What does it mean to be a Good Samaritan?
Updated: May 10
In Luke chapter 10, we have an account of a lawyer who puts Jesus to the test with two questions in verses 25 and 29. The first question is,
Two things to remember is, lawyers like to argue and two, they will never ask a question that they don't know the answer to. Or at least think they do. Jesus knows this and his response is in verse 26,
"What is written in the law? How do you read it?"
How we read a law, rule, or directive usually determines our compliance to that law. But like lawyers, we will try to find loopholes anywhere we can. And this lawyer knows his law.
Jesus' is reply is basically, "You said it - now go do it."
There is no real confusion in what the Bible says. But the reason for that perception is that most of what we read does not fall within our comfort zone. It does not fit into the plans that we have for ourselves. We are still looking for loopholes and we have a tendency to make a loophole where none exist.
So the lawyer asks his second question,
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, "and who is my neighbor?" Luke 10:29
I am confident that this lawyer, who is probably a bit older than Jesus, was fully prepared to defend his position against this young roving rabbi. After all, his life's work was a study of the law. He is an expert against this untrained amateur.
However, with when anyone attempts to use reason and logic with Jesus, he will be seriously outmatched. He would like that lone anonymous student who faced that column of advancing tanks in China's Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. You do not stand a chance of winning.
Jesus is going to answer this by flipping the question. However Jesus is going to share a story or a parable before asking his own question. This is one of the most popular of Jesus's 40 parables. The full Parable is found in Luke 10:30-35.
Basically, this man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho on a road that is about 18 miles long and descends more than 3,000 ft in elevation. There are several stretches on this route of rocky terrain that provided perfect ambush cover for robbers. And it is here where the robbers, who find this lone traveler, attack him, taking everything he had, even the clothes he was wearing. They leave him beaten, bloodied, and dying in a ditch.
The first one to reach this bloodied man is a priest. Today that could be defined as a pastor, evangelist, missionary, or ministry leader. Just imagine walking up to the point to where you can look into the victim's eyes. You can hear him mumbling something as he stretches out his hand and there is a flash of hope in his eyes as he sees you looking at him. However, your response as a teacher and a preacher of the love of God is to look away and hurried by on the other side of the road pretending like you never saw him.
So why did the priest cross the road? Maybe because he was was chicken. All kidding aside, it could have been that the plea's bothered him so much that he quickly moved out of earshot. Evidently the journey that he was on was too important to be delayed by this "nobody". Maybe he was on his way to officiate a wedding and stopping to help this man would soil his robe with blood. That would make him unclean delaying him from marrying a couple who were anxiously waiting for him to start their new life together. Surely, this was of greater value than helping a broken and dying man. Ministry can become so important that we can ignore or actively avoid opportunities that God gives us to minister to others.
"That's just not my ministry or calling." This is one of the biggest cop-outs voiced by those of us who claim to be followers of the one who went out of his way to give us life.
The second man to come along is the Levite. Today that position would be known as elder, deacon, usher, church board member, worship leader, or anyone else who fulfills any other type of leadership in the local church.
Sometimes those in these positions can become more task focused than many pastors of churches and can actually be more prone to shutting their eyes and their ears to anything that might distract them from their objective. Any deviation must be ignored at any cost! Again a naked and dying man was nothing more than a distraction. His worth was dramatically less than what was currently on the Levites mind.
What's worse is that we can be so repulsed at just the appearance of someone in need that their soul or life being lost for eternity is not as valuable as us losing our appetite or lunch at the sight of a dirty and badly beaten man.
It is a sad witness indeed when this is practiced by those who say they follow the God who created all of mankind in His image. This is why the command to love God proceeds the command to love my neighbor. Because if I am not loving my neighbor, I am a liar when I say that I love God.
If anyone says, 'I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him; whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:20-21
The third man in our story is not even a real follower of God. And unlike the victim he's not even a Jew. This man is a Samaritan, a bastard race that is hated by Jew and gentile alike.
