The Good Samaritan
Saint Luke 10:23–37
Hezekiah was a good and faithful king of Judah. He was 25 years old when he began to rule and he reigned in Jerusalem for 29 years. Of him we are told that, “he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done.” David actually wasn’t his father; David was a forefather of Hezekiah, ruling about 300 years earlier. Hezekiah’s actual father was Ahaz, and of him it is recorded that, “he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as his father David had done, but he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel.”
Now, this is the time of the divided kingdom, with the 10 northern tribes of the original, united kingdom continuing to be identified as Israel and the remaining 2 tribes—Judah and Benjamin—being known as Judah or Judea. Both northern and southern kingdoms had, in their time, been unfaithful to the Lord God, but Israel to the north had, in general, been the worse of the two. So, when we hear that Ahaz, father of Hezekiah, “walked in the ways of the kings of Israel,” it means that he brought to Judah and to the city of Jerusalem, and its temple, the worship of pagan gods.
To restore Judah and Jerusalem unto Himself, the Lord God used, first, the pagan king of Syria and his army as His corrective rod and staff. Then God also made use of the unfaithful kings of Israel to show Judah her sin. In one day, Israel killed 120,000 from Judah and, as we heard in the Old Testament Reading, took 200,000 captive. They brought the captives and other spoils of war to the region of Samaria, just north of Judea. Some of the war leaders of Israel wanted to make those captives their slaves, but the Samaritan chiefs of the tribe of Ephraim, heeding the word of Oded, a true prophet of the Lord, would not hear of it. They declared, “You shall not bring the captives in here, for you propose to bring upon us guilt against the Lord in addition to our present sins and guilt.” Instead of enslaving the captives, these Old Testament Samaritans fed and clothed them, tended their wounds, set them upon donkeys and brought them to the Judean city of Jericho and set them free.
The word that the prophet Oded had spoken to the Samaritan leaders, that caused them to act with charity and a remembrance of their former faith, was the very Word of Christ Himself. What else could have brought forth this good from them? A dead and lifeless hunk of stone called Baal? Of course not. Only the living word of Christ has the power to transform hearts and turn sinners truly to love and help their neighbour in need.
It is the Word of Christ in today’s Holy Gospel that again has a Samaritan acting in love toward his neighbour in need. This time, however, the Samaritan is not of real flesh and blood like the Samaritans of whom we heard in the Old Testament Reading. He is, instead, a fictional character in a parable that our Lord Jesus tells for the benefit of a certain lawyer, or scribe—one versed in the Law of Moses—who trusted in his own righteousness for salvation and eternal life.
With the sinful pride of one who is self-righteous, the lawyer asks Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” This question is completely motivated by pride, for the man expects Jesus to recognize that he is as good and righteous as he thinks he is. Of course, the arrogantly confident lawyer doesn’t really know to whom he’s speaking; he doesn’t understand that Jesus can see the sin and unbelief lurking behind the lawyer’s false front of faith.
Thus, when Jesus asks him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” he gives the book answer—he responds with what God’s Law actually says: “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.” To this, Jesus tells him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”
Something about this last statement—“do this and you will live”—doesn’t sit well with the lawyer. It’s not the pat on the back he expects. Rather he hears the harsh, unbending tone of the Law in our Lord’s words, accusing him of missing the mark, suggesting to him that he doesn’t really do this; he doesn’t love God as he should or his neighbour as himself. And so to justify himself, he asks, “And who is my neighbor?”
He and the other scribes—and the Pharisees, too—had defined what a neighbour is in such a way that they could say that they did love their neighbour as themselves, for, to them, a neighbour was limited to someone close to them, like spouse and child, mother and father, siblings and dear friends. The people they didn’t like, the people who offended them or who were different than they were, they did not look upon as neighbours. Their duty to the Law, as they had convinced themselves, did not apply to those other people. When the lawyer asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” he looked for the answer he wanted to hear. Jesus, however, gave him the answer he needed to hear, with His parable of the Good Samaritan.
