The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity, 2016
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
To whom is the parable of the Good Samaritan told?
We must say that Jesus is speaking to the lawyer who desired to justify himself. It’s to him that Jesus replied.
But we must also say that this parable is for every Christian who needs to know how they have been loved by God and how they ought to love their neighbor.
To whom is the parable told—there’re only two options: Jesus speaks either to unrepentant sinners or repentant sinners.
To the lawyer who desired to justify himself, Jesus speaks this parable to shock. It’s a shocking parable.
You have to understand that the Jews despised the Samaritans. And the only protagonist in the parable is the Samaritan.
If you were a Jew, hearing this parable in its original context, you would hate Jesus’ words for that reason alone.
Here’s why. Here’s why the Jews hated the Samaritans: they were syncretists. They permitted the worship of false gods alongside worship of the true God. They didn’t care to rebuild Jerusalem. They worshipped on Mount Gerazim, building their own temple there.
Two temples may not mean much to us today, but, to the Jews, it was the difference between obeying God and disobeying God.
And here’s how far it went: some rabbis taught that if a Jew accepted alms, help, from a Samaritan that it delayed the redemption of Israel. A saying even emerged that no Jew need trouble himself to save a Samaritan’s life (Talbert, Reading Luke).
So Jesus tells this parable to shock the lawyer. That the Samaritan is the only protagonist, you don’t actually know until the very end. And that’s part of the shock.
The priest and Levite appear to keep the law. They do. We hear this parable in our context. We think that it’s obvious that they should’ve helped. But don’t forget that part of the Mosaic law regarded cleanliness. The priest and the Levite need to be concerned with cleanliness.
In Numbers, for example, Moses writes: “Whoever touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean seven days…Whoever touches a dead person…and does not cleanse himself, defiles the tabernacle of the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from Israel” (Numbers 19:11, 13).
That’s for anyone.
The priest and the Levite want to avoid being cut off from Israel at all costs. So they pass by on the other side.
For priests, Moses writes in Leviticus, “No one shall make himself unclean for the dead among his people, except for his closest relatives” (Leviticus 21:1). What that means is this: had the half-dead man been the priests father or mother, he could have helped.
The chief priest can’t even do that. A few verses later Moses writes, “The priest who is chief among his brothers, on whose head the anointing oil is poured and who has been consecrated to wear the garments…shall not go in to any dead bodies nor make himself unclean, even for his father or for his mother” (Leviticus 21:10-11).
So the priest and Levite appear to keep the law.
They did exactly as they were instructed. They stayed away from the man who needed help so as not to defile themselves.
Then: “A Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where [the half-dead man] was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back’” (Luke 10:33-35).
If you were the Jewish lawyer you’d have that taste of bile in the back of your mouth right now, because you know where Jesus is going next.
“’Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’ [And the lawyer] said, ‘The one who showed him mercy’” (Luke 10:36-37).
And that answers it. That solves the conundrum.
The whole reason we’re here is because this man, who knows to love God and neighbor (cf. Luke 10:27), needs to know who his neighbor actually is.
Identify him. Mark him. Define him. So, I can do my part.
Properly understood, there’s nothing wrong with the question “What shall I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 10:25).
No Jew thinks that works merit eternal life. Every Jew knows that it is by God’s grace we’re saved. The question is—where do works fit in? Do my works help save me? Do they make me more righteous? Or, the way we would ask the question, What does the earthly life of the believer look like?
The shocking thing is, the priest and Levite, the ones who have the law, the ones to whom God has said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27; cf. Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18), those who’ve received the oracles of God through the intermediaries God provided, they know nothing.
They pass by on the other side preferring to keep what everyone naturally knows should not be kept in that moment.
The priest and Levite should’ve gotten dirty. They should’ve helped. They should’ve carried the man, fed the man, clothed the man, and provided for his bodily need.
They should’ve had compassion.
They are the unrepentant sinners to whom Jesus tells this parable.
The Jewish lawyer is included in that. And so are you.
You want to know what it looks like to love and trust God? You want to know what it looks like to love your neighbor as yourself? Care about the people you hate. Give to those you don’t think deserve. Sacrifice what’s yours for someone who doesn’t appear thankful. Meet the needs of those who lack. Have compassion. Show mercy.
The arrogance of the priest and Levite, and that of the self-justifying lawyer, lead straight to hell. That’s a well-traveled road, these days, but don’t go down it.
If you’re concerned about eternal life, you cannot love God, you cannot love your neighbor, by ignoring those who are in need.
Jesus says all that to the unrepentant sinners.
Jesus teaches you not to ignore those who are in need so that you would remember and believe and give thanks that Jesus did not ignore you when you were in need.
Repentant sinners hear Jesus’ words this way: I am the man who fell among robbers, either because they fell on me or I fell in with them. I was the one stripped and beaten and left for dead. I was the one that so many passed by.
But not Jesus. Jesus didn’t pass you by.
Created perfectly, we are now, by nature, sinful and unclean. We fall among robbers. We’re the victims of so many sins, we hold grudges, we wish evil upon those who hate us.
We are the sinners, we see how easy it is to steal and lie and cheat, and serve our flesh and gratify its desires, worshipping what God has made instead of the God who made it.
In this way, by nature, we’re not half-dead in trespasses and sins but completely dead in trespasses and sins (cf. Ephesians 2). Nevertheless, Jesus doesn’t pass you by.
He becomes your brother. God becomes flesh.
Taking on the form of a servant, He comes, not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as our ransom (cf. Matthew 20:28).
How often, in the Scriptures, does Jesus have compassion?
It’s never us. It’s never man. It’s always God. Always Jesus who’s moved by compassion to love and act on our behalf.
He binds up our wounds, pouring oil and wine.
Into the Church He carries us Himself.
And He leaves us with His promises, providing for our continued care.
Jesus is the Good Samaritan.
Our sins and uncleanness, our guilt and shame, He takes upon Himself. He carries it. He pays for it.
He doesn’t pass by on the other side. Face set, Jesus goes to Jerusalem to die for all. To forgive all. To save all.
Hear the Gospel, believe, and rejoice! Jesus, the Good Samaritan, shows mercy to you all. Your sins are forgiven.
You have eternal life.
If you believe that, and you should, but if you believe that, it’s impossible to go on from here and not show mercy to others.
Jesus says, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).
Not because that’s how you earn eternal life. You don’t earn eternal life. Jesus earned eternal life. And He gives it freely by the Gospel. Hear it, and believe!
That’s how God has loved you!
No, you go and do likewise, you have compassion and show mercy, because you can. Because, to you, great mercy has been shown, so, to others, show great mercy.
You were a neighbor in need, and Jesus was your Good Samaritan.
So, now, when your neighbor is in need, you can be theirs.
That’s how you ought to love your neighbor.
Go and do likewise.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!