Today we consider a great teaching moment known as the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The message begins with an encounter between Jesus and a Jewish religious specialist, a man who asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10: 25). Not only is the question fair, but it is one of the most important for discerning what God wants.
Jesus responded to the man’s sincere question by a tactic that many of us have been told is impolite, which is to avoid responding to a question with one of our own. “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” Jesus asked (Luke 10:26). The man replied correctly, affirming the need to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus agreed, saying “Do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:28). So far so good. We have what seems like a case of simple questioning and answering. Taken together, this would seem to end the story and we could be tempted to move on. Not so fast!
On the one hand, the man’s answer to Jesus is vital because it reveals to humanity the key to eternal life. So there we have it, the revealing of what God wants, the path to true life, and the crux of our Christian faith. On the other hand, the man’s response is not as sincere as it first appeared. Jesus indicated that the man wanted to justify himself and avoid putting his words into action. It’s easy to conveniently recite good intentions but something entirely different to accomplish what we’re supposed to do. Also, the man’s answer was incomplete because it hadn’t been tested and demonstrated. All of this forms the crux of the problem. Although the religious specialist had answered Jesus’ question correctly, the man didn’t want to practice what he proclaimed. The issue lay in how the man wasn’t prepared to follow-through with what he said he believed. The man attempted to dodge the responsibility of helping others. Sadly, the religious specialist attempted to squirm out of responsibility. “Who is my neighbor?” the man asked, trying to find a loophole that would give him a good excuse s(Luke 10:29).
Jesus responded to the man’s avoidance by creating a wonderful story, which like most Bible narratives is designed to make a point. This is why Jesus created the parable of the Good Samaritan, a great example of what love involves. In the story, Jesus described a situation of a hurt person who, through no fault of his own, had been robbed, beaten, and left for dead. Both a Jewish priest and a privileged tribe of Levi person saw the injured man from a distance. Unfortunately, both men tried to ignore the victim by walking to the other side of the trail. To their shame, both of the religious hypocrites avoided the injured man and neither demonstrated love nor compassion. Stay-tuned because an unlikely person came to the rescue.
The third person to encounter the injured crime victim was a Samaritan, a member of a despised class of people whom Jews hated because of an ancient grudge about mixed-marriage. The Samaritans were considered by Jews to be half-breeds at best, those who centuries earlier had become assimilated by conquerors. So hated were the Samaritans that Jesus used the matter as a way of creating irony. The contrast is that two high-status, ethnically pure Jews (the priest and the Levite) shamed themselves by ignoring their duty to help a bleeding man left in the dirt. It’s ironic that the Samaritan is the only person among three passers-by who stopped and helped. The Samaritan went above and beyond expectations by not only treating the wounds but also by giving money to provide for the man’s full recovery at a nearby inn. Jesus’ point is that the despised Samaritan was more righteous, more loving than the Jews who were supposedly God’s chosen people.
Love isn’t easy. Love is costly, often messy, and requires us to spend time and effort. Love is our life purpose and nothing is greater in this or any possible universe. We have the joyful responsibility of loving God by loving others, and of loving others by loving God. The relationship goes in both directions such that we can’t claim we love God if we don’t love others. Neighbors are more than just those living within our housing subdivision. Neighbors are not limited to members of our tribe, ethnic group, or with those sharing our political or economic convictions. Neighbors are all persons with whom we share humanity, even those in need or who appear to be very different.
As Christians, we are obligated to make our faith real by the way we treat others. Whether we be liberal or conservative, no amount of theology or what we claim to believe will substitute for putting love into action. If we seek to avoid being condemned as nasty hypocrites then we must each find a way to receive and share God’s love, which makes our faith genuine, powerful and relevant.
May God be praised, and may we receive, celebrate and share God’s love and truth. We can all strive to become a Good Samaritan by the way we put our faith into action.
–Reverend Larry Hoxey