The Good Samaritan story is known to Christians and non-Christians alike. What many people don’t know is how the cultural, social and religious realities of Jesus’ day color the story. In this message we will explore what this story meant to Jesus’ listeners and hopefully give us a new appreciation for in light of what we’re experiencing today.Read More
- I will do for one what I wish I could do for everyone.
- I will ask God to reveal who he wants me to help.
- I will reach out with compassion to those in need.
- I will extend compassion regardless of how the person got in the situation.
Full Sermon Script:
Welcome to week three of this series.  I started this series by explaining to you that whenever something seems completely overwhelming to me, I think of the phrase, “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.”  I can’t do everything, but I can do something. *I can’t solve the problem of homelessness, but I can help one homeless person. *I can’t solve the educational problems in poor communities, but I can tutor one child. *I can’t support every organization fighting for justice for the oppressed, but I can give to one. *I can’t help every struggling marriage, but I can help one marriage.  Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.  When I was explaining that principle to my middle daughter who’s adopted, she hugged me and said, “Dad, you did it for two,” referring to her and her brother.  My instinct was to say, “No, that’s not what I meant.” But she was right, I did do it for two. But you know what, when you’re doing for one what you wish you could do for everyone, you sometimes forget what you’re doing because it brings so much meaning and fulfillment to your life. Because it’s the way God designed us to live.  So give it a try — do for one what you wish you could do for everyone, and see what God does. 
Well, we started this series by talking about biblical Justice; not retributive justice like paying for wrongs you’ve committed, but restorative justice, which is to seek out vulnerable people who are being taken advantage of and helping them. It means to advocate for the vulnerable and to work toward changing social structures to prevent injustice.  A pastor friend of mine said he was asked if their church is a social justice church. And his response was, “That’s like asking if this a book library or a food grocery store.”  Justice for the oppressed is a real important biblical theme that runs throughout Scripture.  Sadly, in our day it’s used in political ways to emphasize an agenda that you’re either for or against, but it’s a biblical term. It has it’s roots in Scripture. 
We also talked about how God judges societies based on how they treat the oppressed, the marginalized people of a society, because they were the most vulnerable to injustice, because they were the victims of injustice.
Then last week we talked about how Jesus died to tear down the dividing wall of hostility that separated the Jews and Gentiles, the great ethnic chasm of his day. And we live in a society that is filled with dividing walls of hostility between black and white; Asian, Hispanic, rich and poor. And Jesus died to tear them down. So if we, as followers of Christ, are not involved in tearing down the walls that alienate people, we’re making a joke of the cross. It’s just not an option. 
Alright, today we’re going to look at a story from Luke 10 starting at verse 25. It’s the story of the Good Samaritan. This story is known to Christians and non-Christians alike. And what many people don’t know is how the cultural, social and religious realities of Jesus’ day color this story. So we’re going to explore what this story meant to Jesus’ listeners and hopefully give us a new appreciation for in light of what we’re experiencing today. 
Something we need to understand about the story of the Good Samaritan is it’s designed around two debates that happened between Jesus and an expert in the law. >>>>>
The first debate is contained in
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered: “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 neighbor as yourself.” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
> Okay, so this is the first debate. And we need to notice a few things that are going on here. First of all, it seems like the expert in the law is coming to ask Jesus a question, but that’s not really what’s happening.
In verse 25, Luke tells us:
an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.
> Which is interesting because in that culture if a person had a sincere question, where they wanted to learn from a Rabbi, they would stand as a sign of respect. So in standing, the lawyer is saying to Jesus, “I have an honest question for which I would like an answer.” But that’s not what’s happening. He’s there to test Jesus. 
And so in this debate there are two questions and two answers. But you notice it’s not structured question/answer, question/answer because Jesus knew what was going on in this guys heart. Jesus knew he was being tested. So when the expert in the law asks the first question:
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Rather than giving an answer, Jesus returns with a question. 
Now, one of the reasons Jesus taught in stories was to overcome the prevailing assumptions of that day. And one of the prevailing assumptions was — you could do something in order to inherit eternal life. Jesus recognizes this is the heart of the question, so he returns it with a question himself:
“What is written in the law? How do you read it?”