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. James 4:17
There is nothing supernatural or godly about caring enough to just get involved. Sadly this is more often demonstrated in our culture today by those who do not acknowledge Christ as their Lord than by those who claim to have a close personal relationship with Christ.
This man not only stops to help (he doesn't call 911 or say a prayer as he walks by), but after giving first aid, he puts this man, the focus of his compassion, on his own animal.
The story gives us no idea how long this guy was laying there before this Good Samaritan shows up. But I think that beaten man might have been completely unconscious by the time he was found.
The Samaritan makes a detour with the man to an inn. He possibly even had to backtracked to one that he had passed earlier that day. He gets a bed for the wounded man and takes care of him throughout the night.
And like those commercials say, "But wait, there's more!"
This benevolent nobody goes into his own pocket and takes out two denarii, or pieces of silver, and gives it to another stranger to care for the wounded man. He literally hands over 2 days wages with the promise of more to come to settle any debt that arose from the care of this man.
And that's where the story ends. We don't know if the injured man survives or if the returning Samaritan pays for burial too.
Loving like Jesus loves is going to cost you! It's called sacrifice for a reason!
So the question asked by the lawyer in verse 29, "Who is my neighbor?", Is flipped by Christ as he finishes this story to "Who was the neighbor?"
"Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" Luke 10:36
Jesus frames the question in a way that the lawyer must look at it legally. When he said, "which one of these proved to be a neighbor," that required the lawyer to examine the evidence and come up with a verdict. The lawyer just got caught with a question to which there is only one answer.
He said, "The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go and do likewise." Luke 10:37
A very common common quote on the lips of many Christians is, "What Would Jesus Do?" Or WWJD. I think we need to meet more concerned with what Jesus taught a few chapters earlier in Luke 6. Jesus asked the ultimate questions to those following him then, and to us today.
Why do you call me "Lord, Lord," and not do what I tell you? Luke 6:46 (also see Matthew 7:21-23)
Why do you call Jesus Lord? Is it because you prayed a prayer? What is the evidence that he is truly your Lord, that you actually belong to him?
Agape is more than a word. It is a verb and requires action to actually have it (James 1:22; 2:17-18). Do we really have the heart of Jesus Christ?
For no Good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of the evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Why do you call me, "Lord, Lord", and do not do what I tell you? Luke 6:43-46
How is it possible for us, who claim to love Jesus and repeat so often how much Jesus loves others, still be so comfortable to not love like Jesus? This is truly a tragedy.
We will talk and teach about God's love but we will not go out of our way so we do not have to practice it on those who need it the most, our neighbors, our family, our friends, especially our enemies (Matthew 5:38-48).
We will let them know that we are Christians but we won't love like Christ, with a love so scandalous and radical that it can only be practiced through the supernatural Spirit of God in us because we are not capable of this on our own.
This was a primary draw of the early church. Not the preaching, but the practicing by everyone in the Church of what was actually being preached. To be a Christian was hazardous to one's own health yet the church kept growing. Why?
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he decides in his heart not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7
According to Paul, God loves a cheerful giver. Oh, what love he must have for those who, cheerfully and with absolute abandon surrender themselves completely to be used by Christ to love the unlovable just for the desire of giving God glory.
So, who is Christ going to love through you, today? Are you willing to step up and obey, or do you have an excuse ready to cop out again?
Finally, let's take a look again at the priest and the levite in this story. It's easy to blame them and even easier for us to deny that we are like them. That gives us plenty of reason to look down at people like that. But in reality, the priest and levite are a lot like the guy on the side of the road. In many ways they too are in desperate need of the body of Christ to go to their side and give aid and compassion.
Do you see an opportunity to minister? Are you willing to step out, use your money and resources to help others, alone if necessary, like the Samaritan did?
Please let your pastor and your church family know too. They may want to be part of that opportunity to minister with you. And then again, maybe they won't.
But if you feel that burden, or see the need, maybe that opportunity to minister is for you.
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 Corinthians 4:1