you have it. For the loving is in the living, and the living is in the loving, and there is no separation.
And it’s gift for gift: God’s gift to us and our gift of ourselves to Him.
And that’s the beginning of eternal life. So Jesus is saying, “You already have it.”
Jesus says: “The question is not ‘Who is my neighbor? but “Who was neighbor to the victim?”
This is not a question of deciding who is worthy to be assisted by me, but it’s an attitude which says all human beings deserve my attention, for they are all children of God and, when in need, I reach out to them. And I reach out to them, because, when I reach out to them, I touch God Himself. This is the meaning of the Good Samaritan story.
The man is right. He says the one who shows mercy is the one who shows compassion, the one who shows he cares, the one who reaches out to heal and help.
And, of course, he’s describing Jesus himself. Because that is why Jesus has come: that he might become the Good Shepherd and he might be also the Good Samaritan.
That is why he asks us, as we walk towards eternal Jerusalem, that we are to be Good Samaritans, because we are one with him and he is one with us.