130714 Luke 10:25-37

Last Updated on Monday, 15 July 2013 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Luke 10:25-37
Theme: A Lesson In Love

Jesus. Sometimes that name is invoked with reverence to express the highest form of praise. Jesus. Other times the same name is spoken with obvious contempt. But for me "Jesus" wasn't a word I threw out carelessly to express my frustration. Jesus was the source of my frustration, and I'll explain why.

It wasn't exactly what Jesus was doing because he actually did a lot of good. He helped people. He healed people. On at least one occasion he fed thousands of people. And so it's no surprise that people were attracted to him. Many followed him, and they listened to him because he spoke with authority.

But that's the problem. Jesus had no official authority. He wasn't an expert in the law like I was. He had no formal training. He hadn't gone through years and years of schooling. He was a carpenter's son from Nazareth. And so he had no right to be teaching people or sending out disciples in his name.

Jesus needed to be brought down a couple notches, and I decided that I would be the one to do it. Little did I know that I would be the one who would learn a valuable lesson that day. By telling me the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus taught me and he teaches all of us...

A LESSON IN LOVE

I initiated the conversation with Jesus with a question, not because I was interested in his answer, but because I wanted to put him to the test. I asked: "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life" (25)? The very nature of that question makes an assumption. It assumes (and many of my people believed) that a person must do something to earn a place in heaven. The real question is: What needs to be done? Or how much needs to be done?

Instead of giving me a straight answer, Jesus responded by asking me another question. And that's when I started to feel a little uneasy. Jesus asked me: "What is written in the Law? How do you read it" (26)? In effect, Jesus was saying: "Why are you asking me? You're the expert. You have dedicated your life to studying the Old Testament. You know the Law of God backwards and forwards. If anyone should know the answer, it should be you. So what is it?"

And all of the sudden I found myself on the defensive. I didn't have time to come up with a clever comeback. I didn't want to give the impression that I wasn't the Bible scholar I claimed to be. I knew what the Law said so I said: "'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'" (27).

Jesus wasn't going to make a fool out of me. I answered his question. I passed the test. But then I remembered that it was my question and my test. And my face turned a little red when Jesus replied: "You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live" (28).

Was my question really that easy? Was the answer that obvious? I didn't want anyone who was listening to think so. I didn't want to lose face. I didn't want to look like an idiot. And so I racked my brain to think of something to say, something that would turn the tables, something that would make me sound more intelligent.

Then it came to me. Anyone can read from the Torah, I reasoned. From little on Hebrew children are taught to love the Lord their God. In Leviticus Moses commands us to love our neighbors, but where should we draw the line? Who deserves my love? "Who is my neighbor?" (29) is the question I put to the Teacher.

Again, Jesus didn't give me a direct answer. This time he told me a story. "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho" (30a), twenty miles of the driest, rockiest, loneliest road on earth. Not much level ground, hardly any water, but plenty of places for criminals to hide. Somewhere along the road some robbers set an ambush for the unsuspecting man. They beat him within an inch of his life. They took everything he had, even his clothes. And they left him there bleeding and naked.

It wasn't exactly an uplifting beginning, but I was still hopeful that the story would have a happy ending. And I was encouraged by what Jesus said next: "A priest happened to be going down the same road" (31a). Surely he will stop, I thought to myself. Surely this man of God will help. But he didn't. He didn't stop. He didn't help. "When he saw the man, he passed by on other side" (31b).

Not long after that a Levite came to the place where the man was. If the man cried out to him for help, the Levite pretended like he couldn't hear him. He didn't stop. He didn't slow down. Just like the priest who went before him he too passed by on the other side.

I wasn't sure how this parable was supposed to answer my question. I didn't know where this story was going, but I knew that I didn't like the general direction. I wasn't a priest or a Levite, but as far as Jewish society goes I could be lumped into the same general category, and Jesus wasn't casting them (or me) in a very positive light. But before I could interrupt, before I could stop Jesus to ask questions, he continued:

"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'" (33-35).

A Samaritan? Come on, Jesus. A Samaritan? Jews and Samaritans hate each other. If given the opportunity Samaritans and Jews will spit on each other. Every self-respecting Jew knows that Samaritans are half-breeds, unclean, unholy, ungodly. Apparently Jesus was the only one who wasn't aware of this because he was determined to make this Samaritan into a saint.

