A couple years ago I was getting a tattoo. It was late and the streets of Vegas began to quiet down. My artist had walked outside for a smoke. The shop was silent until a woman slowly peaked her head in. She was looking to get a tattoo and began sharing her story with us.
She couldn’t stand still as she began telling me about how she wanted to get a tattoo for her son. I was surprised because I was in the middle of getting my son’s handprint on my inner arm. I showed her the progress and when she saw my tattoo she began crying. I didn’t know what was taking place but knew a story was coming. Through her tears she began to tell me how her son was killed just a few months earlier.
She didn’t go into details but her face told the pain of the story. Her son was just a few months older than my son at the time of his death. The most painful part was our son’s shared the same name. She tried to leave and I asked if I could pray for her but she rejected it. I have no clue what happened to that woman after she left. But I believe God has kept a close watch on her life.
In the Gospel of Luke chapter 10 we read one of the most familiar stories in the entire Bible. It’s called “The Parable of the Good Samaritan.” For most of my time as a pastor I haven’t taught this passage. My logic is that many have heard the parable and I didn’t feel I had much to offer. But as our church has looked at how the compassion of Jesus changes us, it seemed right to look at the words of Jesus in this familiar story.
Asking the wrong questionLuke provides no specific time frame for this story (read Luke 10:25-29). The man came to Jesus with a hostile question. He is defined as expert in the law. He is not a teacher of the law or a student of the law, but an expert. He presents a question to Jesus in an attempt to be sure he can enter heaven. He knows that eternal life can’t be bought or earn, but inherited. Salvation is a free gift for those who place their faith and trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. He’s studied the Scriptures and has a great handle on them.
In fact, the Apostle Paul made sure the church in Rome knew that salvation isn’t something that can be earned (read Romans 8:3). The law was powerless to DO. Salvation is not spelled “do” but spelt “done.” The work of salvation was done for us by Jesus on the cross. Jesus conquered sin and death so we could enjoy eternity with Him in heaven. When we turn back to the story we read that Jesus answers the question with a question. Jesus responds to the hostility with grace of the God.
The Bible points us to the grace of God. The man was able to summarize the truth of God. His answer is correct (read Deuteronomy 6:4-5). He essentially quotes what a devout Jewish person would recite twice a day. It’s called the Shema. The condensed version is a command to love God and love others. His answer pleased Jesus. If you were standing around looking at the crowd you might have seen people give a small golf clap. Onlookers would have whispered to each other. Older Jewish woman would have wished their daughter had married this man.
Through the quiet accolades, the expert in the law broke the silence; he wanted to justify himself. He may have wanted public praise or inner clarity. He furthers his lawyer type response asking Jesus to clarify who his neighbor would be. The man asks the wrong question. Instead of asking who is his neighbor, he needed to ask; “Am I a neighbor?” He didn’t think about who he could bless, or care for, or be kind to, but longed for justification for his actions.
So many times we ask the wrong question. The problem is we are self-centered by nature. We have a tendency to overlook situations that we feel are out of our control. We marginalize people based on our preconceived notions and actions. We’ve been raised in a certain environment and therefore can miss what is happening the rest of our county, state, and country. We think about what we can gain from a situation instead of what we can add. So often we have things backwards and Jesus wants to change our perspective. I’m not condemning us, but pointing on what we need to be aware of in our personal life.
Interrupted travel plansJesus seems unshaken by the question and shares a brief story (read Luke 10:30). The road has been called the road of blood—it’s an extremely dangerous road. Jerusalem sits on a mountain 2500 feet above sea level, you always go down from Jerusalem no matter which direction you take. Jericho was seventeen miles east of Jerusalem and approximately eight hundred feet below sea level.
The man was dehumanized. He is beaten and left half dead in the middle of the road. Given the desert landscape, robbers would hide around corners and in caves to attack unsuspecting people. He didn’t intend to get jumped. Another version of the Bible says, “he fell into the hands of robbers.” This happens so often. Talk to an ex-drunk and they will tell you they never intended to allow their life to spiral out of control. Prostitutes tell the same story, they fell into the lifestyle. I just finished a book called Ghettoside based on the gang lifestyle in Los Angeles. Many of these young men fell into the gang life in their teens to protect themselves; it’s horrible.
