Parables are familiar to many people, but not always correctly understood. One such parable is the one to which I draw your attention this morning. Open your Bible to Luke 10, verse 30, and the very familiar parable of the Good Samaritan, the Good Samaritan. Very familiar to Christians and non-Christians alike. In fact, we all know what it means when you call someone a “Good Samaritan.” That’s a compliment. That generally means that someone shows kindness, mercy, compassion, care to some other person in need, and that’s good. That’s virtuous. God is honored by that. But that being said, the parable of the Good Samaritan is largely misunderstood.
People are familiar with the story, but not so familiar with the point of the story, and to some degree, we expect that because the truth of our Lord’s parable teaching is hidden. If you go back to chapter 10, verse 21, Jesus says to His followers: “At this very time, He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I praise you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent, and revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.’”
And then in verse 23, “Turning to the disciples He said privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see, for I say to you, that many prophets and kings wished to see, the things which you see and didn’t see them, and to hear the things which you hear, and didn’t hear them.’” And then He goes into an occasion in which He teaches this familiar parable.
Parables are really the most direct connection with our Lord revealing truth to His disciples and hiding it from His rejecters. This parable, therefore, will be misunderstood by non-believers. It will be flattened out into a simple story of showing kindness. We kind of expect that. For believers, it should be clearly understood. We have ears to hear and eyes to see, but we do need a little help along the way, I think. For example, if you go back in church history, you get some very bizarre interpretations of this story in allegorical form.
And if you follow church history through the intervening years to the present time, you get more misrepresentations of the story. Even today, it has become a very, very popular story in defending the church’s interest in social justice. Forms of socialism, even Marxism, lean on the story of the Good Samaritan. So listen to the story starting in verse 30.
“Jesus replied and said, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him, and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own animal, his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?’ And he said, ‘The one who showed mercy toward him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”
Pretty simple story. Easy to understand. We even get the punchline. Who is the neighbor? The man who helped the sufferer. But going back, for example, to the early church Fathers, you have strange allegories developed around this story, as if it had a secret, hidden meaning. For example, one of the early writers by the name of Origen said, “Here’s the interpretation of the story. The man is Adam. Jerusalem is paradise. Jericho is the world. The robbers are hostile powers, demonic forces. The priest is the law. The Levite is the prophets. The Samaritan is Christ. The wounds are disobedience. The animal is the Lord’s body. The inn is the church, and the Samaritan’s return is the Second Coming.”
That is bizarre, to put it mildly, and has nothing to do with the point. In fact, it was John Calvin who said, “That misses entirely our Lord’s intention,” when he was exposed to Origen’s notion about the Good Samaritan. While this is not an allegory because there are no allegories in the Scripture - there is nothing that has some kind of secret, hidden meaning that must be mystically discerned. More modern interpreters have missed the point of this as well. Any time you get into discussions with people who talk about poverty and the alleviation of poverty and the reallocation of wealth and taxing the wealthy to provide for the poor and social justice and all forms of socialism, you will find somewhere in their emphasis the story of the Good Samaritan - that somebody cared for people, divesting himself of what he possessed for the sake of someone else.
For example, the Sojourners organization says this: “You only have so many days to embrace someone, to tell him how you feel. Forty-seven million in our country are on food stamps and benefits are decreasing. We need to reflect on Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan.” So, according to them, Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan is about helping people who have less than we do.
Another one of the social justice advocates puts it this way: “Getting to know people on the other side of the road so as to tear down the walls between us is essential.” Jim Wallis, a very familiar advocate of this, says, “The Good Samaritan is a problem. It seems to promote short-term aid without addressing long-term justice. For example, what were the social conditions that led the man to abuse the wounded man, and was it a predictable outcome of a deeper societal illness?” He says, “Was the Good Samaritan later inspired to engage the dilemma through advocacy? The Good Samaritan is open-ended, leaving us an assortment of questions in relation to the preservation of social justice. What would happen if the Good Samaritan went down the road daily and began to critique the political and economic agendas of those in power in that area?” Further he says, “We need to dig out the root causes of injustice that made the man steal. May we create a world where in 500 years, Sunday school classes are bewildered by this story because violence never happens and Good Samaritans are needed no more.”
