Have you ever been in a situation where someone asked you a question and you knew that the question was a trap? Perhaps the person was trying to uncover an inconsistency in your position. Perhaps they were trying to back you into a corner.
I was watching an episode of The West Wing where President Bartlett was concealed a major medical issue during a campaign. It created a huge scandal and launched an investigation. Everyone close to the president came under investigation. They were trying to determine who knew what, and when they knew it.
In one scene, an attorney was prepping a staffer for the grand jury. He said things like this: If they catch you in one inconsistency, you could go to jail. If you change your story just once, they will charge you with perjury.
He was creating this sense that every word spoken would be parsed and analyzed and scrutinized. The witnesses would be held accountable for every word spoken.
Have you ever been in a situation where you felt like someone was doing that to you? When you read the New Testament, Jesus was frequently in situations like this. People would approach him and ask him questions. But the authors sometimes add this phrase: “In order to put him to the test.”
In other words, there was a question, but it really wasn’t curiosity. It wasn’t a desire really know the answer. They asked Jesus questions intending to trip Him up somehow or to trap Him in inconsistencies.
Jesus was masterful at taking those questions and turning them into opportunities to both confound his opponents and teach his followers. This is what happens in today’s parable about the Good Samaritan.
A man who was known for being an expert in the Old Testament law approached Jesus. He asked Jesus what people need to do in order to have eternal life. He also gave his own opinion, and summarized keeping the law with the commandment to love. Love God. Love your neighbor.
Jesus agreed with the answer, so the expert wanted clarification on who his neighbor is. Jesus tells the famous parable of the Samaritan, and teaches us that God has demonstrated love and care for us, and therefore, we demonstrate love and care for those around us.
Principle One: Loving God and loving neighbor sums up the law. (Luke 10:25-28)
Luke 10:25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “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.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
This expert in the Law of Moses has no interest in Jesus opinion regarding eternal life. He’s got it figured out. He’s simply trying to test or trap Jesus.
The question itself is fine. It’s a common question, a good question It’s the kind of question people are still asking!
Jesus doesn’t answer. Instead, and wants to know the experts opinion on the matter. What do you think Jesus was doing by turning it back on the expert? It’s a good witnessing technique! Instead of jumping right to the Four Spiritual Laws, it’s - “What do you think?”
This guy had a good response, especially since they were living under the Law then. He quoted the two greatest commandments! Love God and love your neighbor. Jesus himself taught that the whole Old Testament, both the the Law and the Prophets, could be summed up this way. That’s Matthew 22:36-40.
Love God completely. That’s what’s implies in the words heart, soul, strength and mind. Your actions, your thoughts, your motives and emotions - They’re all engaged and committed to loving God.
That spills over to the way you treat others.
The problem in this conversation is that the expert was not expecting agreement. He came to trap Jesus, and what he found was Jesus telling him that he perspective was correct. Jesus says Yes! If you have a heart that loves God. If your very soul, instead of being sinful, is marked by love for God. If your strength is dedicated to loving God. If our mind is consumed by loving God. And if all of that translates into how you treat others - then yes!
We would say it like this: If you don’t need a Savior, then you are fine.
Now this Lawyer has a delima, and it’s the same delima everyone faces. How good is good enough? How can I make sure I’m okay? Have I loved God the way God demands? Have I loved my neighbor adequately? How can I know?
Simple question, simple answer. “You want to inherit eternal life? Love God and love your neighbor.” But that answer implies full devotion. It implies a perfection of love for God and people that none of us, if we’re honest, has been able to fulfill.
The expert starts to feel the sting of what was just said. The law exposes you. Have I loved God and neighbor as he ought. So, he quickly responded with another question. Luke characterizes this question as an attempt to justify himself.
Principle Two: Loving our neighbor means showing compassion. (Luke 10:29-35)
Luke 10:29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
If I’m supposed to love God and love my neighbor, how far does this really go? The part about God is fixed. There’s only one God. Loving Him as he commands is fairly clear. The people part might have some wiggle room. I mean, really, there’s a-lot of people in the world! There’s a-lot of people in my town. In my subdivision. The question he asking is “Lets clarify the segment of people who rise to the level of being my neighbor so that I can work on loving them.”
