The story from Luke is a familiar one that most of us have heard or read many times. One temptation that faces preachers, lay speakers and Sunday school teachers alike, is to try and find some new “creative” approach to “spice” it up. We do not acknowledge often enough the power of the scripture, the simplicity of the word is sometimes overwhelmed by our desire to trust to our own self instead of seeking the spirit to guide us in the reading of the word. So how do we hear it, really hear it today? I suggest we go beyond the words and their familiarity, while keeping the question Jesus asked us always before us: who was a neighbor to the man beaten and left to die? We have always known the answer to this question to be the Samaritan. Yet the literal answer given to Jesus was the “one who showed him mercy.”
First let’s set the scene. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was known to be extremely dangerous. Jerusalem is 2,300 feet above sea level; the Dead Sea, near which Jericho stood, is 1,300 feet below sea-level. In less than 20 miles this road dropped 3,600 feet. It was a narrow road with rocky out-crops and sudden turns. It was, so to speak, the “happy hunting grounds” of thieves. So as Jesus tells this story he is using an example everyone understood was part of the world they lived in. In the fifth century it was called “The Red or Bloody Way” In the 19th century it was necessary to pay safety money to the local Sheiks before one could travel on it. As recent as the 1930’s to travel this road after dark was certain trouble. There was a certain man who was adept at holding up cars, robbing tourists and travelers and escaping to the hills before the police could arrive.
How about the people involved in this story?
-There was the traveler. He had to know the history of this road, so we might say he was a bit reckless and foolhardy. People seldom attempted the Jerusalem to Jericho road alone if they were carrying goods or valuables. Seeking safety in numbers, they travelled in convoys or caravans. This man had no one but himself to blame for the plight in which he found himself. Do we sometimes find ourselves holding back because the person involved had no one to blame but themselves for the plight they were in? Do we tend to be judgmental first, offering help only if the situation or person meets our standards?
-There was the priest. He passed by even walking to the other side of the road. He was no doubt remembering that he who touched a dead man was unclean for seven days.
Numbers 19: 11 Those who touch the dead body of any human being shall be unclean for seven days.
He could not be sure but he feared that the man was dead; to touch him would mean losing his turn of duty in the Temple; and he refused to risk that. He set the claims of ceremonial above charity. The Temple and its liturgy meant more to him than the pain of the man. This priest was not a bad man, we are not bad people. The buildings, programs and liturgy of the church do not blind us of the needs of others. It does not stop us from reaching out; but sometimes like this priest we do not touch.
Act 3:6 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”
Peter reached out and gave the his hand, helping him up.
-There was the Levite. He seems to have walked a little closer to the man before he passed on. The bandits were in the habit of using decoys. One of their numbers would act the part of a wounded man; and when the unsuspecting traveler stopped to help , the others would rush him and overpower him. The Levite’s motto was “safety first”. He would take no risks to help anyone else. Now most of the time bandits on the road are not our problem. So let’s update a bit. We will use “comfort zone” as our bandit. We sometimes shy away from people because they don’t look like us, don’t talk or dress the way we do, don’t smell like us. They are different and to help them sometimes requires us to leave our “comfort zone”.
Mat 8:2 And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”
Mat 8:3 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
Here again we see the need of a touch; we must leave our comfort zone and reach out and touch, just as our Lord did.
-There was the Samaritan. The listeners would obviously expect that with his arrival the villain had arrived. The Jews had no dealings with Samaritans and yet this man seems to have been a kind of commercial traveler who was a regular visitor to the inn. He may not have been racially a Samaritan at all. You may be surprised to know that in the book of John the Jews call Jesus a Samaritan.
Joh 8:48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”
The name was sometimes used to describe a man who was a heretic and breaker of ceremonial law. Maybe this man was a Samaritan in the sense of being one whom all orthodox good people despised. Two things about this man worth nothing:
-His credit was good! The innkeeper was prepared to trust him. He may have been theologically unsound, but he was an honest man.
-He alone was prepared to help. A heretic he may have been, but the love of God was in his heart.
Here we learn a hard lesson. Christians aren’t the only nice people around. It is no new experience to find the orthodox more interested in dogmas than in help and to find the man the orthodox despise to be the one who loves his fellow-men. In the end we will be judged not by the creed we hold but by the life we live.
-Now let’s look at the teaching of the parable. The scribe who asked this question was in earnest. Jesus asked him what was written in the law and then said, “how do you read?” Strict orthodox Jews wore around their wrists little leather boxes called phylacteries, which contained certain passages of scripture.
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.* 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem* on your forehead, 9and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Also Deuteronomy 11: 13-20; to this the scribes added the following
18You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
With their passion for definition the Rabbis sought to define who a man’s neighbor was, and as can be expected they narrowed that to be their fellow Jews. So the scribe’s question “who is my neighbor” was genuine. Jesus’ answer involves three things.
(i) We must help a man even when he has brought his trouble on himself, as the traveler had done.
(ii) Any man of any nation who is in need is our neighbor. Our help must be as wide as the love of God.
(iii) The help must be practical and not consist merely in feeling sorry. There is no doubt that the priest and the Levite felt badly for the wounded man, but they did nothing. Compassion, to be real, requires an active response.
The Samaritan came near, had compassion, went to the man, bandaged the wounds, poured oil and wine on them, brought him to an inn, took care of him at the inn and when he had to leave, he gave money to the innkeeper to continue to help the man, promising more if needed when he returned. The Samaritan did mercy, and he did it, hands on, with the beaten man. What Jesus said to the scribe, he says to us —“Go you and do the same.” Life is full of dangerous roads. Who is being beaten up near us and left to die? Who is being chewed up and spit out by the culture, or individuals, groups or institutions where we are and left to die? Are we doing more than feeling sorry for them and passing by on the other side of the road? Right now……“WE NEED TO GO AND DO THE SAME”
Hope to see you in the pew next week…jk
Reference Material – Barclay DBS