Excuse me? I believe in compassion and care, and I believe in meeting the needs of poor people, but that has absolutely nothing to do with this story. But again, I’m not surprised that it’s misunderstood because Jesus said, “These things are only available to those who have eyes to see.” Another advocate of this kind of interpretation said, “We need to transform the Jericho Road so the whole community is free from harm.” Liberation theology says, “This is about the all-inclusive reach of solidarity.”
Most of us wouldn’t get so caught up in forms of social justice as that. We would just say it’s about helping people that are suffering. It’s about being kind. And certainly, God requires us to be kind. God establishes that in His Word, to be sacrificially kind, but remind yourself of this: all parables are salvation stories. This is a salvation story. In fact, this is Jesus doing personal evangelism. This is Jesus doing personal evangelism on a particular man standing in front of Him. All stories, all parables – there are 40 of them or so – all of them are about salvation in one form or another. And they are profound and they are theological and they are doctrinal and they are presentations of propositional truth that is hidden from those who have no ears to hear, but revealed to those to whom it is explained. They are riddles if not explained.
Jesus in the text of the New Testament explains many of them. For those that aren’t explained specifically, when you begin to hear the explanations of some of them, you have enough information to explain the ones that He doesn’t specifically explain. By the time you get the whole of Scripture and the New Testament, we know enough soteriology - truth about salvation - to interpret them for ourselves, but they are salvation stories.
This is a scene of personal evangelism. It is parallel to Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3. It is parallel to Jesus and the rich young ruler in Matthew 19, Jesus doing personal evangelism. So let’s set the scene. Go back to verse 25. This is what establishes the intent of the parable.
“A lawyer stood up.” Pulled out of the crowd, came before Jesus, took his position in front of Him for the purpose of putting Him to the test. This tells us his motive was not good. He wasn’t seeking truth. He wasn’t seeking information. He was doing what all these religious scribes and lawyers did. He was trying to trap Jesus so they could condemn Him and find reason to have Him executed. He was part of the religious establishment. He was a lawyer, not in a civil sense. He was a lawyer, not in a criminal sense. He was a lawyer in the sense of Scripture. He was an expert of the Old Testament law.
So he stands up and like they always did - the Pharisees, the scribes, the priests - puts Jesus to a test hoping He will fail. And he asks Him the same question the rich young ruler asked Him. He asked Him the same question that Nicodemus had on his heart. “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? What shall I do to inherit eternal life? What is the path to heaven? What is the path to a right relationship to God that’s going to guarantee that I am going to live forever in the presence of God?” That is a very important question. That is the most important question that any person can ever ask. That is the right question. That is the right question to ask to exactly the right person, who is Himself eternal life, the very life-giver.
But he didn’t ask it for any legitimate intention. He asked it to put Jesus in some kind of bad light, and put Him on the horns of some dilemma that would allow Jesus to become embarrassed and, even more than that, to become ashamed and, therefore, to be guilty of some crime.
So he says, “What do I do to inherit eternal life?” Now, notice the path that Jesus takes. “He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? How does it read to you?’” What does the law say? Let’s go back to the Word of God. You have the Old Testament. What does it say? Well, this is a sharp scholar. This is a scholar of Old Testament Scripture, and he gives exactly the right answer. In verse 27 about “What does the Law say? How does it read?” He combines two scriptures, Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18. Two familiar Scriptures. They are two Scriptures that sum up the entire law of God. In Matthew chapter 22, Jesus said, “These are the two things that sum up the Law of God.” All the law of God is summed up in these two things: “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus says in Matthew 22, “In these is the fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets.”
The first half of the Ten Commandments deal with loving God. The second half of the Ten Commandments deal with loving others. This is the summation of that. All the rest of the law either has to do with your relationship to God or your relationship to people. So it gathers up the whole law, and what does the Old Testament require? Perfect love to God; perfect love to men. Loving God with all your heart, soul, strength, mind - all faculties, all capacities - and loving your neighbor in the same way that you love yourself.
