The Good Samaritan: Unexpected love and compassion, Luke 10:25
There is an expert of the law in the crowd, and his purpose is to test Jesus (Luke 10:25), and justify (prove he was righteous) himself (29)
Jesus’ initial reply is by way of summing up Deuteronomy 6:4-8, and Leviticus 19:18 in saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heat and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” and “love your neighbour as yourself.”
In these words Jesus is pointing out that it is important to have the right attitude in all that we do. Anyone who is honest would admit that he does not spontaneously love God and his neighbour in this way, and therefore should never look to his or her own works as deserving of merit, but to God’s mercy. To operate in the power of the Lord we need to live out of His grace and mercy – not our own actions.
The Hebrew term for neighbour (reya) speaks of an associate and can refer to everyone in the community. In light of this the experts of the law had categorised who they would reach and who they would not reach. Gentiles and Samaritans would not even be on the list, despite Isaiah telling Israel that the temple was to be a house for all nations (Isaiah 56:7). Some of this wrong attitude – a picking and choosing who was to be helped, raised its head in the early church (Acts 6:1) for a short period of time.
In responding to the lawyer’s second question (who is my neighbour), Jesus didn’t directly answer the question because the issue is not “who is my neighbour,” as if life begins by picking who we choose to help. We are to be led by the Spirit (Rom 8:14) in all things, and one of the amazing ways that church reveals the love of Christ is that it is made up of people who are very different, and in the normal ways of the world would possibly never have got on!
Jesus came with the offer of life for all people. Contrast the attitude of the expert in law (testing Jesus, justifying himself and categorising whom he was going to reach out to), and the words spoken of the forth-coming Messiah by Isaiah: - “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord.” Isaiah 61:1-3
We are a community of believers who share an assignment from God to reach out to the lost in the strength and power of His Spirit, performing works that are well beyond our own limitations, and clearly point to a loving Father.
Some background information to the Parable
The seventeen-mile route alone the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was known locally as ‘the way of blood’, being a place where bandits often robbed travellers.
A traveller has been beaten up and left half-dead (literally at the point of death). In a community and culture where you were often identified by your accent and clothing, there was nothing that could be known about the man. He could even be an enemy.
However, there is something that we do know about this man. He was made in the image of God, and was someone’s father or son or brother etc.
Introducing a Priest.
In all probability the priest would have been riding a donkey since only the poor would walk through the desert. Therefore he had the means to help the victim, yet just passes on by. He was caught up with his own work, his own agenda and was not prepared to deviate from his path.
The priest had not seen what had happened to the traveller and had no way of knowing where the man came from. If he touched the man and found that he was already dead he would then have the inconvenience of being ceremonially unclean. The priest would have just finished his two week service at the Temple and if he became ceremonially unclean in touching a dead man he would need to go and stand with others at the eastern gate and go through purification.
The priest was a prisoner to his own rule book and may have seen life as little more than a list of do’s and don’ts. Despite knowing (through the sacrificial system) that God was gracious and merciful, he found it too inconvenient to stop and help another man made in the image of God. To live this way is to live a life that doesn’t have to be what it is: barren and devoid of the power of God.
In Jesus we see God’s willingness to get alongside people regardless of their background and regardless of how inconvenient it may have been for Him. For example, He endured the indignation of the crowd when he went to eat with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:2), and when he allowed a reformed prostitute to anoint his feet (Luke 7:39).
Introducing a Levite:
If you were going to travel along a dangerous route that was often inhabited by bandits, you’d usually get some information before commencing your journey. Who had recently come in from Jericho, who had recently left Jerusalem, and were there any others you could travel with? From this we understand that the Levite probably knew who had gone ahead of him, and like the priest, the Levite did nothing. Perhaps the Levite’s thinking was along the lines of, “well the priest hasn’t bothered with this person, so why should I?”, or “what if the robbers come back?”