Then there’s a series of two answers. The first answer comes from the expert in the law. Jesus actually has him answer his own question. And he answers correctly with a verse from the Old Testament —
He answered: “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 neighbor as yourself.” 
Now, having given that answer, Jesus says to him:
You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.
Now, that ought to be the end of the story. “You have answered correctly. You know the right answer. Your theology is correct.” But there’s a lingering question — does he have the life to back it up? Is his intellectual stance in line with the way he lives his life? Does he really love people, or is he just theologically correct?  For some reason this answer doesn’t satisfy the expert in the law. Perhaps as he was saying the words out loud, “I need to love God and love my neighbor,” he realized that he’s not quite done that yet; that the answer isn’t sufficient; that Jesus is really saying, “If you want to do something in order to inherit eternal life then all you need to do is continually love God and continually love your neighbor with all that you are — with the totality of your entire being.” And it’s at this point that the expert in the law gets a little nervous because I think what he was hoping was that Jesus would give him a list that he could check off and match up with his life and walk away feeling like he was righteous. But instead of giving him a list, Jesus lays out requirements that are unconditional. Jesus lays out a command to an open-ended lifestyle that requires an unconditional love for both God and people. 
So starting with verse 29 we enter the second debate, again, with two questions and two answers. Verse 29 says:
But he wanted to justify himself, “And who is my neighbor?”
> The other reason Jesus taught in stories was to correct attitudes. Here we see the attitude of a self-righteous man.  He asks the question, probably with a hint of arrogance: “And who is my neighbor?”
Because this part of the conversation made him a little uncomfortable. It’s like he’s asking Jesus, “Who do I need to love?” And Jesus said, “You need to love people.” And he says, “Well, that’s great, define people.” He was looking for a loophole.  You see, he knew that he was supposed to love God. But who was his neighbor that he was supposed to love as himself? If he could just get that straight then he could leave feeling justified. 
Now, let me explain a little about the Jewish social structure as it existed in Jesus’ day so we can understand the next part of the story. The person in the Jewish social structure who had the most power was the priest. From there would be the Levites. And then the Jew (from the line of Joseph) who was a descendent directly from the line of Joseph.  From there were the untouchables: the tax collectors, the outcasts, the sinners, the Gentiles and the Samaritans.  The question the lawyer is asking right now is, “How far down in the social structure do I have to go to consider someone my neighbor?”  Here’s what he’s hoping: He’s hoping Jesus is going to say, “You have to love the priests; you have to love the Levites, and you have to love the Jew from the line of Joseph.” If Jesus said that, he would be able to say, “I’ve obeyed the command.”  You see, the problem with this expert in the law is he’s still living in the “do” part of the question — “what must I DO to inherit eternal life?” He doesn’t realize that in order to inherit eternal life one needs to live in God’s grace. He doesn’t want to live in grace because that takes away all of his credit. He would prefer to live by his own ability to present himself as significant and righteous before God.  He’s asking the question that we might ask today: Do I have to love people who disagree with me politically? Do I have to love my enemy? Do I have to love the person who says evil things about me? Do I have to love the person who hurt me? Can’t I just love people who are nice to me that I get along with? Jesus is about to blow this guys mind.  Here’s what Jesus is going to show him: In this particular story, Jesus is going to push the envelope all the way out to the Samaritans.  Now, there are many stories and many instances in Jesus’ teaching where he pushes the limit all the way out to the Gentiles, and then beyond it to even women, which was a radical move in the ancient world. But in this particular story, Jesus is going to push it as far out as the Samaritans, and he knows that the lawyer is not going to be able to comprehend this.  So he takes him slowly, and he says, “Let me tell you a story.” >>>>> It starts in verse 30:
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of 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.
> Alright, let’s take a look real quick at the beginning of this story.
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.”
