July 14, 2013 - Luke 10.25-37

“The Samaritan”

Luke 10.25-37

July 14, 2013


25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”


I finished my sermon on Tuesday.  I read this text, and wrote what I thought was a pretty good sermon.  The sermon was rooted in what I must admit is the familiarity of the parable.  Who hasn’t heard of the Good Samaritan?  We all have.  The name that we have given the parable (not a name that Jesus gave it, by the way) has become by itself a part of our vocabulary.  In fact, we never hear of a Samaritan without the person being referred to as a “good” Samaritan.  In fact, in our culture, they are one and the same, as if a Samaritan is someone you think of doing something good, going out of his or her way to help another.  Our use of the word has forgotten the reality that the Samaritans were an ethnic group of people, largely hated and reviled by the Jewish people around them.


But I am getting ahead of myself.  I finished the sermon on Tuesday.  But I kept reading the text, like I am supposed to do.  And on Wednesday, something jumped up out of the Bible and bit me.  Because of that, I kept working on this sermon and ended up tossing my old sermon and writing a new one.  I finished this one late last night.

Now before you get the wrong idea, the old sermon wasn’t bad.  It was all about the challenge we have as Christians to have the courage to stop and DO good.  Loving others is about actually doing something, and not just talking about it.  Like Jesus says at the end of the parable, “go and do likewise.”  Jesus didn’t say “go and think about that.”  He said “go and do likewise.”  And then the benediction would have invited all of us to leave this place and help others in need.


It was a good sermon.  It would have given us all the warm “fuzzies.”  And when we did something that was good for someone else, we would have felt that we did a good thing, like the Good Samaritan, and patted ourselves on the back.

Happy, happy, happy.

But you don’t get to hear that sermon.  I think part of that is because you have heard that sermon before.  Maybe a lot.


In other words, God tore up my sermon and made me write another one.

I can’t promise you this sermon will be more to your liking.  In fact, it might make you mad.  But I feel it has more of God’s truth in it.

The first thing we should understand about this parable, like all of Jesus’ parables, is not just a stand-alone story.  It is not one of Aesop’s fables or a tale from the Brothers’ Grimm.  It occurs in a setting.  It occurs in a context, and I believe that context is the key to understanding the fullness of this text.

Look closely at the Biblical text.  Jesus does not tell this story to just anyone.  It is not part of a sermon preached to a crowd.  Nope.  This is a conversation between Jesus and a lawyer.


If we start our reading or study of this text with “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho…” then we are missing some vital stuff in our attempt to get what Jesus is talking about.  We have to remember the context.  We are listening in to Jesus absolutely school a man who “stood up to test Jesus.”

The lawyer asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus basically says to him, “you’re a lawyer. What does the law say?”

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” The lawyer answers Jesus.  This is of course the right answer.  It is the Sunday School answer.  Every Jewish child is taught this part of the Torah from an early age.    Everyone knows this.  “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But now here is where I got bit.  Look at what the Bible says next:  29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  It is this statement that causes Jesus to tell the story.  This is the reason we have this parable, not because there was someone that needed to be reminded to do good deeds, but because there was a lawyer that was looking for a loophole, for a way to not look bad to others, looking for a way to save face in front of the crowd.

He knew what he was supposed to do.  He knew what the law required.  He was a lawyer – which means he knew the Law of Moses.  This man was trying to one up Jesus and ended up with non-kosher egg on his face.


I can only imagine Jesus’ reaction to his second question.  I call it “The Jesus facepalm.”  So Jesus tells the story as a way to truly instruct this man on what he really needed to know: that Samaritans were people just like the Jews.

This parable is not about doing good deeds; it is about who does them and what the hearer of the parable thought of the doer of those good deeds.  This guy was a Jew and a lawyer.  It can probably be safely said, because Jesus says what he does, that this man had a special hatred for Samaritans.


Remember that Samaritans were considered to be half breeds by the Jewish people.  They were “Unclean.”  The Samaritans thought they were Jewish.  This made the Jews mad.  The Samaritans were called “dogs.”  They were also called other things, but we don’t need to get into that translation, do we?  We know what those words were – we have heard them all before, just in a different language.

Whatever language, the words are racist.  The lawyer was a bigot and was looking to find some wiggle room around what Jesus was saying.  He was looking to “spin” the situation to his advantage, but instead of spinning the situation, he got nailed down.


