************ Sermon on Luke 10:25-37 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 28, 2012
"The Good Samaritan"
Everyone knows the name of the parable I read this morning. It is "The Parable of the Good Samaritan." Did you know there is also a Bad Samaritan? Actually, there is a whole group of Bad Samaritans. Listen to what Luke writes one chapter earlier:
(Lk 9:51-56) As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. (52) And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; (53) but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. (54) When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?" (55) But Jesus turned and rebuked them, (56) and they went to another village.
Did you hear what James and John wanted to do to the Bad Samaritans? They wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy them. Did you hear what Jesus did to the Bad Samaritans? Jesus "rebuked" them.
James and John and Jesus were of one mind. They viewed the people of the village as Bad Samaritans. Going a step further, we know that back then the people of Israel, as a whole, viewed all Samaritans as Bad Samaritans.
Who are the Samaritans? Where did they come from? Why the animosity between them and the Jews? We know that the Samaritans lived for the most part around Mount Gerizim in the district of Samaria. The Samaritans – like the Jews – claimed Jacob as father. The Samaritans claimed to be the remnant of the ten tribes of Israel who have always worshiped YHWH at Shechem or Mt Gerizim. The Samaritans and the Jews were naturally hostile to each other both claiming they alone were the true followers of Jehovah and, of course, claiming that the other group had parted from God's commands.
I Many Interpretations
A In preparing for this World Hunger message I wondered what other pastors said about "The Parable of the Good Samaritan." Some of the contemporary interpretations are surprising, to say the least.
First is the view that the robbers were freedom-fighters. They were dispossessed peasants forced into debt by Roman and Temple taxation. The robbers, therefore, are the real heroes of the story. They are Robin Hoods of the Ancient World trying to correct the wrongs of an evil and corrupt society.
The Greek term that Luke uses means "robber, thief" and NOT "freedom fighter." It is the same word used by Jesus when He accuses the money-changers of turning the Temple into "a den of robbers" (Lk 19:46). Paul uses the same word to describe the danger he faced from "bandits" (2 Cor 11:26). Paul was not talking about a band of Merry Men.
No, there is nothing redeeming about the robbers. They were desperate, violent men, loving neither God nor their fellow man. Like home-invaders or car-jackers today, they were brutal to their victim. "They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead" (Lk 10:30).
B Another foolish interpretation concerns the victim, simply identified by Jesus as a "man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho." A few pastors and commentators actually state that this man, whoever he is, deserved to be robbed and beaten. If he was rich enough to travel, if he was rich enough to be robbed, he must be one of the over-class of oppressors. Or, he must be a tradesman or merchant who consorts with unbelievers and therefore is ritually unclean. Don't feel sorry for the victim. He doesn't deserve compassion. The priest and Levite were right in walking to the other side of the road instead of helping him.
C One of my commentaries suggests a third interpretation, an explanation that pits legalism against the law of love. The priest and the Levite avoid the victim because, should he be dead, or die while they attended him, they would become ritually unclean. Meaning what? Meaning they would be unable to attend Temple worship or participate in Temple ceremonies. According to this point-of-view, the priest and Levite chose obedience to the Law over love for neighbor.
Yes, priests are to avoid corpses except for close family members (cf Lev 21:1-3), but this law does not apply to Levites. Also, the priest and the Levite are going in the wrong direction; they are going down from Jerusalem to Jericho; so, there is no reason to be concerned about the purity required by Temple duties or worship. Moreover, in Jewish law saving a life trumps all other laws.
D A couple of weeks ago I came across something entirely new. I read an article on how the "Inn of the Good Samaritan Becomes a Museum" (BAR, January/February 2012, page 48f). Notice how the focus keeps changing? The robbers, the victim, the priest and Levite, and now the Inn.
I was startled about this last change in focus. An actual building in an actual location has been identified as the Inn of the Good Samaritan and now it has been turned into a museum. Think about this. I thought this was a parable. A story. So, then, how can there be a building? Turns out the identification of the inn has generated an entire tourist and pilgrim industry dating back to the early fifth century. I suppose a sermon from this point-of-view would urge churches to start or support more hospitals.
E And, then, there are the just plain silly interpretations. One pastor, in talking about this parable, warned the children of his congregation, "Don't walk by yourself on dangerous roads or in dangerous neighborhoods." Another pastor, with Obamacare and immigration issues in mind, used this parable to argue that not only must we love our enemies, but – like the Good Samaritan – we should also provide free medical care to foreigners.
II Are You a Neighbor?
A I was talking with a couple in my office. I was explaining rules for Bible interpretation. I told them one question to always ask, whether it is Genesis or Revelation or somewhere in between, is "How did the original audience understand this?" Once you answer that question, you can begin to apply the passage to today.
So, how did Jesus' original audience understand the Parable of the Good Samaritan?
B Let me repeat the gist of the story. A man going from Jerusalem to Jericho is attacked by robbers who strip him and beat him. A priest passes by without helping him. A Levite passes by without helping him. But then, says Jesus, someone else comes on the scene. Who do you think Jesus' audience would expect?
We sometimes say stories or jokes about a Baptist, a Presbyterian, and a Catholic. Or, a Scotsman, an Irishman, and a Dutchman. Or ... So, who is the third person that completes the group of priest and Levite? In popular Jewish thinking the third person can only be a Jew, a regular ordinary Israelite.
C Now, think about Jesus' question: Who was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers (Lk 11:36)? In answer to this question, the crowds expect a Jew, a regular ordinary Israelite, to be identified as a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers. Much to the delight of the crowds who suffered under the religious yoke of their religious leaders, a priest failed to be a neighbor. Then a Levite failed to be a neighbor. But then a Jew, a regular ordinary Israelite, came by and was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers. At least, that is what the crowd expected.
