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Luke 10:25-37

Luke 10:25-37 It is quite possible that there is no more well known biblical story than the story of the Good Samaritan. In fact, the phrase ‘good Samaritan’ has become ubiquitous with one who helps out another in need. Unfortunately, this popularity can dampen the impact of the parable and can provide a challenge to preaching this parable.

The Good Samaritan is one of four parables known as an “example parable.” Interestingly, all four are found in Luke. What these have in common is that they all provide a narrative example of either how one should live or how one should not live. After hearing this example, the hearer must “go and do the same” (10:37).

We encounter this parable as Jesus is on his way towards Jerusalem, which, for Luke, is more of a theological journey rather than a geographical one. It is while Jesus is on this journey that an expert in religious law tests him by asking, “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” To which Jesus responds by asking, “What does the law of Moses say?” The religious expert cites Deuteronomy 6:5 (from the Shema) and Leviticus 19:18. Jesus in turn praises the religious expert for his answer, and encourages him to: “Do this and you will live.”

In Luke’s narrative we are told, “The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor’” (10:29). It is unclear what the man’s motivation was in asking this question. Was he seeking to demonstrate superior knowledge; was he hoping to trap Jesus by his response; or did he have more sincere intentions? Whatever the man’s motivation, his question is not a bad one. After all, Leviticus 19:17-18 suggests that one’s neighbor is one’s relative or a fellow Israelite.

Jesus responds by telling a parable. Like needing to explain a joke, parables lose their power when every detail is explained. So rather than trying to break this parable apart, let us consider it for what it is, a great and powerful story.

It begins with a Jewish man traveling down from Jerusalem to Jericho. This was a long and notoriously dangerous journey. Along the way there are narrow rocky portions that made opportune hiding spots for robbers, so it is no surprise when the man is attacked by robbers and left for dead.

What is surprising is what happens next. “By chance” there just happens to be a priest coming down this very same road. Certainly a priest will care for a fellow Jew (his neighbor) and tend to his wounds, but instead the priest sees the man and avoids him. Next comes a temple assistant (a Levite). The Levite also sees the wounded man (his neighbor) and avoids him.

We might have expected one of these religious leaders to stop and show love to their wounded countryman, but instead, they have seen his situation and avoided him. Before we get too hard on them, we should remember that priests and Levites would have needed to keep themselves ceremonially clean, particularly if they were headed up to Jerusalem for their religious duties. So there could be a justifiable reason for their failure to act.

At this point Jesus’ audience knows that there is one person left to come. Since religious leaders have already encountered the wounded traveler, the only possibility left is an ordinary Jew. It is somewhat ironic that an ordinary Jew would show greater love than a religious leader. However, just as his hearers are finishing the story themselves, Jesus tells them that it is not an ordinary Jew who helps his fellow Jew, but instead it is a despised Samaritan who lovingly and generously cares for the wounded Jew.

You can almost hear echoes of the gasps from Jesus’ audience. It was not that long ago that James and John wanted to ask God to reign down fire from heaven upon an unreceptive Samaritan village (9:54). That is what the Samaritans deserve, but now it is a Samaritan who shows great love and mercy to his enemy.

As the parable comes to an end Jesus asks the religious expert which man was the neighbor. The leader cannot even utter the word Samaritan, so he responds by saying “The one who showed him mercy” (10:37). The religious leader is correct, and so Jesus urges him to, “go and do the same” (10:37).

At this point the preacher might be tempted to try and identify one’s neighbor, but Jesus never identifies one’s neighbor. Instead, Jesus demonstrates what it means to be a neighbor. A neighbor is one who sees and acts with compassion.

This idea should resonate with Wesleyans. We proclaim a message of holiness of heart and life. In doing so, we proclaim that not only are we declared righteous, but that we can be made righteous by the work of the Holy Spirit. This work of the Holy Spirit is personal, but it is never individual. That is what Wesley meant when he said, “There is no holiness, but social holiness.” The Christian faith is not to be lived out in isolation, but rather, the Christian faith in general, and holiness in particular, is always lived out in relationship with others.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan has been a neighbor by loving his enemy as he would love himself. If we are those who proclaim to love God with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind, then we are called to go and do the same.