He said that’s the right answer. Verse 28, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” So go do it. If you want eternal life, fulfill the law. Do this and live. You say, “Whoa, whoa. Why is He telling him that? Where is the gospel here? Why doesn’t He just say, ‘Believe in Me, believe in Me’?” Because there’s another issue to be confronted here, and that is how the man views himself. There’s no good news unless the man accepts the bad news, right? Well, this man doesn’t have any interest in a true evaluation of his condition.
Verse 29 makes it clear, “But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” I mean he is so self-righteous, so self-justifying that he doesn’t even think about how he loves God or how he loves man. All he thinks about is maybe you’ve got a different definition of neighbor. The only thing I need to work on is maybe you’ve got a different spin on who is my neighbor. He is oblivious to his true condition. He is hostile to the notion that he is not righteous, that he is not justified, that he does not already have eternal life, that he is not right with God. He loves God. He keeps the karya shema, Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.” He does keep Leviticus 19:18. He loves his neighbor. But, oh, wait a minute here. Who is his neighbor?
Well, we know that from Matthew 5. Jesus said, “The rabbis have taught you, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemy.” So enemies weren’t included as neighbors. The Old Testament actually says, very clearly, “Love your stranger in your midst. Love the stranger in your midst.” That was required from the Old Testament.
They did not love their enemies. They did not love the strangers. Furthermore, they didn’t even love other Jews. All they loved was the people who were part of their very narrow, elite group. They loved other Pharisees, other scribes. How in the world would you justify that? Well, they justified it in one sense, and perhaps they had many justifications, but one with which I’m familiar is that they parked on Psalm 139:21-22. This was virtue to them. “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with the utmost hatred. They have become my enemies.”
So they had turned hatred of the enemies of God into a virtue in which they justified themselves for rejecting people in their own world, in their own society. In Exodus 23 the Old Testament required that if an ox fell in a ditch or an animal fell in the ditch, you show compassion on the animal. They were a long way from caring for people. They were so self-righteous that they had turned to hating other people, enemies, strangers and Jews who weren’t part of the elite religious core; they had declassified them as a neighbor.
So that’s why the mocking statement, “Well, who is my neighbor? You’re going to have to show me a different definition of neighbor,” which means that he had passed the test of loving God perfectly, and he had passed the test of loving who he believed were neighbors perfectly.
This is a man who will not come to a real understanding of his condition. He thinks he loves God perfectly the way God requires him to. He thinks he loves the people he’s supposed to love, the ones that God expects him to love perfectly. “I’m okay with God. I’m okay with people. I’m fine.” Justifying himself, all he says is in a mocking tone, “Maybe you’d better tell me who my neighbor is.”
This is a lost man. This is a doomed man. This is just another one of many religious people that Jesus encounters in His life who think they can earn eternal life by their virtue, by their morality, by their religion, by their emotional connections to God. Now, Jesus could have left him sitting there or standing there. He could have walked away, left him in his self-righteous pride, never said another word, but instead, Jesus engages in an act of evangelistic compassion with this man, and He gives to this lawyer one more powerful insight. The purpose of this story is to crush this guy’s self-righteousness. It is really a wake-up call that he is damned and doomed. The story is to shatter his pride, to shatter his imaginary spirituality. It is a crushing, unforgettable work of conviction.
And by the way, you may feel self-righteous when you encounter the priest who went on the other side of the road and the Levite on the other side of the road. But I hate to tell you this, but in condemning them, you condemn yourself, and I condemn myself; because you’re going to have to be honest enough to see yourself in those people, because that’s how we behave most of the time, most of the time.
On the surface, it seems like a simple story about kindness. It is anything but a simple story about kindness. So let’s look at it, verse 30. Jesus replies to this man who is justifying himself. Now, what are you going to do if you’re talking to somebody and you’re going to evangelize them and give them a message of the gospel, and they are self-righteous because they are religious, because they go to church, because they were baptized, because they love God, because they know about Jesus, because they do religious works, they maintain a level of morality? How are you going to approach them? How do you break through?
It’s a popular thing today to throw out some Ten Commandments and say, “Do you violate this commandment? And do you violate this and violate this?” I know there’s a lot of that. Jesus doesn’t do that. He has a far more devastating approach than just isolating commandments, although that is a legitimate way to do it. Jesus steps that up a great deal. How am I going to get this guy to realize he’s lost? Okay, that’s the point. That’s where you start in evangelism, isn’t it? How do I get him lost before I can get him saved?