Listen again to everything the Samaritan did for this man. Even if it was getting dark, even if the robbers were looking for another victim, the Samaritan didn't care. All he cared about was another human being in need. He stopped and put oil and wine on the man's wounds, but he didn't stop there.

Next he put the man on his own pack animal and took him to an inn. He took care of him. He spent the night with him. The next morning he gave the innkeeper two silver coins (the equivalent of two days' wages). And then he promised to come back and if necessary pay him even more, all for a complete stranger, all for someone who under other circumstances would have been his enemy.

When Jesus finished telling the story he asked me one more question: "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers" (36)? Again, the answer was easy, at least on the surface. It was a simple statement of fact when I said: "The one who had mercy on him" (37a). It was a blow to my pride when Jesus responded with the challenge to "Go and do likewise" (37b).

The more I thought about this parable, the more I thought about this conversation, the more I realized that Jesus never addressed my original question. Instead he changed it. He changed the question from "Who is my neighbor?" to "To whom can I be a neighbor?"

And when Jesus commanded me to "Go and do likewise," he wasn't giving me a pep talk. He wasn't saying: "You're doing a good job, but now I want you to go out and do even better." Jesus specifically chose a priest and a Levite and a Samaritan to convict me, to expose my sin, to show me all the wrong I've done, to make me see all the good I haven't done.

Some have tried to explain that the actions of the priest and the Levite in Jesus' parable weren't as cold and heartless as they appear to be. Contact with a dead body (and from a distance the man could have looked dead) would have made them unclean and kept them from performing their sacred duties. And so they were only being cautious when they went out of their way to avoid the man.

I understand that this explanation is somewhat speculative. We don't know what the priest or the Levite were thinking (the parable doesn't get into that), but their actions do make me think. And I hope they make you think too. Think about yourself. Think about your own life. Think of the times you convinced yourself not to help another person in need.

Maybe you thought you had good reasons. Maybe you thought to yourself: "I don't want to interfere." or "I don't have time to get involved." or "I have enough problems of my own." Whatever your reasons were, were they legitimate or were they excuses? If you search your soul, if you dig down deep, what was your real motivation? Was it compassion or self-preservation? Was it selfishness or love?

I will be the first to tell you that it's easy to quote Bible passages about love, but putting that kind of love into practice is another story. Only the Samaritan in the parable was able to demonstrate selfless, self-sacrificing love, and do you know why? Because the Good Samaritan is a fictional character. Because the Parable of the Good Samaritan is just a story.

No one can love God with all his heart and soul and strength and mind. None of us can love others the way we love ourselves. When we are in public we can act like nice people. Sometimes we even do nice things for other people. But not all that time. Sooner or later (and it's usually sooner than later) the truth will come out. We can't hide the fact that we are sinners, selfish, loveless, helpless sinners.

It was a hard lesson, but it was lesson I needed to learn. It's a lesson we all need to learn. But this parable wasn't Jesus only lesson on love. The Lord asked penetrating questions. The Teacher told compelling stories. But Jesus was at his best when he taught by example.

Not long after Jesus told this parable he followed in the footsteps of the Good Samaritan...except that he didn't stop to help just one man. He was on a mission to rescue all mankind. Jesus gave more than time or money to help us. He gave up his divine glory to be born in a barn. He gave up his freedom to live under the law. And then he gave up his life for the sins of the world.

While we were still sinners Christ died for us. There is only one explanation for that kind of sacrifice. There is only one word that can explain why Jesus did what he did. Love. Jesus loved God with all his heart and soul and strength and mind. Jesus loved his friends and his enemies. And on the cross Jesus showed you how much he loves you.

As good as the Good Samaritan was, your Good Shepherd is even better. When you are lost, he will find you. When you are in danger, he will protect you. When you are in need, he will help you. When you confess your sins, he forgives you.

Jesus gives you everything you need for this life and the life to come. He gives you the faith to trust in him. He gives you the courage to follow him. He gives you the compassion to be like him, to love like him, to love the Lord with your whole heart, to love your neighbor as yourself, to show Christ-like love to your friends and your enemies and even to a law expert like me. Amen.

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