We live in a world where there is a lot of suffering. We are a royal priesthood, 1 Pet 2:9 (empowered to receive from God and give out blessing), and a holy nation (called to reflect the character of Jesus (seen in amazing acts of compassion and mercy), yet like the Priest and the Levite, so many do little or nothing. In doing nothing we deny the power of God and contribute to the suffering of others. Jesus never lived this way and always reached out to others, no matter how inconvenient it may have been. For example, look at how He reached out to a Samaritan woman at the well in the heat of the day (John 4:6f). Then think of the inconvenience of not really finding yourself at home anywhere, despite the fact that everything actually belongs to you (Matthew 8:20). Despite having all riches and power He came and endured suffering and poverty so that we could find grace and mercy (2 Cor 8:9).
Both the Priest and the Levite were servants, yet they were servants to themselves and therefore devoid of compassion, grace, mercy, power, authority and love. It is the true servant of God that reaps an amazing harvest (Luke 19:17 – authority over cities; Matt 13:8 – a harvest that is 30, 60 or 100-fold).
Introducing a Samaritan.
The Jewish listeners would not have expected a Samaritan in the story. They would have expected a natural sequence because there were three classes of people who officiated at the Temple: Priests and Levites who both served for two weeks, and a delegation of Jews who would also serve. So the expert in Torah law and those listening to the parable would be running ahead of Jesus in their minds….Priest, Levite…ok now Jewish delegation. The most unlikely person to appear in the story (in their eyes) would be a Samaritan. Samaritans were regarded by many as heretics – more despised than an unbeliever. Of them the Mishna declared: “He who eats the bread of the Samaritan is like one who eats the flesh of swine.” The Mishna was a written record of major oral traditions.
Samaritans were publicly cursed in the synagogues and a petition was offered daily praying that the Samaritans would not be able to partake in eternal life.
The work of the Samaritan is spoken of in detail, because he was a man who was willing to sacrifice himself; he was willing to give himself. This is exactly what we see in Jesus Christ, spoken of as chosen from before the creation of the world (1 Peter 1:19-21) and slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8). From this we see that the world was created by the One who has always been willing to give out of Himself no matter the cost. In a worldly sense this many seem very unusual – but it is the way of the kingdom. The holiest person in history who is also the most offended person in history chooses to suffer and die so that we might have life. In the parable we see a marginalised person running the risk of being blamed for the man’s suffering yet willing to show compassion and love. Compassion is much more than feeling sorrow for a person. It is empathy – a getting alongside another with the express purpose of caring and uplifting where possible. Compassion requires time and energy, and the Samaritan was willing to give both.
The Samaritan’s actions:
The victim looks like a ‘nobody’ to the Samaritan in that he has no identifying clothes or speech, he being unconscious. In a sense the Samaritan begins to change all this, recognising that, no matter his lack of identity, he is a person made in the image of God (Gen 1:27). He is someone’s son or father or brother, and he is someone who needs to be helped.
The Samaritan takes time to bind the man’s wounds and then places the man on his own animal. On taking him to a place of safety he also provides expenses beyond what was immediately needed and probably to ensure the innkeeper does not simply thrown the man out once the Samaritan had gone. There is also the promise that he would return to settle up if need be.
The actions of the Samaritan would be a real surprise to those who were listening to Jesus’ parable because here was a man that was generally looked down on and avoided by others who, despite this, is giving time, energy and finance to help a nameless victim who could well be an enemy. In seeing how Jesus clearly approved of the Samaritan’s sacrifice of time and money we see how radical the way of the kingdom of God is.
Like most of us, the Samaritan would value time and money and yet did not put this above the call to love and serve others and because of this he was a man of unusual power and blessing because God always equips those who seek to serve others.
Jesus was born of the Spirit (Luke 1:35; Matthew 1:18-20), and was anointed of the Spirit (Matthew 3:16-17). He was filled with the fullness of the Spirit (John 3:34) and was led by the Spirit (Mat 4:1). Jesus spoke and taught by the Spirit (Luke 4:18), and cast out demons by the Spirit (Mat 12:28). He healed the sick by the Spirit (Mat 12:28; 8:16), and was offered on Calvary by the Spirit (Heb 9:14). Jesus was resurrected by the Spirit (Romans 8:11) and gave commandments by the Spirit (Acts 2:11). He baptised and empowered His Church by the Spirit (Acts 1:5,8), and directs and governs His church by the Spirit (Rev 1:2-3).