We have the scene set and it looks like a crime scene waiting for the police to arrive. Then Jesus says these words (read Luke 10:31). Yes! A priest is coming this way, this guy has to be superman in the story. Surely the priest will be the hero who arrives before the police. But he passes the man by.
Many of you are wondering what just happened. This isn’t how a priest would treat this man. The priest may have just finished his Temple service. He was anxious to arrive home. Levitical law stated he was only allowed to defile himself for a close relative. Only if a close family member passes away can he be near. He doesn’t want to take the risk of this man dying and making him unclean. He crossed to the far side of the road. He did all he could to avoid this man. He throws his hands up, stops quickly, and walks the edge of the road. We must keep in mind he is only a fictional character, but either way his actions are painful for us to read.
Jesus continues (read Luke 10:32). Next a levite comes by. Levites were helpers in the Temple Service. He would have been an assistant to the Priest. Of course this man of God will help this beaten human. Both of these men had to know the Shema and the command to love God and love others. But this man also dances to the side of the road. He turns his head from the desperate situation. He does his best to convince himself it’s someone else’s problem. He justifies his actions in his mind so he can walk on with a clean conscious. A man lies in the road, hanging on to life by a thread, and two men of God have just passed by without offering any help.
It’s tempting to get some righteous anger. We wish we were sitting close enough to interrupt Jesus and make a statement. We want to know why these men passed with doing nothing. In the spring of 2012 I graduated from seminary. Afterwards our family went to lunch. Then we got on the road to head to the hotel. I had my family of four loaded in the car and accelerated on the freeway onramp. Halfway up the onramp was what appeared to be a transient couple. As we drove nearer I could see the woman on the ground clawing to get away from the man. He had fist drawn in the air and was yelling at her. Guess what I did? I did nothing. I continued on the gas and left. God had sent help. I just graduated seminary but for some reason I froze and was useless.
Maybe something like this happened in your life. You had the means to help and didn’t. Maybe you froze like I did. Maybe you didn’t know how to help. Maybe the sight of the blood was too much for you and you went the other way. Maybe you thought the small amount in your pocket wasn’t enough to give away. We’re great at making excuses to keep us safe. We’re great at creating narratives that help us remain arms distance from the place God wants us to engage.
Just like our story, this story isn’t complete (read Luke 10:33-35). Next a Samaritan comes by. This is an emphatic statement in the text. For whatever reason, Jesus intentionally choose a race that Jews hated. The Jews and Samaritans hated each other equally. But in this story, we read that the Samaritan had pity on the man. Another translation might read compassion. In the Greek language it’s to be moved deeply in your bowels. The man had such a deep, inner, sympathy for this man who was hurt. His reaction is a stark contrast to the first two men. If everyone had been holding their breath, it has been let out.
Hope comes when one person shows compassion. That’s all it takes for everyone leaning forward in their chair to relax. The oil would have soothed the pain of his wounds. The wine would disinfect it. This man has been brutalized so bad that he can’t even walk to help himself; he is placed on the donkey and taken from the horror zone. He is brought to an inn where the Samaritan pays for his ongoing care. The amount given would cover about twenty-four nights of lodging and he offers to pay more if the costs increase.
The Samaritan gave his personal resources to help out. He invested his time to help out, he gave his resources to care for the man, and gave his money. All of this he did for a man he never met. What compels a person to act in such a way. He appears reckless in caring for this man.
My friend Gary Gaddini once said, “The greatest things done in Jesus name always surpass reason.” What this Samaritan did is unheard of. The hate between these two groups of people and that one would care for the other. The Samaritan allowed his travel plans to be highjacked to help out a person he never met and may never meet again.
To bring a conclusion to the story, Jesus asks the final question of the encounter (read Luke 10:36-37). I imagine Jesus asking the question in a very humble tone. He is direct and fixes His gaze on the other man. With his head down he gives is answer.
There are some literary clues we need to point out to grasp the weight of this. First the expert in the law couldn’t say that it was the Samaritan who was the hero in the story. Second he never addressed the compassion aspect. He uses a different word. He called him “man” and said “mercy.” His use of mercy suggests the man almost deserved what he got. Jesus tells him to go and likewise. If you want to inherit heaven, have compassion on others. Surrender your life to Jesus and live to help others.