Well, Jesus replies to this man who is self-justifying and says, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead.” That’s a very short version of what happened, but that’s all there is. He made up a story - made up a simple story.
Jerusalem is 3,000 feet up. Jericho is 1,000 feet, say, below sea level. You’ve got a long, down road. It’s only 17 miles, so you’re going down fairly radically. It’s a severe, winding road in ancient times. It still is a very windy road. It’s a road that scares people when they go on bus tours if they’re driving it at night because the edges are precipices that go way down into these huge, deep, foreboding canyons. It’s filled with dramatic drops and rocks providing ideal hideouts for robbers. It’s a scary place and a very familiar one.
History notes that for centuries after the New Testament time, it was a highway that literally featured robbers, highwaymen, bandits. A favorite site, history tells us, of Arab robbers. Going down, you would have to go to the Pass of Adummim mentioned in Joshua 18, the Pass of Adummim. Adummim is a form of the Hebrew word “blood,” “blood pass.” It was a place of death, and it was a place of bloodshed.
So it’s a very dramatic story to see this man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho on this road that was very familiar to everybody in ancient times. He fell among robbers. A group of highway men pounced upon the man. They didn’t just rob him. They stripped him, beat him, went, leaving him half dead. Just out of nowhere, they hit him, took everything he had, including the clothes on his back. He’s left probably with undergarments and that is it. Every possession he had in his sack, that he must have been carrying as they did on a journey, even the clothes that he was wearing, they took. They beat him. It’s a constant verb. They kept on beating him. They kept beating him until he was virtually on the bridge of death, critical condition.
Now, he is in a desperate situation. He needs help. He can’t help himself. He can’t move. He can’t lift himself out of that condition, and this would create a moment’s drama because one could say, “Well, maybe no one is going to come by. Maybe when someone does, it will be too late. He’ll be gone. What’s going to happen?” So Jesus immediately says, “By chance” – in verse 31 - “a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.”
Well, at first that sounds good. As soon as the lawyer hears a priest coming by, maybe he had a little bit of hope. Maybe the others who may have been listening to Jesus, His own followers, thought, “Well, maybe this will turn out good.” After all, a priest was somebody who, like the lawyer, knew the Old Testament, knew you were to show kindness, knew you were to minister to strangers.
Leviticus 19:34, the same chapter that says, “Love your neighbor,” says, “Love the stranger as yourself.” Psalm 37:21, “The righteous is generous and gives.” Proverbs talks about showing mercy. There’s that really wonderful passage in the prophet Micah, in chapter 6, where Micah says, in verse 6, “What shall I come to the Lord with? What shall I bring, and what shall I bring to bow myself before the Lord on high? Shall I come with burnt offerings, yearling calves?” That’s what priests did. They did that. Was that enough? Was that good enough? “Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my first born for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
What does the Lord want? Does He want animals? Does He want, like the worshipers of Baal, does He want my son burned on the altar? No. “He has told you, O man, what is good. What does the Lord require of you? Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God.”
He knew that passage. I mean theoretically you would say that’s what a priest would do because a priest would know that. So here comes the priest, and this should provide a little hope in the story as the lawyer listens, but the priest passes on the other side. Very strong language. Uses the Greek term anti. It means he goes against, completely opposite the other side, the complete ignoring of this man, complete indifference. He shuns him and he’s lying there in critical condition.
So the priest has zero love, right? Zero love for the man and zero love for God, right? Because if he loved God, what would he do? He would obey. Love the stranger, love the neighbor, show mercy, kindness. So here is a priest who is a typical priest in the Jewish system, who is self-justified and seems to be righteous to those around him, but doesn’t love God or others.