The Holy Spirit does not come with a programme that is independent of the Father and the Son. Instead He brings about the purposes of the Father through the Son, and is spoken of as the ‘Spirit of Truth” (John 15:26; 16:13). In the actions of the Father, Son and Spirit, we see intimacy and love within the Trinity – we see sacrificial giving and in the parable of the Good Samaritan we see what this giving looks like in action.
God wants all believers to see themselves from His perspective and live in and through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. When God makes His home with us there is the leading of the Spirit (Rom 12:2; Gal 5:16-18) as opposed to depending on that which is transient and passing. There is also the presence of the Holy Spirit (Ex 33:15; 1 Thes 3:13) and communication of the Spirit revealing the will of God to us through our minds and hearts (Phil 2:1-3; Rom 12:2).
The Samaritan was willing to feel vulnerable (he could have been blamed for what happened), to give time and energy and finance. As the second Adam (1 Cor 15:45), Jesus was willing to give time, effort and energy in reaching out to you and I. At the beginning of His earthly ministry He was led by the Spirit into the desert where, over a forty day period, he was tempted by the devil. The first Adam had been placed in a world of beauty and order with food and water available at all times, yet had fallen. Jesus, as the second Adam was tempted in a desolate and inhospitable desert, which in one way is indicative of what the world has become. Despite suffering through lack of water and food Jesus overcame each temptation that Satan threw His way; at all times He remained in open communion with His Father and was reliant on the presence of the Holy Spirit.
God is the all-powerful One and yet also the most offended person in the history of the human race. In the thinking of the world He would be the most unlikely person to stoop low and help those who had caused nothing but trouble – yet that is what we find Him doing (Phil 2:5ff, 2 Cor 8:9). Jesus, like the Samaritan stoops low to give His strength to those who have, in a real sense, lost their true identity – either at the hands of others (like the victim in the parable), or through their own thoughts and actions (the priest and the Levite were, in this sense, as unrecognisable as the victim).
In the parable of the Good Samaritan we see a man tending the bruises of a stranger, yet in Jesus Christ we see the One who took our bruises and our punishment as He gave His life so that we could find healing in a restored relationship with His Father. The contrast of those who suffer from their own wrong-doing and Jesus who took our suffering, is captured in the following two sets of verses from Isaiah. In the first set God speaks to a rebellious nation as a father would to a wayward son. In the second we see the love of God…
“Why do you insist on being battered? Why do you continue to rebel? Your head has a massive wound; your whole body is weak. From the soles of your feet to your head, there is no spot that is unharmed. There are only bruises, cuts, and open wounds. They have not been cleansed or bandaged, nor have they been treated with olive oil.”
“He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, crushed because of our sins; he endured punishment that made us well; because of his wounds we have been healed. All of us had wandered off like sheep; each of us had strayed off on his own path, but the Lord caused the sin of all of us to attack him. He was treated harshly and afflicted, but he did not even open his mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughtering block, like a sheep silent before her shearers, he did not even open his mouth. He was led away after an unjust trial - but who even cared? Indeed, he was cut off from the land of the living; because of the rebellion of his own people he was wounded.”
Jesus is the One who never needed to die, and showed nothing but love and compassion. Yet He is the One who was smashed to a cross; and what about those who passed by?
“Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads.”
“In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him.” He saved others," they said, "but he can't save himself! He's the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, 'I am the Son of God.'"
Drawing to a conclusion…
After telling His parable Jesus then asks the teacher of the law “Who is a neighbour to this man in great need?” to which the teacher replies, “The one who shows mercy.” He is then told to go and do likewise.
In truth we could say that the wrong question had been asked by the teacher of the law (who is my neighbour?). What he should really have been saying is, “I am no better that those around me and can make just as many mistakes; help me to love others as I am loved. Help me to see that all people are made in the image of God and not identify them by their achievements, nationality or background in any way.”
In many respects Jesus is nothing like us at all yet we are called to be like Him. He clearly saw how man treats fellow man and how we fail to love others and abuse the resources of the world in hoarding them for ourselves. Yet still Jesus came because His love is not quenched by our failure. What is quenched is our ability to receive that love. In Him we find the offer of love and all that He requires of us is that we respond and then learn to walk in power by sharing this love, grace, mercy, compassion and truth in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16).
Written and produced by Pastor Jem.