The Good Samaritan & The Questions We Ask

“Good Samaritan”

We all know this story is one that we have heard many times. In fact, it has been told to us so much that its message has become stale; simply being reduced down to modern cliche statements like “ be nice to people”. However, this passage has the potential to change us if we read deeper and hear God’s fresh words within the story.

So today we ask the question, what is it about this story that Jesus wanted his listeners, and us, to learn about what He expects?   

In order to answer this question we must fully understand the implications of the story and those depicted in it. Jesus uses the example of three people to a religious leader that has just asked the question, who is my neighbor?   

He then starts to tell a story of three people that see a Jewish man beaten, robbed, and left for dead on the side of the road. This man finds himself in the ditch left for dead, with no hope unless a passerby makes an intervention. Along come three people. The first is a priest, and yet seeing the man’s need, he is not moved to compassion and he walks right on by and down the road. The priest is following the “religious purity laws” by not touching what he thinks might be a dead body, but in doing so, is not living out a sense of grace. This is truly sad; this priest is considered a religious leader within his community and he shows no desire to help someone in need.

The  story continues as Jesus says that another man who walks down the road  is a Levite. However, seeing the man in need does not move him to compassion, instead it moves him across the road where he can walk less encumbered by the sight of a helpless broken person lying in a ditch.

Jesus, being the masterful storyteller that he is makes a bold move. Saying that the third and final man to walk by this helpless person in the ditch is none other than the arch enemy of the people of Israel; a Samaritan. To say that Samaritans were held in contempt in the first century would be an understatement:  they we despised. Israelites in the first century would often walk hours and days out of the way to simply avoid stepping foot in their lands. Many considered them worthless at best, and had no desire to show ANY level of hospitality.  This was the greatest of insults in the first century culture. No hospitality = No love. However, Jesus says that the Samaritan walks by and sees the this broken man; beaten, robbed, and left for dead. Upon seeing this, he is moved to compassion. He has compassion for someone that would not necessarily have compassion for him. Yet, he takes this man, puts him on his donkey and carries him to the local inn. It is a lowly Samaritan who takes pity upon the man, helps him and even pays to be sure his needs are met when the Samaritan has to leave.  The Samaritan saw the man in his need and had compassion on him.  The two religious men, men who were supposed to teach others how to live for God, ignored the man’s immediate needs because of their own need to maintain cleanliness in the sight of their ritual purity laws.

Thus, the story reflects from where the religious leader asks the question “who is my neighbor?”  It is out of contempt for others, not because he truly wanted clarification, but because he wanted justification:  justification to reduce the number of people for whom he would have to show compassion.  Like us, this leader felt he had a right to judge others and act accordingly.  So since Samaritans were not inherently good in the minds of first century Jewish people, he had the right to ignore them.  He did not need to worry himself about the injustice being done to “such as these” as long as he followed the religious purity laws.  

But Christ calls us to more than that.  He asks us to step out in faith and stand up for those who are considered unwelcome.  However, like the religious leader, we ask questions meant to let us off the hook, to justify our position and relieve our sense of guilt.  We are looking for some space to wiggle through and not be faithful to what we know we should do. We look for room to be able to walk to the other side of the road and keep going without being overly encumbered… This is wrong!  

But there is more to this story than just the meeting of the man’s physical needs.  The story tells us that God is moved by our need for grace. Jesus sees our unholy, beaten down spirits, and pours out God’s grace upon us.  We have done nothing to deserve His love and yet He consistently pours it out for us.  The parable also shows us that God never leaves us alone on the side of the road beaten and left for dead.  

So what are we being called to? What is expected of us?

We are being called to have the compassion of the Samaritan.  The church is to reach out and touch those who are perceived as being culturally unclean and supply their need in the name of Christ.  

The question being asked by the religious leader is not one simply of who is my neighbor, but what does it mean to be faithful?  Thus, the answer to the question shows that our connection to God is lived out in our willingness to assist our neighbor.  

So who is your neighbor?  Who is it that you are being called to see in a new light and offer the hope of Christ?  How are you going to answer God’s call to be “the Good Samaritan?”

These are questions only you can answer.

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