At this juncture in the story, it’s really kind of interesting to see what commentators do. Some commentators say, “Well, he didn’t go across the road because he didn’t want to touch the corpse and become unclean.” Some say, “He didn’t want to go over there because he would be defiled, and he had to go back to the temple later.” Some say, “He didn’t go over there because he thought the robbers might be lurking around over there, and they might get him.” Some say, “He didn’t go over there because he realized that the man was in the condition he was in because he had the judgment of God on him. And he was beaten because he was sinful, and he wanted to make sure he paid for his sins.” Guess what? He didn’t have any thoughts like that because he didn’t exist. This is a story. He didn’t exist.
After paragraphs and paragraphs of reading this, I’m saying, “This is complete fantasy. The guy doesn’t exist.” He had no reason, no motive, no excuse. He had no thoughts. He was not. The point is simple. You would expect a priest, who represents God and represents the people to God, to love God enough to do what God said and love people enough to do what they needed. He didn’t love God. He didn’t love others. He is, in a sense, a representation of that kind of self-righteous system, that kind of self-righteous system.
Was that an indictment of priests in general? There probably were some exceptions. There may have been some priests that actually, if that had actually happened, might have cared for the man. We don’t know that, but this would be a kind of generic attitude of priests in that religious system. They hated people for the very reasons that I just gave you that the commentators bring up. And then Jesus says, “A Levite came also” – in verse 32 – “and when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.”
From the tribe of Levi, son of Jacob, but not the family of Aaron, so not the priestly family, but the Levites still from the tribe of Levi assisted in the temple. When the priests did all their work, they needed assistance and helpers. They were kind of at the bottom of the priestly hierarchy. They worked on the liturgy, policing the temple, taking care of things there, facilities and things like that.
Well, this is a religious man. This is a man connected to the priesthood, connected to religion at its most intimate point. We would expect him to come over and help, but he doesn’t love God either and nor does he love men. If he loved God, he would do what God says. He would love his neighbor as himself. If he loved his neighbor as himself, he would care for the neighbor. So he doesn’t love God or his neighbor.
So we’ve just met a couple of people who don’t have eternal life, because they don’t love the Lord their God, and they don’t love their neighbor. Will anyone do what’s right? Will anyone show love? Verse 33, and this is the shock. This is the shock. Our Lord has just indicted the Jewish religious establishment in the story, and now He introduces a hated person, “A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion.”
The very existence of Samaritans was seen as an evil. They were a pariah. They were a blight on the world. They were evil all the way back to the sins of Jeroboam. They were evil because they intermarried with the Gentiles when the Northern Kingdom was occupied. They were evil because they tried to disrupt the rebuilding of the Jewish city and the temple when they came back from the captivity. They were so evil that the Jews in 128 B.C. even attacked and destroyed their temple. They’re half-breed traitors. In fact, if you wanted to say something bad about someone, you called them a Samaritan.
How do I know that? John 8:48, “The Jews said to Jesus, ‘Do we not say rightly that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?’” The worst that you could possibly come up with would be to call somebody a demon-possessed Samaritan. Shocking. Their worst near enemy, despised, outcast, no access to the temple, no access to worship, no access to sacrifice, no access to God, and he does the right thing. “When he saw him, he felt compassion.”
“Was this man in the kingdom of God?” one commentator asks. Again, I say, “He didn’t exist. It’s irrelevant.” What’s the point? Two men, representing the Jewish establishment, who thought they loved God and loved others as themselves, had absolutely no love. The system is bankrupt. These people trying to justify themselves are lying and they are deceived. Two men were religious and failed to meet the requirement for eternal life. They didn’t love their neighbor. They didn’t love strangers. They didn’t love enemies. But this one man who is an outcast, this invention of Jesus demonstrates, at least for that moment, the quality of loving your neighbor as yourself. He takes center stage in the story, and this is just really shocking to the one who is listening because what the Samaritan does is so extensive.
He came to him, verse 34, “He came to the man,” must have knelt down, analyzed, evaluated, assessed, diagnosed his condition, his need - careful attention to everything. Then bandaged up his wounds since the man’s clothes had been stripped off him and probably taken away in the plunder. He may have had to shred some of his own clothes to wrap the man’s wounds, stop the bleeding of this man. Then he took the oil and wine with which people always traveled for preparation of their meals, and poured on him. The word for poured there is a very rich word. It has to do with a kind of lavish pouring, compounded by a preposition at the beginning.