Now, first of all, the road that goes from Jerusalem to Jericho is a steep, twisty, windy road that earned the nickname “The Way of Blood.” In 17 miles, it descends 3300 feet. It twists, it’s steep, and it’s surrounded by rocky cliffs. It was a perfect road for robbers to hideout and attack travelers.  So the situation is — a traveler gets robbed and is lying on the side of this road. They stripped him of his clothes, they beat him up, and they left him for dead. That’s the situation, and the first two characters in the story arrive on the scene. The first one is the priest.  Coming from Jerusalem to Jericho, we can assume he has just finished his priestly duties. He’s been serving in the temple.  Jericho was a popular countryside resort for people of the upper class, which the priest was a part of. So it’s possible that having finished his temple duties, this priest was on his way for a little rest and relaxation down in Jericho. 
He saw the man, and passed by on the other side.
Now, when it says that he walked to the other side of the road, it’s not like a road as wide as one of our roads today. This was a tiny, narrow, little three-foot wide road. So you get the picture that the priest walks by, sees him, and kind of slides by him so that he doesn’t touch him.
The second character comes, the Levite. The Levite people are a little inferior in social status to the priests, but they still have temple duties. They’re still a privileged group. We see the same thing with the Levite. The Levite walks by, sees the man, and slides by without touching him.
Now, there are two types of sin Jesus is revealing in this story. There was the sin of the robbers who stole from the man and beat him. But what seems like the greater sin — because the story concentrates here on these two characters longer than on the robbers — is the sin of neglecting the man in need. The priest and the Levite fail to help the man and that becomes an actual worse evil than the sin of putting him in that condition in the first place.  The lack of compassion from the priest and the Levite is actually a worse evil than the sin of putting him in that condition in the first place. 
Now the people who are listening to the story, along with the expert in the law, are probably following Jesus up until now. While Jesus is teaching the story, they’re probably not too surprised that neither one of these people stop. And here’s why: they’re imagining themselves in the story, and they’re checking off in their mind reasons why they wouldn’t stop.
First of all, a priest or a Levite, actually any Jew according to ritual laws, would have been defiled by a dead body if they touched it. And for a priest to be restored into “clean” status, so they could reenter the worship duties in the temple, would cost lots of time. The ritual cleansing that it would take for a priest to be reinstated to his duties would take a full week. It would take money. He would have to find, purchase, and sacrifice a clean animal, which would also be somewhat humiliating, being that it meant he broke one of the ritual laws. This priest, in order to be reinstated to serve in the temple, would have to stand with the sinners for purification rituals. He would have to become one of the regular people. So with all the laws going on, and the thought that he might be defiled by a corpse, he didn’t stop.
Also, the Jewish people had a long list of who they could and couldn’t help, and almost everyone who was a non-Jew was on the list of who they couldn’t help. This person might have been a non-Jew. There was no way to distinguish him, he had no clothes on and he couldn’t speak so an accent didn’t give him away. So if the priest or the Levite touched a dead body, and then it was a non-Jew, the ritual implications were unbelievable. He would have been defiled to the worst degree. So he just moved on. 
Time is another consideration. It would have taken time to help this man, even if he were a Jew who was alive. And, who knows, the priest may have been on vacation. Or maybe he was busy and he couldn’t take time out of his busy schedule. This wasn’t on his schedule, so he couldn’t stop.
Then money was an issue. It would cost him one way or another. He would have to use some of his own money to help this man.
An interesting thing about this is — the priest and the Levite became prisoners of their own religious system. The rules and rituals didn’t affect the way they lived or treated people, instead, they chained their hands so tightly that there was no room to reach out with compassion.
Do you know what would be on the list of reasons to stop?  Compassion. Nothing else. There was no other reason. And compassion was the only thing that the priest and the Levite didn’t have. Maybe they had it at one time, but the temple rules, regulations and rituals killed any compassion they would have started with.