D But now comes the "shock and awe." Our military likes to use this expression to explain how they go about defeating an enemy. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus uses shock and awe to get His point across.
Priest, Levite, Jew. That is the popular order. This is the expected order. But not for Jesus. His order is Priest, Levite, Samaritan.
Samaritan?! You got to be kidding, Jesus?! How can you say this, Jesus?! A Samaritan?! One of those hated outsiders?! One of those heretics who worship at Gerizim instead of Jerusalem?! Aren't all Samaritans Bad Samaritans?! So how can you have a Good Samaritan?
Shock that Jesus mentioned a Samaritan. Awe that Jesus dared to take on the experts of the Law in this fashion.
Do you hear Jesus' message to the first century Jews? He is saying not every Samaritan is a Bad Samaritan. He is saying there are Good Samaritans. He is saying it is possible for a Samaritan to act as a neighbor while the spiritual leaders of Israel – a priest and a Levite – do not.
E Let's put this story in a 21st century context. A man's car breaks down on Highway 99. A pastor comes by and doesn't stop. An elder comes by and doesn't stop. To follow the logic of the Jewish crowd, a layman then comes by and gives the help that neither the pastor or the elder will give. But the third person is not a layman. Instead, he is a gang member, complete with gang colors and gang tattoos. Or, he is a man of mid-east origins. Or, his turban identifies him as someone from India or Pakistan. Do you get the picture?
Sometimes, says Jesus, those who act like neighbors are people we do not expect.
I have learned and seen over the years that kindness is often shown by the most unexpected people. I have known rich people who have a hard time parting with even a dollar. And, I have known poor people who give incredible gifts of kindness to widows and others in distress.
Jesus' audience was surprised. We are surprised. But the One Who is not surprised is the Lord Jesus Himself. Because He is the One Who can look into hearts and discern what is really there.
Are you one of these unexpected ones who act like a neighbor to those who are in need? On this World Hunger Sunday, are you one of those surprising ones who show love to those who are hurting? That is the point or focus of the parable: are you one of those surprising ones who act as a neighbor?
III The Way of Salvation
A Do you remember what caused Jesus to say the Parable of the Good Samaritan? An expert of the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
I can sympathize with Jesus at this point. Some people do this to pastors all the time. They try to stump you. Or, they try to prove they know something you don't. Or, they try to look more thoughtful or orthodox than you. Or, they try to catch you in a heresy. Compare this to the debates between Obama and Romney. Likewise, there was nothing nice or innocent about the question the expert asked of Jesus.
Jesus, then, is answering an important question. In fact, Jesus is answering the most important question. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus is answering a question about eternal life.
B "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" According to Jesus, the expert in the law gave the correct answer when he said, "Love the Lord your God ... Love your neighbor" (Lk 10:27).
Who can live up to this? According to Jesus, the priest doesn't live up to this. According to Jesus, the Levite doesn't live up to this. And, if a priest and a Levite doesn't live up to this, Jesus is also saying that an expert in the law – like the man standing in front of him – doesn't live up to this either. Not a single religious leader or expert can do anything to inherit eternal life.
Remember, the crowd expected Jesus to make a hero out of a Jew, a normal ordinary Israelite. But Jesus does the unexpected. He doesn't make a hero out of a Jew, a normal ordinary Israelite. Why not? Because they cannot live up to the law either. Because they also fall short of what God commands. Because they, too, do not deserve to inherit eternal life.
Do you hear the message? No one is able to be a neighbor. The natural state of every person is to hate, despise, and treat as an outcast. This was true for both Jew and Samaritan. Around the time of Jesus, for instance, Samaritans killed a great many Galilean pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem. As for the Jews, at the time of Jesus they traveled around instead of through Samaria to avoid all possible contact with the Samaritans.
Lest you think otherwise, let me set you straight: We are no better. We, too, are not able to be a neighbor to those in need. Because, as the Psalmist puts it,
(Ps 53:1,3) ... there is no one who does good ... (3) Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.Not one of us deserves to inherit eternal life.
C So, then, how come a Samaritan – a hated Samaritan, a despised Samaritan – succeeds in being a neighbor? How come a Samaritan succeeds where a priest, a Levite, an expert in the Law, and an ordinary Israelite fails? How come he succeeds where even you and I don't naturally succeed? What makes him so special?
We can only talk here about the Gospel surprise. Jesus makes disciples of the most surprising people. God's grace is visited upon the most surprising of people. It is grace, wonderful grace, that turns Bad Samaritans into Good Samaritans. It is grace, wonderful grace, that transforms bad priests and bad Levites and bad Israelites so they are neighbors to those in need. Likewise, it is grace, wonderful grace, that transforms you and me into being a neighbor to those in need.
On this World Hunger Sunday do you find yourself wanting to be a neighbor to the people I mentioned in the World Hunger devotional book? Do you want to be a neighbor to those in Tulare County who hunger, who thirst, who are unemployed, who are homeless, who experience teen pregnancy, who use drugs, who are migrant workers? Do you want to be a neighbor to these? If so, praise God I say. Praise God. Because that is a sign that God's grace is at work in you.
The expert in the law tried something that we often try. He tried to turn the attention to the other person. "Who is my neighbor?" he asked. He thought he was safe. But Jesus turned the attention back upon him. Forget the other person. Ask yourself, "Am I being a neighbor?"
Because of God's grace, the answer is surprising. Even today it is surprising.
I want to tell you, congregation, if you are a Christian, then God's grace does surprising things in you and with you. If you are a Christian, God's grace turns enemies into neighbors. It makes you want to feed the hungry.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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