The Good Samaritan
The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)
"Who is my neighbor?" The question both then and now provokes debate and uneasiness. In Jesus' world the religious often debated the limits of neighborliness, the Pharisees, rabbis, Essenes, and common people drawing the line at different places. Today, the question is even more difficult than in Jesus' world. Modern mobility makes thousands of people we see only for a fleeting, few moments our neighbor. We walk by them at a mall, sit next to them in an airplane, or jostle against them at a football game. Modern media makes the question even more difficult. At our dinner table we are instantly aware of starving people in Ethiopia. There seem to be endless claims with no boundary.
The motive in which we ask the question is as important as the answer. "He wanted to justify himself" (v. 29). The expert in the Old Testament law desired to limit his responsibility rather than define his responsibility. He was more interested in theological speculation than in practical application. Where and how do we meet our neighbor?
We Meet Our Neighbor in the Troubled One Immediately Before Us
The road to Jericho reaches all the way to Fort Worth. The ancient road from Jerusalem down to Jericho was seventeen miles long. Highway robbers lived in caves along the road. The road has been a place of danger right up to this very moment. That reminds us that it is a road anyone can travel, anytime, anywhere. The hapless traveler was suddenly surrounded by vicious thieves. They took what he had, stripped him of his clothes, and beat him as he attempted to defend himself. The story Jesus told probably represents an historical event.
Who is my neighbor, the one near me? It is the specific, troubled individual who is unavoidably before me alone. No one else is there to help. I must step to him, or around him, but he is unavoidably there before me alone. No one can be neighbor to everybody, but anyone should be neighbor in this instance.
We Can Avoid Our Neighbor Even in the Name of Religion
Two religious professionals walked by the wounded neighbor. The priest belonged to the elite of the religious professionals. The Levite belonged to the lesser group who did the heavy work of skinning sacrifices and cleaning up the leftovers. Evidently, Jesus saw two levels of callousness in their respective attitudes. The priest walked by on the "other side." The language suggested that the Levite came and looked carefully, but decided to go on after his careful inspection.
The religious law forbade touching a corpse for such religious professionals. This may have been the motivation, but they seem to be going away from the temple back to Jericho. Religious busyness often tramples right over human need. Formalism, ritualism, and institutionalism can drive religious machinery right over hurting people in the name of religion itself.
An Unlikely Person Often Cares More Than Anyone Else
Those who first heard Jesus' story would have expected the third character to be a righteous fellow-countryman. Instead it was a despised half-breed, a Samaritan. It is difficult to reproduce in 1986 the shock of Jesus' story in the first century. The Samaritans had desecrated the Jewish temple by spreading dead persons' bones throughout. In turn, the Jew cursed the Samaritan, considered his food as swine's flesh, and was told to suffer rather than receive help from a Samaritan.
Help for the one immediately before me alone ought to be personal, particular, the total. The Samaritan did not report it to a committee, he did it himself. The detail of the story indicates the particular, and meticulous care he gave. His willingness to pay for future accommodations indicates the ripe totality of his personal care. He did not hand the future to somebody else, he took responsibility himself.
No one can do this for everybody. But those who claim to have eternal life had better be doing it for somebody.