Okay, so we have these listeners who are hearing this story. And they know there are three classes of people who serve in the temple. There’s the priest, there’s the Levite, and then there’s the Jew from the line of Joseph who would have been a regular Jewish layperson. The first person that walks by makes sense; the priest. The second person was the Levite, and they’re anticipating who the third one is going to be. It’s going to be the regular Jewish person who is going to be the hero in this story. So they’re anticipating what’s going to happen next. But Jesus interrupts the sequence. And we need to understand the shock value of what’s about to happen in this next verse. Jesus takes the person that, if he shows up at all in the story, he’s going to be the villain, and Jesus turns him into the hero.  There were centuries of animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Samaritans were called the People of Shechem.  Listen to what one Jewish writer wrote 200 years before Christ: >>>>>
“There are two nations that my soul detests. The third one is not a nation at all. The inhabitants of Mount Seir and the Philistines, and the stupid people living at Shechem.” -Sirach
>That’s how they referred to the Samaritans — stupid people.  Josephus, in his History of the Jewish People, writes that daily petitions were offered in the temple, praying to God that the Samaritans might not be partakers of eternal life.  This animosity goes back hundreds of years before Christ. 
If Jesus were in Jerusalem today he might be telling this story to the Jewish people about the Good Palestinian. If he was talking to the Palestinians, he might sit them down and say, “Let me tell you the story of the Good Israeli.” 
But here’s the shock value: The people were expecting one thing and the most unthinkable person came in next, not as the villain, but as the hero. It would be kind of like saying the first character who walked by was a medical doctor who could have easily helped, but he kept walking. And the next one was a paramedic, fully trained to at least help on the spot, but he kept walking. Then you expect the next person to be a layperson who took a CPR class. This guy can at least help. And it turns out to be your worst enemy, the person you detest.  Something is wrong with this picture! It doesn’t make sense to these people, and Jesus knew it wouldn’t. 
Starting in verse 33, Jesus delves deeply into this story: >>>>>
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, 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. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
> This Samaritan who walks by the wounded man has the same list of reasons not to stop as the priest and the Levite. He’s not a Gentile, but he’s still bound by the rules of the Old Testament, so the ritualistic implications of being unclean apply to him as well.  Personal safety is also an issue with him, maybe even more because it’s possible that the robbers would have respected a priest or a Levite, but a Samaritan would have been taken advantage of.  There are also social issues to consider. He would have to explain to the innkeeper that he’s helping this person and not the one who took advantage of him. In fact, because of certain social laws, the injured man’s family could kill the Samaritan just by virtue of seeing him carry their relative into town. He had the same issues of time and money. But the one thing the Samaritan had that the Priest and the Levite didn’t was a heart of compassion.  The verses say that he had a deep, gut level reaction to the wounded man.
Now, for just a moment, I think we need to stop and ask ourselves why. Why was it that the religious leaders of the day didn’t have this, but the Samaritan did?
Perhaps this long history of animosity between the Samaritan people and this Jewish man’s people had actually built in him a heart of compassion. Being a Samaritan, he would know what it was like firsthand to be an outsider and to be beaten down. In order to have the heart of compassion that he had, somewhere along the line, in being an outsider and being beaten down, instead of being cynical and angry, he drew near to God.  And I believe when we do that in a crisis or a difficult situation, God grows a heart of compassion in us. God grows us to the point where we’re willing to take risks, and we’re willing to put ourselves in vulnerable positions. Because in order to have mercy on people, we need to move towards them when it’s not convenient, when it’s risky, when we’re nervous, when we’re not sure of the outcome.
Now, while the people who are listening to this story are still confused with the idea that it’s the Samaritan who’s the hero, that the pattern has been broken, I think for the next couple verses Jesus rubs their noses in it very tactfully. He goes into detail to describe the acts of compassion of this Samaritan, and he helps them to understand the risk that this man took.