Recently, we have all heard about the scandal involving Paula Dean and her choice of words.  Personally, I think she is being punished by society in a manner far exceeding her crimes.  She did use a bad word.  But it is also a word that everyone that grew up in the south in the 70s and 80s used – white, or black or otherwise.   But that is beside the point.  The word she used is a bad word and is unacceptable.  She has been accused of, among other things, as being “insensitive.”  "Sensitivity" seems to have become a predominant ethical concern. It is as if we could just get people to be more "sensitive" about other people's feelings and needs, then our society would work it out.  Frankly, this seems rather lame.


Sensitivity and tolerance seem to be rather lame phrases that are very popular.  In fact, we hear a lot about Sensitivity and Tolerance these days.  We are told by everyone around that we are to tolerate people who are different from us.  We are to just be sensitive to the people around us, to not offend them. It is natural to be resistant to this idea.  But where the world calls us to be sensitive to others and tolerate others, Jesus doesn’t do that.  Jesus calls us to love others, and that goes far beyond tolerance and sensitivity.  We are to love and care deeply for others.  This is what the Samaritan in the parable does.  He does not “tolerate” the Jewish man in the ditch; he acts in a manner consistent with the love of God.

Keep in mind though, the hearer of this parable.  Jesus told this story to this lawyer who thought of the Samaritans as his enemy.  When Jesus tells the lawyer to go and do likewise, he is asking the lawyer to go and imitate the Samaritan, his cultural enemy. He is asking the educated lawyer to sit at the feet of the Samaritan in order to learn how to live as God commands us to live.  He is asking this myopic man to see the people he despises most are the very people who can teach him what it means to “inherit eternal life.”


So often our attempts at charity and good deeds are limited to causes we support, or people in our community, or organizations that we feel a kindred spirit toward.  Many people operate under the assumption that if they do good deeds, that those good deeds somehow “score points” with God.  We tend to help those who are like us.  We tend to love those who are like us, near us, look like us and see the world the way we do.  But helping those we already like or love or share our community is not a mark of Christ’s love working through us.  Come on, even Hitler had a girlfriend.  Christ calls us to something much more radical.  Christ calls us to love our enemy, and even to learn from our enemy.

How horrifying must it have been for the studied lawyer to have no choice but to admit that the dog — the Samaritan — was the answer both to Jesus’ question and to his own original question about his own salvation. Notice, the man cannot even bring himself to utter that distasteful word “Samaritan,” preferring instead to hold his nose and say, “the one who showed him mercy.”

Jesus doesn’t want us to be the Good Samaritans. Rather, Jesus wants us to know who the Samaritans are in our own lives. Then, he asks us to do the hard work of seeing them as humans not as “them” or even “others,” as teachers not as our students, as people we have something to learn from who teach us how to follow Jesus rather than the victims who need our saving help.

The problem is we don’t want to learn from our enemies. We don’t want them to be our teachers. Because, if we are willing to learn from them, if we are willing to take the time to listen to their stories, then it will become difficult to demonize them, to blame them for all that ails our country and our own lives, to rage at them from afar. Someone like the Rev. Will D. Campbell knew this, and it’s why he, while not equating the two, preached against the oppression of blacks in the United States as well as the oppression of poor whites.

Now we are Americans.  Since we are the world’s wealthy and powerful, we also seem to think we are the world’s teachers and saviors. We usually interpret this parable in such a way as to lead us to condescend to the broken and poor in order to save them. We believe we are the Samaritans and that their salvation lies with us. It is a troubling assumption of the privileged.  But the lawyer listening to this parable isn’t the Samaritan – he’s the guy in the ditch bleeding to death.

The real beauty of this parable for us is that we are each the beaten one on the roadside, in need of salvation from our enemies, and we are each the Samaritan, with the power to save our enemies by loving them.  In other words, this parable asks us to do the unthinkable.

It asks us to heal and to be healed by our enemies and our neighbors.  To realize that in the Kingdom of God, every person is potentially your brother and sister.  It asks us to live an eternal life today.  It asks us to live on earth as it is in heaven.

Who are the Samaritans in your life?  Who is Jesus challenging you and me to look at in a new light?  The love of Christ calls us to something bigger and better than what we are used to.  Don’t you want to be a part of that?

  December 2017  
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