So he just pours out oil and wine, soothing as well as an antiseptic. Then he puts him on his own animal. The guy can’t walk. So he picks him up and puts him on his own animal. The term here for an animal means any kind of beast of burden, very, very likely a donkey or something like that. Ktenos in the Greek.
So he lifts him up and places him on his animal “and brought him to an inn,” “brought him to an inn.” “Inn” is the word pandocheion. Pan means “all.” It’s a place for all. This is not like you would think of the Holiday Inn or any other kind of inn that you would stay in. This is a rough, tough roadside lodging, brutally sparse. You would only want to be there if it were an emergency that got you in from some danger or because you just couldn’t go any further.
The man not only took him to the inn, but he stayed with him. He took him in the inn, put him down to rest, stayed at his side all night doing whatever he needed done, provided food for the man, provided comfort, water, cleansing - all night. You say, “Well, how do you know he stayed all night?” Because the next verse, verse 35, Jesus says, “On the next day.” This is really amazing care for an enemy, really a violent kind of enemy. All-night vigil.
Then the next day, he takes out two denarii. Now, that’s a day’s wage. Just to let you know how much you had to pay for an inn, not too long after this there is some literature that has indicated that a board was found, some kind of a sign board from an inn in a city in the Roman Empire. The nightly cost was 1/32nd of a denarius. 1/32nd of a denarius would mean that the man for two denarii could – do the math – stay for two months. Two months!
Again, what is the point? The point is this is lavish! This is lavish! This is the ultimate attention that could possibly be given. You go over there. You check him out. You tear your own clothes. You bind up his wounds. You pour oil and wine as an antiseptic and sooth him, perhaps rubbing his wounds and bruises. You put him on your animal. You take him to the inn. You provide for him to stay for two months in the inn. You stay overnight with him. And as if that’s not enough, what do you do? You say to the innkeeper, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, when I return, I will repay you.”
Now, there’s a formula for extortion. What?! You’re telling an innkeeper, “Whatever you want to spend on the guy, spend on the guy, and I’ll pay you when I come back.” This is lavish love. That’s the whole point of this. This is lavish love. Amazing generosity for a complete stranger, to one who is his enemy, who is hated by him, but that’s – what’s our Lord saying here? This is loving your neighbor as you love – that’s what you’d do for you, wouldn’t you? Of course you would. Have you ever done that for anybody else? Do you do that for everybody else in that condition?
The people who think that by giving money to poor people, they have enacted social justice and fulfilled the principle here, really should look at it again because they would be condemned by it. If you think sending some money somewhere, if you think buying a few meals for somebody, is what this is, you missed the point. That’s not wrong to do, but don’t put yourself in this parable. Who does this? Who does this? You say, “Well, I know somebody who did it once.” That’s not good enough. Once isn’t good enough. Ten times isn’t good enough. If you want eternal life, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength all the time, and love your neighbor as yourself all the time.” Who does that? Nobody. Not you, not me.
An open end, “Whatever you want to do, do it and I’ll pay it when I return.” This is love without limit, love without boundaries. That’s the whole point. He exposes himself, of course, to being extorted, but such is the nature of his love. This is what he would do for himself.
So the Good Samaritan loves the man as he loved himself. Do we do that all the time? You probably can’t even think of a time in your life when you did that. That’s reserved for you, and maybe your wife and kids, but is this your constant life pattern? The people who do social justice work and think they’re fulfilling this, need to look at it again; because unless you do that all the time, perfectly, and love God all the time, perfectly, you’re not going to have eternal life if you’re coming by way of the law.
Look, we make sure we get the best attention, have our needs met, get the best doctors, the best care, the best resources. We do that for ourselves, but this is a simple story of lavish, limitless love by a person for somebody who was an enemy he didn’t even know. So Jesus asks the question, verse 36, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?”
Now, the Lord has just changed the question. The question in verse 29, “Who is my neighbor?” You’re going to define neighbor for me now? Are you going to mess with this neighbor idea? I’m doing fine loving God perfectly. Doing fine loving my neighbor perfectly, by my definition, unless you’re going to redefine neighbor, he says mockingly. Jesus says in verse 36, this isn’t about who your neighbor is. This is about “are you a neighbor?” It’s not, “Who is my neighbor?” “Who qualifies to be loved?” But it’s about “Am I a neighbor who loves in an unqualified way?” Deeply the point comes to the heart. Forget trying to decide who qualifies for you to love them, and demonstrate love that knows no qualifications.
