Parable of the Good Samaritan
By The Rev. Craig Condon
A man approached the gates of heaven and asked to be allowed to enter. Saint Peter asked, “Tell me one good thing you did in your life.” The man said, “Well, I saw a group of punks harassing an elderly lady, so I ran up and kicked their leader in the shins.” Peter asked, “When did this happen?” The man replied, “About 40 seconds ago.”
I’m sure that at least a few of you were fans of the Seinfeld show. If so, you may remember the episode that aired at the end of the 1998 TV season. It received a lot of flak for being disappointing. Perhaps the reason so many were disappointed in the show is because it wasn’t funny—in fact, it was self-deprecating. All of the characters receive a one year jail sentence for failing to help someone in need.
That episode could have been taking right out of Luke’s Gospel reading for this morning. The story of the Good Samaritan is really a parable about the Mosaic Law and how it is to be understood and lived. We know God’s Law-love God and our neighbor. The problem is, we sometimes want to debate the law and justify our lifestyles. We sometimes do not want to be confronted with the task of keeping the law. Acts of kindness, which a man is bound to perform for his neighbor when in distress, should be performed for any person, of whatever nation, religion or kindred whom he finds in necessity.
The priest and the Levite were the most obliged to perform works of mercy and from whom a person in distress had a right to expect immediate help and comfort. Their conduct here was a breach of Mosaic Law. They were obligated to help because of the nature of their offices. Law is the knowledge of sin, NOT the cure. By comparing ourselves to the law, we see our own defects and are thus prepared to welcome a better righteousness than our own-that of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The lawyer in this Gospel reading wanted to show that he had kept the law. The Pharisees believed that only Jews were to be regarded as their neighbors-not the Gentiles. Christ says we are to treat EVERYONE as our neighbor. At the time of Luke’s Gospel, the Samaritans and the Jews were enemies. The Samaritans were Jews who, after Israel had been defeated by the Babylonians, stayed behind and intermarried with the Assyrians, who were an abomination in the sight of the Jews. They even built their own temple on Mount Gerizim and refused to worship in Jerusalem. If you really wanted to insult a person 2,000 years ago, all you had to do was call him a Samaritan. That’s why the Pharisee said to Jesus in John 8:48, “Do we not say rightly that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”
If we are listening and surrender ourselves to the parable, chances are we will learn something new about God, ourselves…and our neighbor. What the Samaritan did in this parable shows us what we are to do friends and foes when they are in distress. This parable disarmed prejudice, fixed the attention, took the mind gently yet irresistibly, and prevented the possibility of objection.
Law-oriented faith has two flaws:
1. We can’t keep God’s law and win our way into heaven. The spiritual application here is that religion can’t do a thing in the world for you. All religion can do is take you through a ceremony, take you through forms and formality.
2. Jesus shows us that a legalistic concept of religion leaves no room at all for other people, at least for treating them as our neighbors.
When we love others and show that love through our deeds, we show God’s love.
Christ is a metaphor for the Samaritan in this parable. The phrase “as he journeyed” means putting himself in man’s place and bearing the punishment for our sins. “Had compassion” refers to redemption accomplished through the love and compassion of Christ. “Went to him” means that Christ first seeks the sinner. “Bound his wounds” means that He gives us comfort. “Pouring in oil” refers to his pardoning mercy. Jesus, as the Samaritan, pays the bill and promises to come again. “Paying the bill” is a metaphor for Christ’s death on the cross for our sins. “Promises to come again” refers to the Second Coming of Christ. The inn represents the church, where believers are cared for. “Two pence” refers to the sacraments of baptism and communion. True religion teaches us to regard everyone as our neighbor, prompts us to be good, to forget all national or sectional distinctions, and to help all those who are in circumstances of want and poverty. It preaches the need for tolerance
Jesus WAS the Samaritan. He was an outcast who was willing to seek and save people who were perishing. He was opposed to the religious establishment of his time, especially their strict interpretation of Mosaic Law. The theme of Jesus’ going to those who needed Him became more and more evident. He was and is the ultimate neighbor whose compassion contrasted with Jewish religious leaders who had no compassion for those who suffered. He taught that a person should be a neighbor to anyone he meets who is in need. (Pause).
