25 A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?”
26 Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?”
27 He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
28 Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
29 But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. 31 Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. 32 Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. 33 A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. 34 The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ 36 What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”
37 Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (CEB)
Human beings are creatures of story. We love telling story, and we love listening to story! We learn through story. We’re shaped through story, sometimes without even realizing the effect it’s had on us. We read our children stories like The Velveteen Rabbit to teach them about the power of love. We read them stories like Ferdinand to teach them about peace and pacifism. Some of those sitting here who know the story of Ferdinand are probably surprised at my suggestion that the story is about pacifism. After all, Ferdinand the bull is a big, powerful… Pacifist; who would rather sit peaceably and smell the flowers than try to impress anyone with his machoism, let alone get in a fight.
The Star Wars saga has defined generations since its release in 1977. Most people either identify with the Jedi or the Sith. And there are those who identify with a different path, like Ahsoka Tano. Even watching a comedic love story like, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, makes us want to snuggle up with our significant other and simply be in their presence.
We’re impacted by story. Who could walk away from watching Schindler’s List without saying, Never again! What married couple with children can watch Crazy, Stupid, Love, or Date Night, and not want to put more effort into your own relationships?
Those who write stories often use them as a vehicle for presenting things that matter to them. When I look at the stories I’ve written, almost without fail, an underlying theme is gender equality. I have a wife and two daughters, and I see the inequality they’re living in within our world, and it disturbs me that things are the way they are. I long for something better for them, so I put the ideas in a story, which makes it relatable in a way that it otherwise wouldn’t be. It’s the story that gets the message across.
It’s the story that engages people’s attention. Stories draw us in and make us a part of the world we’re experiencing as the story is being told. We often identify with the main characters of a story on some personal level.
Jesus told stories as a way of teaching. Most of Jesus’s teachings came in the form of parables. He could say something, but people would argue points. But when he told stories, that’s when he had people’s attention. Stories are powerful. Good stories are inescapable. And we remember stories that captivate us.
The story of the Good Samaritan is one of those captivating stories that everyone remembers. It presents, to some degree, the essences of Christian life and Christian purpose. But as the proverb goes, familiarity breeds contempt. Our familiarity with the story—and our deeply-ingrained interpretation of it—can cause us to view the story in terms that are almost too simplistic. It’s more than just being nice like the Samaritan, and it’s more than not disregarding those in need like the religious types who passed by, and its more than not being thieving jerks who lack all semblance of morality and goodness like the robbers.
The event that precipitated the storytelling was a biblical scholar—or lawyer as some translations put it—asking Jesus a question in order to test him. It wasn’t necessarily an antagonistic thing to do in the ancient world, so we don’t need to look at the lawyer as an enemy. Jesus does a very Socratic thing and asks the lawyer what he thinks the answer is. “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?” (CEB).
And the biblical scholar actually gives a great answer: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” (CEB). He expands on the quote from Deuteronomy 6:5 to include loving God with your mind (remember, he’s a scholar!), and he throws in the neighbor thing from Leviticus 19:18 for good measure. It’s a great answer! Jesus responds that this is exactly what a person needs to do to have eternal life.
But then, the scholar asks for a little clarification, a limiting-definition, of what exactly the word neighbor means. You see, it was all a little too broad for the scholar, a little too all-inclusive. He needed to lock down exactly what his responsibilities were by determining which people he needed to love as himself. It’s an important question, after all, because you don’t want to end up loving the wrong people. I mean, how awkward would that be? (Yes, that was sarcasm).
So Jesus tells this story about what we presume to be a Jewish man who has been beaten and robbed. At least two others, a priest and a Levite pass by without helping. They clearly see no need or reason to love the beaten man as they love themselves. But a Samaritan man stopped, not only to render aid, but to ensure the beaten man would be taken care of further.
No act of kindness like that of the Samaritan is done without thought. It’s not a typical automatic human response. The typical response is what the priest and Levite displayed: mind my own business, ignore the situation, keep walking. The person who was beaten and left half-dead is as much of an inconvenience for the Samaritan man as he would have been for the priest and the Levite. The difference is that the Samaritan chose to act. He didn’t let the inconvenience get in the way of showing kindness.
What’s more, the Samaritan chose to act on behalf of someone who would not have liked him. In order to recognize the shock this story would have had upon those who originally heard it, we might consider placing ourselves in the ditch and consider who is the last person on earth I would want to have stop and help me? Who is the person you would rather just die than have help you? Or, is there someone who might rather die than have us show up to help them? That’s the kind of animosity we’re talking about.
To put the parable in today’s terms, it would be like a person who hates Muslims and wants to block them from entering the United States and kick out all the Muslims that are here, getting beaten up and robbed, only to have a Muslim Syrian Refugee stop to take care of him and pay for his healthcare. There was nothing between these two people that should have led to any kind of amicable relationship. There was no reason to expect one to help the other, as we had with the priest and the Levite. We expected at least one of those two to render aid, but the Samaritan? We expected him to, perhaps, kick a rock toward the beaten man, spit, and keep going.
Regardless of what the Samaritan thought of Jews, he made a conscious choice to show kindness. Jesus asks the scholar what he thinks. “Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?” (CEB). It says something about the dynamics at play when the scholar can’t even say the word, Samaritan. Instead, he answers, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.” (CEB). Jesus answers, “Go and do likewise.” (CEB).
That word, mercy, can also be translated as kindness, compassion, and pity. By answering that way, the scholar, perhaps inadvertently, identifies kindness as the true mark of being a neighbor. Kindness. It’s not always easy to be kind to people. I mean, even in small ways it can be difficult to be kind. Just the other day, Joy and I were driving home and we got stuck behind someone who was going 10 miles per hour under the speed limit. And we weren’t in a hurry, but I was annoyed and I complained about the guy needing to find that thing called a gas pedal and use it.
Joy said, “That’s not very nice.” To which I responded, “I don’t care. I’d rather be a jerk than an idiot.” And then I remembered that I was preaching on Luke 10. Kindness is not an easy path. Kindness requires something deliberate and intentional of us. It’s a choice we make. And if we can fail in small ways, like complaining about the slowpoke in the car ahead of us, how horribly are we going to fail when something big lands in front of us, like taking care of someone whose guts we absolutely hate?
Kindness requires practice and discipline in order for it to become a habit. Clearly, I still have some work to do. God might have to put every slow driver in Southern Indiana in front of me for the next year just to teach me. But really, I don’t want to be a jerk either. The thing is, we are called to show the same measure of kindness we have received from God.
The thing about stories is that we usually like to identify ourselves with the hero. We read this story and we like to say, Yeah! We’re the Samaritan! The thing is, often times, we’re more like the person lying beaten up and robbed on the side of the road. Imagine that, for a moment. You’re half-dead, hurting, and desperate. People are passing you by, ignoring you as if you don’t exist. You call to them, but they pretend not to hear nor see you.
But then, this person from an ethnic group or an adherent of a religion that you despise comes along and starts to clean you up. They bandage your wounds, and all the while you’re saying, No! No! Not you! Not you! Anyone but you! You see, we’re almost always more like the person beaten and left dying. But our problem is that we sometimes don’t even realize we need saving. God is the Samaritan of the story. God is the one who picks us up, cleans us off, takes care of us in our mess, and paid the price for our continued care. When Jesus tells us to go and do likewise, he’s telling us to offer the kindness of God to everyone we encounter.
If this is the kindness God has showed to each of us, what can we do but show kindness as a response?
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!