Sometimes when we hear noble stories like this, we’re just filled with this desire to be noble, and we forget that every time someone does something like this it takes a risk and it costs something.  So we don’t lose sight of that, Jesus gives us a list of all of the things that this man did. *He went to him. *He showed compassion. *He bandaged his wounds. That means he touched the bloody wounds and bandaged them to stop the bleeding. He put his hands on the man. *He poured on oil and wine which were standard first-aid remedies in the first century.  An interesting point to note here: For a Jewish person to accept oil and wine in that day from a Samaritan would have indebted him to go to the temple and pay the tithe on that oil and wine. So now this Jewish man is in debt to this Samaritan. One of the commentators I read said, “At this point in the story, if the unconscious man had risen from his coma and shook his fist and said, ‘Begone, I will have none of your oil and wine,’ everyone listening would have cheered.”  Then it says, “He put him on his donkey,” which means he got off his donkey and put this man on it and carried him down this 17-mile descent in the hot desert. He led him to the inn. It’s translated “take” in many Bibles. It’s more correctly understood in the Greek that he actually led the animal. And this has huge implications in the Middle East. In the Middle East, your social status determined who rode and who walked. No one of a higher social class would have walked while someone of a lesser social class rode. The Samaritan gets off of his donkey and puts this man on it and leads him in a position of a servant down to the inn. Then he takes care of him at the inn overnight, meaning he had to change his plans and give up whatever he was going to do that night in order to take care of the man. In the morning he gives the innkeeper money to care for the man which obligates the innkeeper to care for him. Two day’s wages is the amount he gave. Then he promises to return and to reimburse for any additional expenses that are needed. It’s like leaving him a credit card or a blank check and saying, “Whatever it takes to take care of this man, you have my permission and my money to do it, and I will come back.”
There’s another aspect of this interaction I think it’s important that we’re aware of: the Samaritan didn’t have to know why this man was on the side of the road in need in order to extend compassion to him. He extended compassion regardless of what got him in this position in the first place.  And here’s the point I would like to make:
In compassion, the why will not change our actions.
How many Christians refuse to extend mercy when they discover that the person in need has caused his own problem? *Oh, you gambled all your money away. You deserve to be in the situation you’re in. *You got fired from your job. These are the consequences for your behavior. *You cheated on your husband and he left you. It’s your fault you’re a single mom struggling to raise three children. *You got evicted from your apartment because you have a long streak of drunk driving charges.  The merciful extend compassion regardless of how the person in need got in the situation. 
I would love to have been there at this point in the story to see the look on the faces of those listening. Because you see, Jesus didn’t answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” In verse 36, Jesus reshapes the question posed by the expert in the law:
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 wanted a list. He wanted Jesus to tell him how many people and what kind of people he had to love in order to achieve a righteousness by his own efforts. Jesus can’t give him a list because that’s too narrow. So Jesus gives him this expansive answer and says, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  Now, Jesus is not saying, “Do good works…” but he’s answering the question that this guy asked in order to justify himself. . You see,
Compassion doesn’t begin by defining its objects. Compassion discovers its objects.
You and I can’t know in the morning who our neighbor will be throughout the day because as we live the day God will reveal that person to us. So what Jesus is doing is giving this man a dynamic concept of who his neighbor is.  And he’s doing the same for us today. We must become a neighbor to anyone who is in need.  The expert in the law is asking desperately, “What must I do to get in?” Jesus tells him instead what one who is on the inside looks like.  The expert in the law is asking Jesus to answer the question of “what works can I do?” Instead, Jesus says: “Let me show you the fruit of a person whose heart has been touched by the mercy of God, which is how you inherit eternal life. Then let me show you what a person who has their heart changed by the heart of God does — that person grows a heart of compassion to the point where they help those who are wounded.”
Listen to Jesus’ answer in verse 37: >>>>>
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
> He didn’t even have the courage to call him the Samaritan. He couldn’t even get the words out, but he knew that there was no other answer and to question further at this point would have been to reveal his own lack of compassion. 
Then Jesus gives the final answer in the debate:
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Now, let me say this as a point of application for you and me. We all know someone who needs compassion. Every one of us can identify someone who needs this kind of mercy, who needs to understand that really this is how big God’s mercy is toward them.
And there’s one more layer underneath all of this, and that is: The truth about the story on an even deeper level, I believe, is that Jesus was hoping his disciples would realize something at a later time, after his death and resurrection, as they we’re sitting around discussing the stories Jesus taught. I think Jesus was hoping they would realize what maybe you realize about yourself, and that’s this: You are the wounded man on the road. I am the wounded man on the road. Jesus is the Samaritan who, at great cost, in time, in money, in effort, in energy, and in compassion, stopped by the side of the road and picked us up and took care of us with a blank check.
Understanding how we fit into the story is what gives us the heart of compassion to then turn and do what Jesus says at the end of the passage, “Go and do likewise.” Would you pray with me as the band comes to lead us in a closing song.
Blue Oaks Church