The victim in this parable represents a lost sinner who is dead spiritually and left on the road of life. The priest and Levite represent the law and its sacrifices, neither of which can save anyone. Mankind was dead in trespasses and sin-this man who had fallen among thieves was half dead. The thieves are a picture of the Devil, who according to John 8:44 was a murderer from the beginning. WE were like the poor, distressed traveler, because Satan has robbed us and wounded us. The Samaritan’s deeds help us to understand what it means to have mercy, and it also illustrates the ministry of Jesus Christ. The Samaritan identified with the needs of the stranger and had compassion for him.
The lawyer is similar in nature to Simon the Pharisee in Luke 8:36-50. He wanted to define the term “neighbor” in a general way, but Jesus forced him to consider a specific man in need. To Jesus, a neighbor is anyone that needs our love and compassion. The word of Jesus went straight to the lawyer’s heart, and it goes straight to our hearts also. Jesus also forces us to consider specific people in need today. We also try to define or otherwise limit who our neighbours are. We want them to be part of the church, but only on our own terms. We can discuss things like poverty and job opportunities and yet never personally help a hungry family or help someone find a job. We can talk about helping someone in need but never personally help someone. Reaching out will cost us time, money, scheduling, calloused hands, sore backs-and maybe even a little dignity. God tells us that no act of loving service in Christ’s name is ever lost.
Have you ever noticed how when we are confronted with our real need we often react in denial? We are often like the man who was worried by the newspaper articles showing the relationship between smoking and lung cancer. He became so upset with the articles that he knew he had to do something about it. He canceled his newspaper subscription.
All of our readings this morning are designed to break into the complacency of our lives. The writers ask us to take a look to see if we are living up to God’s standards. The world today is like the man that feel among thieves and needs our help. There is danger and trouble everywhere. Danger rides alongside us on the expressways and highways. Danger meets us in parking lots and shopping centers. If you don’t believe me, call our former Priest-in-Charge Father Art Nash and ask him about the time he and his wife went shopping in the Bayers Lake Industrial Park and had the tires on their car slashed while they were in a store. It is sorry to observe how selfishness governs society, how many excuses men will make to avoid trouble or expense in relieving the suffering of others. A true Christian has the law of love written on his heart. The spirit of Christ dwells in him, and Christ’s image is renewed in his soul.
The message goes even further and deeper. It is a subtle indictment of the institutional church. The church is to be a compassionate traveler on the road of life. In other words, it is to be the Good Samaritan. The message cautions those of us in the organized church about institutional quicksand-subtle entrapment in the details of our local church or the generalities of broader church involvement-a quicksand in which we can find ourselves removed from the specific individual in his moment of need. It is a further caution against judging those around us on the basis of what they do for a living, how often they go to church, or how much sunlight their skin color reflects. At such a moment we may be judging a true neighbor in the sight of God-someone who stopped and helped in a fellow traveler’s darkest hour. In the words of a popular saying, “Judge not lest ye be judged”.
We are living in a society that has become dehumanized and we have a generation of people who have been brought up to believe that human life is not worth a very great deal. So, they look on other people not as people to be loved and helped, but rather as things to be used and abused. God has given us both things and people. God has given us things to use and people to love. When we begin to love things and use people, we become thieves.
The Greatest Commandment is to love one another. This is contrary to the non-involvement attitude in society today-specifically in this community. If there is to be justice in this world, humans must be part of it. A sign of our justice is the way we treat others. Justice is a way of doing. The rich are to give to the poor, and all are to be treated equally according to God’s justice. Not only are we to love our neighbors and God, we also need to listen carefully and either understand or accept others. We have an obligation to try to be transparent to those who are having difficulty understanding or accepting us.
