Meditating on the Parables of Luke: 2. The Good Samaritan
Luke 10:30-37 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, 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, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Context: We have said that context is often important in understanding the purpose of the parable. Here a ‘smart-alec’ expert in the law sought to test Jesus by asking about how to get eternal life (v.25). Jesus directed him to the Law summarised by “‘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, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.” Having established that he then asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” The parable comes as the answer.
The Facts of the Story: The story that Jesus tells comprises
- a traveler going from Jerusalem who was attacked, beaten and stripped and left for dead.
- a priest passes by and ignores him. So does a Levite.
- then a Samaritan arrives, stops and cares for him, takes him to an inn and pays for ongoing care.
The Punchline: The story provides a not unfamiliar situation but the crucial point comes with the question that follows: ”Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The right answer is given, “The one who had mercy on him.”
The Point of the Parable: Now I suspect many of us have heard this parable preached on so many times that we have heard that the injured man was ignored by the two religious Jews but was cared for by someone who would have been considered an alien by the legalistic Jews of the day. But how can we summarise the story in a meaningful way? Perhaps we should simply say that ‘your neighbour’ has nothing to do with location, race, etc. but is all to do with need. Having said that, the ‘neighbour’ was not the injured man, it was the Samaritan. In Jesus’ eyes, therefore’ anyone who sees another in need becomes their ‘neighbour’.
Pertinent Questions: Now if we say that, and I believe it is right to say that, it opens up the whole world before us. Picking up on the story, it suggests that being religious can be a stumbling block to our becoming a ‘neighbour’. So here is the logical first uncomfortable question that arises here: is there any criteria that excludes anyone in need and lets me off the hook from being their ‘neighbour’? No.
It is possible that the two passers-by thought a variety of things that let them off the caring hook, for example, I’m too busy to stop / this might be a trap to catch me / it’s probably his own fault that he didn’t take care / he’s not from our culture and we have problems with his people / I might be accused of taking advantage of him and get dragged into this / I’m not medically trained (or trained in any other relevant way) to be able to help in these circumstances / this is going to need ongoing caring and I already have too many calls on my time. There is another crucial question that arises here: isn’t love just feeling good about someone, and the answer has to be, no, love is demonstrated by actions.
Modern-life Confusions: We live in a very confusing world today. Everything is not always as it seems. For example, here is a family on benefit who come to a weekly Saturday brunch our church provides. After a number of weeks when they eventually open up, it turns out the father actually earns more than our pastor; their apparent poverty is because they spend a lot. Another family called and asked for help because they were having trouble making ends meet, and when the Pastor visited he found both parents with iPhones and each of four children with an iPad and a large modern flat-screen TV on the table. Sometimes the truth is that being a neighbour means loving in such a way that channels of communication are opened up so that offers of lessons in budgeting is more appropriate than just handing out food or money.
The Heart of the Parable: The thing that opened up the way for this story was the command to love. My starting point has to be, how can I love? To this I must add, how I can I love people I don’t know, and the answer is in theory but practice can only be with those I encounter, talk to, get to know, in such an unjudging way that they open up to me. At that point love needs supplementing with wisdom: what is the right way to offer help here? That then may open a door to a whole load more considerations that only a whole church can hope to handle. So, probably a very familiar story, even learnt in Sunday School, yet one which raises serious questions to be thought through by us as individuals and as church.
Beat-Up People: The man on the road was beaten up and left on his own. In this fallen world many people have been beaten up by life and desperately need a good Samaritan to come alongside, yes some because of their own folly but is God put off by that? No. When we look back over our lives we maybe see a battlefield that involved loss of loved ones through death, loss of loved ones who walked away, illnesses that had to be fought, operations that had to be endured, accidents that were unforeseen with ongoing trying circumstances. Then there were hopes that were dashed, expectations that were never fulfilled. Some suffered the identity conflict we call the midlife crisis. Marriages broke up, individuals fell in with wrong company and crimes were committed – and then paid for. Injuries, ailments, hurts, disillusionments. All of these things – and we could no doubt find many more – are the things that characterize this fallen world. And God’s answer? You and me, to be there for one another and for whoever He brings across our path. He is the healer, the restorer, the comforter, the encourager, but He looks for ‘Samaritans’ like you and me. May we collectively be a healing force in our communities.