The Commandments for Living
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.”
Today’s story is very well known to all of us. The story of the Good Samaritan. Usually, I have a hard time preparing a sermon for this story in the Bible. So I have struggled to develop this sermon and it has ended up being a little theological and dry which will make you feel bored and sleepy. Please don’t feel bored and don’t fell asleep. Even though it is dry, I believe it is a good challenge for us today. Let’s get started.
We are introduced to a lawyer here. He was an expert in the Jewish religious law and he is thus an expert witness. The lawyer was going to expose himself to Jesus his ignorance, his arrogance, and his true status. But Jesus turned the tables on him. The conversation took a new direction that the lawyer didn’t expect. In the conversation, Jesus indicated that the lawyer and others who thought like him, needed to rethink their positions. They needed some new definitions for living. What words did they need to redefine? What new definitions did they need?
Let us see the story. The first two men introduced in the parable are religious leaders. While we are shocked at their behavior toward the man who was robbed, Jesus’ hearers were not shocked. Leviticus 21 explains their hesitation to touch a dead body. They might think that the man was dead. If they touched him, they would become unclean, and may have been on their way to participate in a religious service so they needed to remain clean.
Jesus’ hearers were shocked about the introduction of the third man in the story- a Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans came from a similar heritage, but had diverged into two separate groups several centuries earlier. Even though they are related to each other, they built a huge wall between them and never shared anything.
Jesus in the story introduced a new element into people’s thinking by asking a simple question. Given the circumstances, who is a neighbor? Through this simple question, Jesus tried to invite the hearers to break down the huge wall that had been built between Jews and Samaritans. For the hearers, it was a shocking teaching and a new vision.
Part of what Jesus was trying to do was to get people to open their eyes about their own responses to others. He challenged his listeners to put themselves into the parable. How do I respond when faced with a situation that challenges my life? What happens when I see someone in need and can’t find a way to help? What are my responsibilities as an individual? We might say, “I am only one individual. What can I do?” The Samaritan was one individual. Let’s look at what he did.
“When he saw the man, he took pity on him. He 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. The next day he took out two silver coins, and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Look after him and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”
It is amazing. Could you do this for someone? It seems too much. I have my own experience, the opposite of the way of the Samaritan in the story. When I was a college student, I traveled to a small village. I needed shelter for the night. I found a Methodist church and I thought that the church could help me stay for the night. I was a student of the Methodist Theological Seminary and served a church as a student pastor. So, I was positive about the hospitality from that church. I entered the church and found the pastor. I introduced myself and asked to stay in one of the rooms of the church. But he didn’t open the door for me. He just allowed me to stay in the sanctuary but didn’t allow me to stay in a room. I stayed for the night on the cold and hard pew in the sanctuary. It was a long night.
I do not blame him. He did what most people do these days when, because of our fear, it is hard to offer hospitality. I believe that the good Samaritan story is a perfect example of hospitality. In the story, Jesus teaches us to respond with hospitality to those who need a helping hand.
Again, we might say, “I am only one individual. What can I do?” As an individual, we may have a hard time responding to this calling. This hardship leads us into the role of religion for the world.
Many people’s definition of religion is something like this: an archaic system of folkways and mores dominated by a series of “do’s” and “don’ts,” primarily “don’ts.” Many people’s solution to behavior they dislike is to say, “Don’t do that. It is sinful.”
But religion can cave in on itself and become a burden rather than a joy. We live by the grace of God, not by our own merit. Grace means that we see ourselves in relation to others as brothers and sisters. On one occasion Jesus quoted from the prophet Hosea who said of God, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice (Matt. 12:7).” God’s intention is that religion will liberate us for loving service to others, not be a ball and chain we drag around like prisoners. The church does not have any intention to chain people. The church exists to support, to encourage, to embrace, and to pray for people. The church does not have any wall, separating our existence from the world. The church offers humanity the Good news and exists to share God’s grace with others. This is our church where you are now seated.
Through this Good Samaritan story, Jesus gave the lawyer something to think about. Who is a neighbor? Who am I? What is religious duty?
Do you have any wall, separating yourself from anything? Jesus gives you this story to rethink about the wall. Do you have any questions about your identity as Christians? Jesus gives this story for you to reflect on. Do you want to know why the church exists in our society? Jesus gives you this story for the answer to that question.
I will wrap up this sermon with an illustration. A story is told of the fourth wise man who had followed the Star announcing the birth of Jesus. He went to Bethlehem with a gift for the Savior. His gift was that of precious jewels.
On his way to Bethlehem, he found a man who had been beaten and robbed by thieves and left to die. The wise man took the injured man to an inn and paid for his care with one of the jewels that had been meant for Jesus.
When he finally arrived in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph had fled to Egypt with Jesus. He found that Herod and his soldiers were killing children and that Mary and Joseph had escaped with Jesus. The wise man saw a soldier preparing to kill one of the children of Bethlehem and so he bribed him with another jewel to save the child. The child’s mother was relieved and very grateful.
The wise man went on to Egypt in pursuit of Jesus and his parents. However, while in Egypt the wise man became ill and a kind but poor woman nursed him back to health. On one occasion he found this woman crying and soon discovered why. Her son had been forced to join the army and now this woman was very distraught. The wise man was so grateful to this woman for all she had done that he used his last jewel and bought her son out of the army. Now he had nothing to offer Jesus.
One night, the wise man had a dream. In the dream, he was sad because he didn’t have anything to offer Jesus. However, Jesus came to him and praised him for what he had done for the people with the jewels. Jesus said, “When you do it to the least you do it unto me.”
This wise man was definitely a good Samaritan. Today, Jesus gives us a lesson of how to live as Christians and as a church. I pray that you all could live as a good Samaritan for this summer with the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let us pray.
Dear God, thank you for your words this morning. You always ask us to know our neighbors and to help them in their pain and struggles. Give us wisdom and power so that we can serve our neighbors as the Good Samaritan did. In your name we pray. Amen.