When God touches people, he takes the nearest willing hand and uses it. He arranges the circumstances of people’s lives to get people who have needs in contact with people who can meet those needs. This is a basic outgrowth of the Christian faith. When we forget this, some dire consequences result. One such consequence is that we fail to see the hand of God at all. Often when we need help, we find it among the outcast, the unknown and the unqualified.There are lots of people who give themselves to help others. In fact, many of them are in our own parish. We are to help those in need, regardless of their age, social status, race, religion or nationality. God is blind to these man-made barriers, and so should we. The most rewarding thing is to be real. What matters is loving and being loved for a long time. We love our neighbor because Christ loved us (Pause).
We often fulfill all of the roles in this parable. Sometimes God lifts us out of the ditch directly, and sometimes He uses other people. Sometimes we may be the innkeeper, and sometimes we may be either the priest or the Levite. We are often the man who is lying in the ditch. Christ has rescued us. We are charged with passing the oil of grace and kindness on to others. There are no limits as to who our neighbor is. We are to love even our enemies. Our love must have no limits.
Christ calls us to fulfill the role of the Good Samaritan and help ANYONE who is in need, regardless of societal barriers. This parable is an attack on non-involvement toward people in need. Time, money, inconvenience or fear of being sued are used as excuses. We are invited to have hearts of love for anybody who is hurting on any of the Jerico Roads of life. Jesus invites us to have a heart that overflows with love. Love knows no boundaries, and love demands no repayment.
The way the beaten man is treated shows three of life’s philosophies:
1. What’s yours is mine—represented by the robbers.
2. What’s mine is mine—represented by the priest and Levite.
3. What’s mine is yours—represented by the Samaritan.
What Jesus asks may disturb our world. In this parable, very pious, “holier than thou” folks have to wrestle with the possibility that the core of their spirituality or their livelihood will be ruined by one act of mercy. The Samaritan steps over that question with his stooping down and picking up. How willing are we to have our world turned upside-down? How willing are we to be disturbed or challenged? Do we so badly want to hear what Jesus says that we are willing to be changed dramatically?
How often do we write people off because the color of their skin, or because of where they live, or what they do, or even how they relate to us? We will never understand who our neighbour is until we are willing to touch the untouchable one and speak the unspeakable name. We, like the lawyer, often feel unjustified and unholy, not really loving as we thought we were at first. We are called to live differently, think differently and do differently.
Mother Teresa once put it like this. “The biggest disease today is not leprosy, or cancer. It’s the feeling of being uncared for or unwanted, of being deserted and alone. The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, and an indifference toward one’s neighbour who may be the victim of poverty or disease or exploited and at the end of his life, left at a roadside.” God loves us whole. He makes us whole and enables us to love others whole. It doesn’t matter where love comes from-only that love is done. Even the meanest person has the capacity to love and give selflessly.
Simply knowing in our minds what the right thing to do is does not mean we can do it. If we are going to be Good Samaritans, then this will mean more than a change of mind. It will take a change of heart. And that’s what this parable is about-a change of heart.
On June 1, 1998, the Los Angeles Times newspaper ran a story of a 50-year-old man who suffered a heart attack while writing the state bar exam. Two of the other students stopped to help the man by administering CPR until the paramedics arrived, then they resumed taking the exam. Citing policy, the test supervisor refused to allow the two helpers additional time to make up for the 40 minutes they spent helping the victim. The state bar’s senior executive for admissions backed the decision stating, “If these two want to be lawyers, they should learn a lesson about priorities.”
UNBELIEVABLE! Talk about legalism and how like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They loved their stupid man-made rules more than they loved people. No wonder Jesus blasted them!
We are the same way. We often love our own man-made rules more than we love people. Perhaps Jesus should come back to earth and give us a blasting! We need it as much as the Pharisees and the people at the California State Bar Association. When we act like a neighbour to others, they become our neighbors. Love is a compassion that feels. Love is a care that helps. Love is a commitment that endures.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of Jesus’ most familiar stories, and the way we usually hear that parable is as Jesus’ way of getting us to ask ourselves, “Am I willing, when the circumstances arise, to be a Good Samaritan to other people?” Do you have compassion? Does it mean pity? Does it mean a few tears? The answer is NO-it means compassion to the extent that we roll up our sleeves, take off our coats, get dirty and try to make a difference ourselves. Who is my neighbour? Anyone in need!
Copyright 2008, Craig Condon. Used by permission.