In the parable, the two men who gave no assistance to the man in need were a priest and a Levite. As such, they were of the same sort as the lawyer—religious professionals, who had a wholesale disregard of the Gospel and bent their understanding of God’s Law to fit their own self-righteous ends. They saw the man, who had been beaten, stripped, and left for dead, and they passed by on the other side of the road, as far away from the man as they could get. Why didn’t they help? Well, for two reasons—first, because they didn’t know him. To them, he was not a neighbour and so the Law, as they believed, did not require their help to be given. Secondly, if it turned out that he was dead, touching him would have left them unclean, according to the Jewish ceremonial laws. And this would mean that they’d be excluded from all temple and synagogue worship for a whole week. Imagine, to their horror, a whole week of being unable to show off before others just how good and righteous they were, for that’s what worship was all about for them—showing off their righteousness!
In contrast to those two, who were just like the self-righteous lawyer, is a Samaritan who, upon seeing the wounded man, has compassion toward him. He looks upon this man whom he does not know and regards him as his neighbour. And as a neighbour, he stops and gives him the help that he needs. He administers first aid, as he is able, binding up his wounds and pouring on oil and wine. He puts him on his own animal, as the Old Testament Samaritans did with the captives they helped and took to Jericho. And, by the way, since the road in the parable leads to Jericho, perhaps that is also where the Samaritan man of the parable takes his newfound neighbour—to the safety and shelter of an inn of that town. Jesus tells us that, since the Samaritan cannot stay at the inn, he pays the innkeeper to care for him until he returns, at which time he will pay for any further costs incurred.
Jesus ends His story by asking the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The lawyer, of course, has masterfully been boxed into a corner by Jesus and left with no answer other than to say, “The one who showed him mercy.” To admit this must have really galled the lawyer, for he and other Jews like him looked upon Samaritans as being spiritually and racially inferior and sinners of the worst sort. Then, to add the cherry on top, Jesus says to him, “You go and do likewise.”
This parable, dear friends, is not told just for that self-righteous lawyer. Jesus tells it also for you. And so his parting exhortation of, “You go and do likewise,” is also for you. And as it was for the lawyer, this is also quite a tall order for you, too, isn’t it? For remember, to “do likewise,” as Jesus says, is to treat everyone as your neighbour; it’s to have compassion upon everyone; it’s to give willingly of yourself, without counting the cost; it’s doing everything that is needed to help your neighbour. Who can do this? Can you? If you’re being honest, it’s not something that you even want to do. You like your help for neighbour to be easy and comfortable and costing you as little as possible. How do I know this? Well, it’s because I’m the same way. We all are. It’s how we are as poor miserable sinners. It’s our sinful human nature to be this way. And the times that we do act contrary to this inclination and actually go out and give of ourselves to help our neighbour, it’s likely to make us feel good about ourselves or to enhance the way we look to others. And that’s just more sin, isn’t it?
The only way for you to do otherwise, to be the kind of neighbour that Jesus tells you to be, is to get beyond yourself and do this in Christ. And that’s a baptismal identity thing, dear friends. It’s that Romans 6 thing of being joined together in the death and resurrection of Christ. Because your nature is inherently sinful, the only way for you to “go and do likewise” is to do it in union with Jesus, as a good fruit of the faith that you have been given through His Word and Sacraments. Christ takes that otherwise sinfully motivated good work of yours and sanctifies it; He forgives your sins and makes your help for your neighbour a holy thing, pleasing to our heavenly Father.
Yes, on your own, you are not the Good Samaritan. Jesus is. You are the “if it weren’t for Him” dead man lying on the road, incapable of helping anyone—even yourself! The devil and sin has left you that way, and it is only through the tender ministrations of Jesus that you now live with a life that has no end. With His own suffering and death, He bound up your wounds to heal you—He poured on the wine of His shed blood, the oil of His Holy Spirit’s anointing. And in Holy Baptism He leaves you in the safekeeping and shelter of the inn that is His holy Church, until the day that He returns to bring you unto Himself in His kingdom of glory. For now, you are receiving the nourishment for which He paid with His sacrificial death in your place, the true and life giving food of His Body and Blood—the medicine of immortality that preserves you in both body and soul unto life everlasting. In Christ, your Rescuer—your Saviour and Redeemer—you are forgiven all your sins. He is the Good Samaritan who gave all and continues to give of Himself that you might live. All thanks and praise to His holy name, now and forever. Amen.