In the parable of the Good Samaritan this morning, we don’t learn anything about the man who is journeying to Jericho and is attacked by robbers. The Greek text has simply, “A certain man.” We don’t know anything about his character. We don’t know anything about what he is like. Given that fact, if these events played out in Illinois, the Samaritan had better hope that he was certified in first aid … for his own sake.
Like all fifty states, Illinois has a “Good Samaritan law” that is meant to provide legal protection to those who give assistance in emergencies. These laws vary greatly from state to state. In Illinois a person who provides first aid is exempt from civil liability if the person “is currently certified in first aid by the American Red Cross, the American Heart Association, or the National Safety Council.” How many non-health care professionals here this morning can make that claim? If you are not, and you provide first aid, you had better hope that things turn out fine, or that the victim is not litigious.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of our Lord’s best known parables – so well know that the phrase “Good Samaritan” is understood even by those who know nothing about the Bible and can be used in phrases like “Good Samaritan laws.” But the parable doesn’t stand on its own. Jesus’ telling of the parable is prompted by a discussion.
We learn in our text that a lawyer stood up to put Jesus to the test. In this Jewish setting, a lawyer was someone who was an expert in the interpretation and application of the Torah to life – the law that God had given to Israel through Moses. He was there to take Jesus on as he asked: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
The man was a lawyer, so Jesus turned him back to the law – back to the Torah as he said, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The lawyer replied with verses from Deuteronomy and Leviticus as he said, “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." And then Jesus replied succinctly, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
The lawyer had come to test Jesus with his question, and now he just looked dumb. The answer to his question was so simple. So the lawyer, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” The lawyer attempted to make a comeback by asking a question that was very relevant in Judaism of that day. The neighbor was to be loved as oneself. Fine. But who counted as a neighbor? The lawyer attempted trap Jesus in the fine details of who was actually considered to be a neighbor. He sought to limit the field. And this is in fact what Jews of that time did. From examples like the group at Qumran, we know that Jews had different definitions of who was “really a Jew” and therefore was a neighbor.
Jesus began by saying, “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.” The seventeen mile trip from Jerusalem to Jericho was one that went down – by about 1800 feet. It was also a journey in which one of the dangers of ancient travel was present, namely robbers.
Attacked by the robbers, beaten, stripped of his clothes and lying there half dead, the man was helpless. But he was in luck! By chance a priest was also going down that road. Most likely he had just finished his round of service at the temple and was returning home. He saw the man in need, but instead of stopping to help, he passed by on the other side. Yet then, there was another chance for help! A Levite, a person who was involved in helping to run the logistics of temple, came to the place and saw him. But he too passed by on the other side.
Why had these Jews who were respected members of the community – people who were intimately involved in the work of God at the temple – not stopped to help? Perhaps they feared that the robbers who had done this to the man were still nearby, lying in wait. Perhaps they thought the man was already dead, and so touching him would make them ritually unclean – something that required an expensive and time consuming process to reverse.
But then a Samaritan who was on a journey came to where he was. The Jews and the Samaritans despised each other. At the end of the previous chapter a Samaritan village had refused to receive Jesus because he was a Jew making his way to Jerusalem for the Passover. In the progression of the parable, after a Priest and Levite, the hearers may have been expecting an ordinary Jew - a lay person. But instead, a Samaritan shows up!
And he does the unexpected. Jesus says that “when he saw him, he had compassion.” He had compassion on the man and so he stopped to help him. He bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He put the man on his own animal, as instead he walked. He brought the man to an inn and took care of him. Then, needing to continue his journey, 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.” He gave the innkeeper the equivalent of two days wages, and promised more in repayment if it was needed.
When Jesus had finished the parable he said, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The lawyer answered, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” The lawyer had asked the limiting question, “Who is my neighbor that I have to love?” Jesus turned it all around to ask about who proved to be a neighbor to others. Instead of limitation, Jesus pointed the lawyer towards loving action that extended to anyone who needed it.
As you listen to this parable, you are every character. The only real question is whether you are going to be the good Samaritan because of Jesus. You certainly are the priest and the Levite. You see people in all kinds of need – both physical and emotional – and how often do you pause to help? Perhaps we help people we like, or people who may be able to help us later, or we help people when it won’t inconvenience us too much. But there certainly are times when we just choose to ignore those in need.
You are that way, because you are also the beaten, helpless man along the side of the road. You were left there by the Fall not half-dead, but instead completely dead – spiritually dead to God. You were completely a sinner, both in failing to love God and in failing to love your neighbor.
But like the Samaritan, Jesus had compassion on you. The only time in Luke’s Gospel before our text, when this word had occurred was when Jesus encountered the widow at Nain whose son had died. There we are told, “when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’” Then Jesus raised the woman’s son from the dead.
Jesus had compassion on you. He stopped to help you by coming into this world. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He lived as true God and true man in our world in order to be beaten, and to be stripped naked, and to be hung on a cross half-dead. But no one came to help him. In fact, God the Father put him there for your sake. He put him there to die. He put him there to die for your sins, because only in that way could we receive the healing we really need. Only in that way could we receive forgiveness.
We needed forgiveness. And we needed real life too. On the third day, God the Father who had put Jesus on the cross raised him from the dead. By his Spirit he raised Jesus Christ with the life that cannot die. He gave us Jesus as the Savior who has compassion on us.
In the parable the Samaritan tends to the wounded man with oil and wine. Jesus has tended to you with the anointing of the Holy Spirit in baptism. Through water and the Word, the Spirit has given you new life. He has worked regeneration and made you a new creation in Christ. And through wine, Jesus gives you his true blood along with his true body in the Sacrament of the Altar. Jesus gives you his body and blood, given and shed for you. This is food that gives you the forgiveness that Jesus won on the cross. This is food that strengthens you in faith so that you can be what you were not before.
This is what Jesus Christ has done for you. He did this so that you can be the forgiven child of God. He did this so that you can have eternal life with him no matter whether you live or whether you die. He did is so that you can share in his resurrection on the Last Day, when he will raise you up and transform your body to be like his imperishable resurrected body.
But he also did this so that you can be the good Samaritan. God helped you in Christ when you were helpless. He has given you forgiveness and new life by his Spirit so that you can be different toward others. The Samaritan takes the risk of stopping to help because he has compassion. Christ’s compassion for you now prompts you to stop and help others.
This is not about convenience. The Samaritan is the only person described in the parable as being on a journey. He was a Samaritan in Judea. He was going somewhere because Judea certainly wasn’t where he belonged. We see that even in helping he continues on his journey and promises to pay whatever extra is needed when he returns.
But in spite of the need to make this journey, he stops to help the man. Instead of continuing to ride comfortably, he puts the wounded man on his own animal and walks. He takes the man to the inn and cared for him the rest of the day. And then he uses his own money to pay for the care of man he doesn’t even know.
Jesus Christ has saved you and given you his Spirit so that you can be this. He has called you to be a person who looks to help those in need, even when it is inconvenient; even when it has a cost. Jesus tells the parable this morning and asks us, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” And when we give the obvious answer, “The one who showed him mercy,” Jesus says yet again: “You go, and do likewise.” We have been shown mercy in Christ, so that now we can look for opportunities to show mercy in our home, at school and at work.
The lawyer asked Jesus the question, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” We do not act like the Samaritan in order to inherit eternal life. Instead we live mercifully because we have already been given eternal life. We have already been given the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for us. We have already been given the Spirit and faith in Christ. We have received mercy upon mercy from our Lord, and so by his Spirit we look to be merciful to others.