Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Point of the Good Samaritan (part 1)

Just about everyone, it would seem, knows the story of the Good Samaritan. Ask most anyone today what the point of the story is and they will say, “Helping those in need.” But if you really take time to examine Luke 10 you will see that this is not the main point of the story at all.

The story comes about due to a conversation Jesus is having with a lawyer. A lawyer would be an expert in the Mosaic Law and the text is clear that his motive is not innocent. He is testing Jesus. He is trying to trap Him. And to do so he asks, this question,

“What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

That is an interesting question. Take notice of the word “do”. He doesn’t ask, “What must I ‘believe’ to inherit eternal life?” He asks, “What must I 'do'?” Jesus then does something very Jewish and answers his question with a question. Jesus asks him in reply,

“What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?”

The man immediately quotes from the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 saying that you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. He then adds from Leviticus 19:28 that you must also love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus says, “Good answer!” But then Jesus adds this command, “Do this and you will live.” The idea is “keep on doing this” and you will live. In other words, do this perfectly, love God and love your neighbor perfectly, and you will inherit eternal life.

Now this bothers the man because though in his pride he might think he has loved God perfectly, he knows he has not always loved his neighbor perfectly. So he looks for a religious loophole. “Trying to justify himself,” the text says, he asked a follow-up question which was,

“And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus answers this question with a story – the story of the Good Samaritan. It is a story about a Jewish man who gets robed, beat up and left for dead on the side of the road. A Jewish priest happens by but doesn’t help him. A Jewish Levite passes by but he too refuses to help him. Then comes a Samaritan, the least likely of the three to offer assistance, and he goes the extra mile in caring for this man out of a heart of compassion. This is staggering to imagine because in Jesus’ day Samaritans hated Jews and Jews hated Samaritans. This hatred can be seen in John 4:9 where it tells us that Jews had no dealings with Samaritans. You can see it in John 8:48 where the Jews insult Jesus by calling Him “demon possessed” and a “Samaritan.” You can see it in Luke 9:51-54 when two of the disciples want to call down fire from heaven to destroy a Samaritan city.

In spite of this, the Samaritan has compassion on the Jewish man and helps him. Now what is the point of this story? Find out by reading the conclusion of this posting in my blog tomorrow.

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