The Good Samaritan

The Good Samaritan

(Luke 10:25-37)

 

1.      Jesus was a master storyteller.  He often taught great spiritual truths by telling stories about the common, ordinary events of life. 

2.      All four gospels contain parables Jesus told, but they play an especially significant role in the Gospel of Luke.  About 1/3 of the Gospel of Luke is in parables.  In Luke’s Gospel are recorded more than 35 parables, and at least 11 of them are unique to Luke, not being recorded in Matthew, Mark, or John.  And it is interesting that some of the best known stories Jesus told—the good Samaritan, rich fool, the lost coin, the prodigal son, the rich man and Lazarus, the Pharisee and the Publican, etc—are found only in the Gospel of Luke.

3.      Between now and the end of the year, we are going to focus on some of these great, well-known stories that are unique to Luke’s Gospel.  In this session, I want to direct you attention to Luke 10:25-37. (text)

 

T.S. - There are many things to be learned from this classic story.  I want to focus on the word “neighbor” which occurs three times in the verses I just read.  The lawyer who asked the questions which sparked the telling of this story wanted a definition of the word “neighbor.”  Instead of giving him his definition, Jesus gave an example of a man who acted in a neighborly way.  In effect Jesus was saying, “If you have to ask who your neighbor is, you are missing the whole point.  Let me show you how a good neighbor acts.”  And then He told the story.  I want to point out to you today some things we can learn from this story about being a good neighbor to others. 

 

I.    Good neighbors understand that life is all about relationships.

1.      The starting point to understanding this parable is understanding the question the lawyer asked in verse 25.  Look at the question:  “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  G. Campbell Morgan, one of my favorite New Testament scholars, says that there is no greater question in all of life than that, but not for the reason we may think. 

·         When we hear the phrase “eternal life” we immediately think of life which lasts forever.  While it is true that there is certainly is life beyond this life.  And while it is true that the question of where we will spend eternity is the most important question any of us will ever answer.  If we get the answer that question wrong, ultimately it does not matter what else we get right!  G. Campbell Morgan points out that the lawyer probably did not use the phrase “eternal life” to mean life which lasts forever.

·         Among the Jewish rabbis of the 1st century, some of whom did not even believe in an afterlife, the phrase “eternal life” was used to mean full life, complete life, life with meaning.  That would have been the most natural way for this lawyer to use that phrase.  In effect he was asking Jesus, “How do I find meaning for my life? How can I move beyond mere existence to full, rich life?”

2.      As was so typical of Jesus, He did not answer the man directly.  Actually, He answered with a question. 

·         Basically Jesus said to him, “You are a lawyer, aren’t you? (Not in the secular sense, but in the religious sense.  He was an expert in the Torah, the first five books of the OT) What does the law say?” 

·         And to his credit, the man nailed it.  He gave precisely the right answer, the exact answer that Jesus gave to a similar question on another occasion.  He said, “The law says that we are to love God and to love our neighbor as our self.” 

·         In response to his answer Jesus said, “Right!  Do those two things and you will find the meaning in life you are seeking.”  But that did not satisfy this man.  In effect the man replied, “I know who God is, but who is my neighbor whom I am suppose to love?”  And in response to that exchange Jesus told the parable we call the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

3.      What is Jesus saying in this story?  Is He saying that the way to go to heaven is to show compassion to those in need?  No!  That would be contrary to all the New Testament teaches about gaining eternal salvation.  Eternal salvation is not something we achieve through our efforts; it is something we receive as a result of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus is not saying in this story that we earn eternal salvation by caring for people.  But, He is saying that the way to find meaningful, full, rich life in this world is by investing our lives in people. 

4.      Life is all about relationships.  If we would but learn and practice that simple truth, our lives would be immeasurably better.  The kind of relationships we have with other people—family, friends, neighbors, co-workers—is what gives meaning, depth, quality to our lives. 

·         No matter how much we may accumulate in this world, apart from meaningful relationships with others, possessions possess no real meaning.  . 

·         No matter what we may accomplish in this world, without people in our lives with whom we can share them, the greatest of accomplishments leave us empty. 

And when we understand that life is all about relationships and not just what we possess or what we accomplish, we will not make much better life decisions.  We will not use people, abuse people, manipulate people, be dishonest with people just to gain a few more dollars or a little more power.  Instead, we will do as Jesus did, and relate to people with kindness, compassion, honesty, and integrity.  We will not view people as merely a means to some other end; we will see our relationships with them as the very essence of meaningful life.

5.      I’ve forgotten who wrote it, but I remember reading a sermon sometime ago based on this parable about three ways to relate to people.  The writer of the sermon described these three ways of relating to people as—

·         Beat’em up (as practiced by the robbers)

·         Pass’em up (as practiced by the priest and Levite)

·         Pick’em up (as practiced by the Samaritan)

      And when we understand life is, indeed, all about relationships, instead of beating up on people, or passing up people in need, we will be picking up and helping and developing meaningful relationships with people. That’s one thing good neighbors do.

