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Luke 10:25-37

February 16th, 2010

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27He answered: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[c]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[d]

28“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

The parable of the Good Samaritan is probably the most familiar parable of Jesus, and it only appears in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus had been teaching about the kingdom of God and the eternal life that was offered through belief in him, and this teacher of the law wanted to know how to inherit this eternal life that Jesus was talking about. A similar exchange regarding the greatest commandment appears in Mark 12:29-34. See my post on that passage here. Though verse 25 says the teacher of the law stood up to test Jesus, the Greek word for test does not necessarily indicate a malicious intent. This seems to be a sincere question. Jesus replied by asking him what the law and prophets said, as if to say, “You already know what is required.” This teacher of the law understood that the law and the prophets were summed up in these two commandments.

Has anyone, other than Jesus, completely lived up to these standards? Who among us has completely loved God, without reservation, in all of these areas?

1. With all of our heart, which I take to mean our emotions in this context. Our emotions wax and wane, they come and go. Our emotions are fickle. We can’t live on emotions, and if we don’t control our emotions, they will get us into trouble. God wants our emotions to be devoted to him.

2. With all of our soul. The Greek word for soul in this context is not talking about what we think of as our eternal soul. The Greek word for soul is the same as for life or self. We are to love God with all of our life, with all that we are. Not just during our times of worship, but all of the time, during every part of our life.

3. With all of our strength. I think this is referring to our physical activity. Loving God isn’t just a spiritual thing, it should infuse everything we do with our bodies. Too often we separate the physical from the spiritual, and we say we love God, but that love is not reflected in what we actually do.

4. With all of our mind. This is the hardest part, to love God with every thought. The best instruction regarding this in the Bible that I know of is in 2 Corinthians 10:5;

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. That’s loving God with all of our mind. The second command is just as hard as the first, to love our neighbor as ourselves. Contrary to current popular belief, this does not mean that we must love ourselves in order to love others. It means that we are to take care of others like we take care of ourselves, and be just as concerned about the welfare of others as we are about our own welfare. Who among us has lived up to that standard?

29But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Apparently this lawyer thought he had kept the first commandment pretty well, since he didn’t ask about that one. His only concern was with figuring out who he had to love, and who he didn’t. It all depended on how he defined the word neighbor. The Jews of Jesus’ time believed that they had to love their neighbor, but they also believed they were supposed to hate their enemy. But of course, Jesus wanted to demolish that belief (Matthew 5:43-45, blog). Loving our enemies is a difficult concept, but this parable is a perfect illustration of it.

30In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two silver coins[e] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

The teacher of the law was asking who he had to love. It seems to me that Jesus could have answered his question more directly with this story by making a Samaritan the one who was hurt, and a teacher of the law the one who helped him. But instead, Jesus made a priest and a Levite (a pastor and a worship leader) the bad guys of the story, and a hated Samaritan the hero, which challenged the lawyer’s belief system even more.

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was notorious for bandits, so all of Jesus’ listeners could relate. Bandits and robbers were a real problem on the roads between cities in the ancient world. Mary and Joseph had reason to fear for Jesus’ life when they lost him on the journey home from Jerusalem when he was a boy for that very reason (Luke 2:41-48, blog). They probably all knew of cases like this where someone was robbed and beaten on this road. In Jesus’ story, a priest, who made the sacrifices for their sins, and a Levite, who led the worship at the temple, both passed by without helping the injured man. But a supposed enemy, who Jews of that time believed it was their duty before God to hate, didn’t just stop at the next town and tell someone to send help, he stopped and helped the man himself, at considerable cost. He treated the man’s wounds. He put the man on his own donkey, which meant he walked the rest of the way. He paid for a room at the inn, and spent the night taking care of him. As he left, he paid the innkeeper two denarii, which was two days wages for a working man. Divide your yearly salary by 365, multiply that number by 2, and that’s how much the equivalent would be for you. The average yearly income in America is $50.000 per year. So in today’s dollars, he paid about $275 on top of what he had already paid, and he committed to pay any additional costs the innkeeper incurred after that money was gone.

36“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

By telling the story in this way, and putting the Samaritan in the role of the hero rather than the victim, Jesus didn’t really answer the question the way the lawyer wanted him to. Instead, he illustrated what it means to be a neighbor to someone else. The teacher of the law was asking who he had to love in order to inherit the eternal life Jesus was talking about. He wanted to love his neighbor, but hate his enemy. Jesus gave him an example not of a Jew showing love to an enemy, but an enemy showing love to a Jew. It’s obvious that the teacher of the law didn’t like Jesus’ answer much. When Jesus asked him who had been a neighbor to the injured man, the lawyer wouldn’t even say the word Samaritan. He just said, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Lots of people think the Bible tells us to love everyone, but it doesn’t. The Bible tells us to love one another, meaning other believers (John 13:34) our enemies (Matthew 5:43-45, blog) and our neighbor. So who is our neighbor? Our neighbor is the one who we might think of as an enemy. Our neighbor is the one who has a need right in front of us. And loving them is not feeling affection toward them, it’s doing everything in our power to help them with their need. It’s loving our neighbor as ourselves.

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