Everyone in your path. Everyone in your path. Everyone in your path, all the time, with a need is to be loved, loved lavishly, loved sacrificially, loved generously, loved tenderly, loved limitlessly, loved kindly, loved as long as the need exists. Every person, even if that person is your enemy. Who loves like that?
Well, the man answered the question, “The one who proved to be a neighbor was the one who showed mercy toward him.” And then Jesus sticks the knife in, “Go do the same.” You go love like that and you can have eternal life. Huh? What should have been his response? “I’ve never loved anybody like that. I’ve never loved the people in my little narrow confines of who I’m supposed to love, because I think they’re my neighbor, like that. I only love me like that. I’ve never loved anybody like that, let alone everybody like that.”
At that point, the knife goes in. The conviction is laid upon the man, and there’s a blank space in your Bible between that verse and the next one. The next words are, “Now, as they were traveling along.” Hmm. You say, “Is that kind of an odd way to do evangelism?” There’s no sense in telling people the good news if they won’t accept the bad news about their condition. If you want to evangelize someone, you get the picture at the highest level you can. The issue is, Do you love like that? Because if you love God perfectly, then you obey perfectly and God says to love like that, the way you love yourself.
We all have to say, “I don’t love like that. I can’t love like that. I can’t love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength all the time; and I certainly don’t love everybody around me in need the way I love myself.” If he had said, “I can’t! Forgive me” maybe this could have been a wonderful story if all of a sudden, like the Luke 18 story, he had fallen down and pounded his breast and said – What? - “Lord, be merciful to me” – What? - “a sinner.” I can’t love like that. Neither can you, neither can I. We need forgiveness. We need mercy. We need grace.
That’s why I read Romans earlier, in chapter 3. No man is justified by the law, the keeping of the law. Here is the law summarized, and you can’t do it. How are we justified? By faith in Jesus Christ, who is the propitiation for our sins, and through His sacrifice, as paid in full our debt to God so that He can be just and still make us His own children and declare us righteous.
It’s just too simple to say this is a story about going to the other side of the road and hugging somebody on food stamps. This is about salvation. You want eternal life? You know what God requires: perfection, loving Him perfectly and loving others as you love yourself. You don’t do that. You can’t do that. You need mercy. You need forgiveness. You need grace. That’s why Paul in Romans 7:10 says, “When I saw the law, it killed me. It slew me.”
And there he was standing in front of the one person in the world who could forgive him, and he never asked, never asked as far as we know. Social justice, that’s not the issue here. Righteousness is the issue before God. There was Jesus, the personification of heavenly mercy and forgiveness, ready to give it lavishly to that lawyer if the man would simply admit his wretched condition. That’s the message. That’s the message to you as well. You need to come for mercy and grace. Then when you’re saved, it’s amazing how He sheds abroad His love in your heart, and you begin to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength - not perfectly, but that becomes the direction of your affection. And you begin to love other people as you love yourself - not perfectly, but that’s the direction.
This story is not to make people feel guilty about not giving their money to poor people. It’s not to make people feel guilty about not taking care of those that are suffering. This story is designed to make people feel guilty for not loving God perfectly and loving others perfectly, and then running to the One who alone can provide forgiveness for that sin and eternal life. Let’s pray.
Gratefully, Lord, we ask You to fill our hearts with gratitude for the wonderful privilege of the Holy Spirit convicting us of sin, righteousness, judgment that led us to recognize the bankruptcy of our own condition before You. It’s so much harder for religious people to see their spiritual bankruptcy. It’s one thing to see the sin in your sin, but it’s something else to see the sin in your self-righteousness. Thank You for leading us to that conviction so that the gospel came as good news, great news, glorious news of forgiveness and righteousness through faith in Christ.
Father, we ask that you would draw to Yourself, sinners and give them the gift of eternal life. We pray in Christ’s great name. Amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.