 

II.  Good neighbors focus on the things that unite rather than divide, bring together rather than separate.

1.   It is ironic that this story has become known as the Parable of the “Good” Samaritan.  To most Jews living in first century Palestine, the term “Good Samaritan” was an oxymoron.  To them, there was no such thing as a “Good Samaritan.”  The deep seated racial and religious animosity between Jews and Samaritans had reached a fever pitch by the 1st century.  Jews would do all they could to avoid Samaritans and Samaritans would do all they could to avoid Jews.

2.   And that Jesus would tell a story to a 1st century Jewish audience in which a Samaritan is portrayed as the hero was shocking.  As the story unfolded and Jesus said in verse 33, “But a Samaritan ... came upon him...” the people hearing this story probably thought, “Well, this poor guy has had it now.  At least the priest and the Levite (a person who assisted the priests) did not do the injured man further harm.  But there is no telling what this Samaritan will do to this helpless Jew!”

3.   And when the Samaritan turns out to be the good neighbor, no doubt those who heard the story were stunned.  And the point of all that is good neighbors don’t erect barriers between people, they break them down.

4.   When the lawyer asked in verse 29, “And who is my neighbor?” he certainly did not have in mind the Samaritans.  That question implies that there are some boundaries, some parameters on the people we are to love.  And by telling this incredible story, Jesus was saying, “There are no boundaries, no parameters.  The command to love your neighbor as yourself must extend to all people, even your most hated enemies!”

5.   The hero of Jesus’ story had learned that lesson well.  Here was a Samaritan who had a perfect opportunity to do harm to a Jew.  But he did not allow the racial and religious barriers of his culture to keep him from responding in compassion to a fellow human being in need.  In Christ, the barriers that separate us from others should come tumbling down.  As Paul so eloquently put it in Galatians 3:28 – “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  In other words, in Christ the barriers of race, social status, and gender come tumbling down.

6.   Christianity is not an elitist religion.  If you want a religion that—

·         Elevates you over others...

·         Gives you a sense of power and control over others...

·         Says some people are more valuable, more important than others...

It is not the religion of Jesus Christ.  Genuine Christianity does not erect barriers between people; it breaks them down!  Good neighbors understand that.

 

III. Good neighbors are more others-centered than self-centered.

1.      The story of a man being robbed on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho could have been taken from the front page of a 1st century newspaper, if they would have had newspapers in the 1st century.  Such crimes on that particular road were a common occurrence.

2.      The road which connected Jerusalem to Jericho in the first century was an especially treacherous road.  To this day, the remnants of the old Roman road can be seen.  Some of you have traveled that road with me and you know how dangerous it is.  The road runs along the southern edge of the Wadi Kelt, which is a very deep ravine.  In a little less than 20 miles the road drops from Jerusalem, which is about 3000’ above sea level to Jericho which is about 1000’ below sea level. Because of the steep drop and rugged, isolated terrain there are numerous blind hair-pin turns in the road.  The many hiding places made this road a favorite hang-out for thieves and robbers.    

3.      Now notice what happens in the story.  The priest and the Levite, two people you would naturally expect to have compassion on an injured man, passed the man by.  They were so self-centered, they were not about to risk themselves to help a stranger in need.  The Samaritan, by way of contrast, risked himself, interrupted his journey, and gave of his resources, to help a stranger in need.  And when Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” (verse 36), the lawyer was forced to admit that it was the Samaritan, even though he refused to use that word.  Instead, he just said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” (verse 37)

4.      What I want you to see in that is that Jesus calls us to a life of being more others-centered than self-centered.  The way of the world says, “Take care of yourself first.  The most important words in all of life are me, my, and mine.  If after taking care of yourself, you can do something for others as well, that is good.  But keep your priorities straight!”

5.      The way of Jesus is just the opposite.  It says, “Focus on others.  Just as Jesus did not come to be served but to serve and give His life a ransom for many, so the way to find real life is to give your life away to others.”  Good neighbors understand that.                         

  Conclusion

1.   There is a wonderful account of Malcolm Muggeridge, the famous British intellectual, going to Calcutta, India, to visit with Mother Teresa.  On the first day he met Mother Teresa (a day that Muggeridge said changed his life forever) he found her working in a ghetto like he had never seen before.  There, amid the stench, filth, garbage, disease, and poverty, he found this internationally known woman.  And what struck Malcom Muggeridge about that scene was the look of perfect contentment on Mother Teresa’s face.  Here is the account of their initial conversation. (read interview)

2.   Be a good neighbor.  It will not only be good for others, but it will be good for you, as well!  How?  By—

·         Understanding that life is all about relationships

·         Focusing on the things that bring us together rather than drive us apart

·         Being others-centered instead of self-centered

3.   That’s what the Samaritan in this story did.  And at the end of the story, Jesus tells all who hear it to “Go and do the same.”

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