THE GOSPELS 88
THE SAMARITAN STORY
Of all the parables which Jesus taught, none is more relevant to those who claim to be Christians (followers of Christ) than this one. Here we find the paradoxical picture of one who was supposed to be an interpreter of the laws of God, and a judge of those who violated them, trying to test the earthly presence of the One who created all things and is the author of all law. A Jewish lawyer came to Jesus to test Him.
The question which the lawyer asked Jesus typifies a mistake which seems to pervade all of Christendom. He said, “What must I do to be saved?” I grew up hearing preachers preach sermons with this title. The expected answer, and the answer proposed by them, is that you are to perform a set of ritual rules in order to be accepted by the Lord. Throughout the Christian world men teach that a set of rituals, or a repeated litany, or some words or forms will give you a heavenly pass. Paul firmly denied this when he said (Eph.2:8-9),
“By grace are you saved, through faith…it is the gift of God…not of works, so that no one can boast”. He goes on to say that we were created to do good works but not to be saved by them. What you do to be saved is place your faith in Jesus Christ and act accordingly.
Jesus continued the discussion by asking the lawyer what the “law” said.
The lawyer’s answer was “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself”. Jesus said if he did this he would live. This is not a ritual to perform, or a work by which one is justified, but a way of life, lived by one whose heart and mind are dedicated to the Lord and to His purposes.
The lawyer, unwilling to feel dismissed by Jesus’ words, said, “Who is my neighbor?” The Rabbinical law, which he represented, defined neighbor in terms of Jews only, and just the ones faithful to all the requirements the Rabbis had written into the law.
Jesus then told him the parable of the Good Samaritan. A man, beaten and in desperate need, lay by the side of the road to Jericho, where robbers and thieves were very common. A priest came and passed by on the other side. Of all the people who should have helped the man, this was surely the one most responsible to do so. However, in the law, if one touched a dead body [and this man looked as if he might even be dead] then that person was unclean and could not even enter the place of worship. So to the priest, performing in the temple and carrying out the rituals prescribed was more important than helping a suffering human. How many people feel that going to church and doing all the prescribed acts of worship is all they need to be acceptable Christians. Those whose religion is confined to the church building are certainly not the followers of the Christ. He defied all rules of the ceremonial law in order to minister to human need.
Then came a Levite. He was at the top of the scale of important people in the Jewish world. He curiously looked at the man but had not enough sympathy to make any move to help him.
Then came the Samaritan, a man despised by every Jew, but a business man who set aside all his other concerns to reach out to another human being. He did not just feel sorry for the man. He did what he could to treat his wounds and then put him on his own donkey. He must then have had to walk himself.
Then, he took him to an inn, paid for his care and promised to come back and pay for anything more the man might require. Obviously, his word was good, for the inn keeper asked for no further assurance that he would do as he said.
What the man had done told the inn keeper the kind of man that he was, and that is what was important.
Then Jesus asked the lawyer, which one proved to be neighbor to the man in trouble? To his credit, the lawyer answered, “The one who had mercy on him”.
Jesus said for him to go and do the same. In other words, what you do has
nothing to do with the acts you perform, but with the kind of person you are.
We do not worship God with our hands but with our heart.
The point of this story is very simple. Jesus expects His followers to imitate Him. He considered all of God’s creatures to be His responsibility. Even though He was without sin, He was willing to suffer death for all of our sins. The man on the road to Jericho was foolish to travel on this dangerous road with anything of value, for everyone knew that robbers and thieves abounded there. However, the Samaritan did not refuse to help him because he had gotten into trouble out of his own foolishness. It was a human in need, and he responded. Religious piety and legal correctness do not make us “Christianos”,
i.e., followers of Christ. Feeling responsible to help, even the unworthy, is the hallmark of His followers. When trouble strikes, don’t ask what nationality or race the ones in trouble are. Let love of mankind drive you to want the best for every living creature. That is Christianity.
Permit me to add one final note to this lesson: We don’t need to wait until
someone is bleeding by the side of the road to serve mankind. More people are attracted to Christianity by the godly life and loving attitude of another person than by all the sermons delivered from all the pulpits in the world. Everyone needs a smile and a word of encouragement. All can use the boost of a kindly act of courtesy, and being treated as a person instead of an object. No matter how lowly the station of the person, or how bad they are, everyone can be
lifted by the concern and respect of a caring person. Jesus considered everyone worthy of His love and concern…even me.