Luke 10:30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’
Instead of answering directly. Jesus tells this story. Jesus story does two things. It it deals with the question of who my neighbor is. It deals with the question of how can I be neighborly.
The victim is assumed to be Jewish, but not a religions leader - a regular guy. Two religious leaders see the man in distress and pass by doing nothing.
The turning point in the story is when someone does stop! The handbook has this paragraph:
"Shockingly, a Samaritan man stops to help the wounded Jew. The Jewish people in Jesus’ day despised the Samaritans for religious and ethnic reasons."
For the Samaritan to become the hero of the story, and for the Samaritan to be the one to cross ethnic and cultural boundaries was scandalous. Imagine if we were to retell the story today about a wounded Christian being passed over by two Christians but helped by a Muslim! Or a white man in distress in the Deep South during the Jim Crow years being helped by a black man.
I love that Jesus decided to tell a story instead of just saying, “To be a neighbor, show compassion.” There’s something powerful in the way Jesus delivered this truth in the form of a story. The parable stirs our hearts in a way that shows us, not just tells us, the truth.
And the truth Jesus showed in this story is that compassion and love for neighbor crosses boundaries and overcomes obstacles.
Ever since Robb Provost came to Colonial, I’ve been thinking about what Robb calls Biblical Shalom. The premise is that wherever the gospel takes root, the quality of life for the whole community improves. In cultures where God’s principles are ignored, there is a negative impact on the community.
Christians are supposed to care about the culture and seek to bring biblical shalom to their community!
Principle Three: Compassion from Jesus leads to compassion for others. (Luke 10:36-37)
After telling the story of the good Samaritan, Jesus asked a question of His own. Notice how Jesus’ question differed from the original question asked by the lawyer:
Luke 10:36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
What’s interesting is that in the context of loving my neighbor, I would have expected the beaten man to be the neighbor that I’m supposed to love. Who is my neighbor? Well, in order to love his neighbor, the Levite should have seen his beaten brother as his neighbor, and helped him.
Jesus changed the question. Jesus asked - “Which of the three who came by was the neighbor!” By asking this question, Jesus clarifies that the real issue is not whether I can identify who is my neighbor and who is not.
The issue is - Am I acting like a neighbor when I have opportunity.
We need to get this right! Instead of giving the boundaries - “These are the people you are supposed to love” - Jesus changed the focus. There is no limit to who might fit into the category of neighbor. The emphasis instead is to look for those whom you have an opportunity to demonstrate love.
Your neighbor, to whom you are supposed to show love, is the person who needs to be shown love. It’s not based on a defined list of people. It’s based need and opportunity. When you have an opportunity to show neighborly love, you do it.
A tendency when we are exposed to a need is to try and figure out - Does that person fit into the category of my neighbor? Or is he someone else's problem?
The Priest and the Levite took that approach. This is not my responsibility. By having the Samaritan be the one to stop and help, Jesus is saying that the categories we use to determine who we show compassion to and who we are free to ignore are unbiblical. Jesus takes the experts ideas and turns them upside down.
The expert had two goals. I’m going to boil down what’s expected of me into two commands. And with the second command, I’m going to make the circle as small as I possibly can.
The four words: “Go and do likewise” are like a punch in the gut! You have been shown compassion! Now turn around and show compassion in return! And, stop trying to put limits on it!
Because of this, Christians have always been on the front lines of mercy ministry. These activities are not just things we “check off” on our to-do list. We see it as part of our calling!
Christians were behind the start of the first hospitals. Universities were founded by Christians. Literacy and education for the common people was a Christian idea. Representative forms of government were rooted in Christianity. Civil liberties. A high regard for human life.
As Christians, generosity is not just something we do. Being generous and charitable is part of who we are! Our focus is not on finding out who is our neighbor. The focus, according to this parable, is on simply being a neighbor who loves.
We are to show the world that the compassion we received from God leads us to show compassion to others.
The take-away for us is to remember that I am the neighbor! What opportunities do I have to live like I am the neighbor? This is an important perspective shift. This is something that I am to be, not just a list of things I am to do. Loving, Neighborly - these define us, not just describe us.