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Life of Christ (1996-1998)

On the Jericho Road

Luke 10:25-37

(This lesson owes a great deal to notes found in the 1995 section, during a study of the parables of Jesus).

The Most Unpopular Concept in the Bible

I want to introduce to you the most unpopular concept in the Bible. (Point of discussion: what do you think it is?) Believe it or not, it is the concept of love.

The Greek uses four words to describe love:

·         eros, or erotic love

·         storge, or family affection

·         phileo, or brotherly love (what we might call friendship).

·         agape, or unconditional love.

Note that the Bible commends all four to us (though the word for brotherly love is not found in the New Testament). The one that is unpopular is agape, or unconditional love.

Why? Because the other three are conditional. Erotic love (oh, do see the Song of Solomon) depends upon the natural relationship between husband and wife. Family affection, and brotherly affection depend upon relationships. These three depend upon the character or status of the one who receives the love. The word used in the New Testament for love is usually agape, and it does not depend upon the recipient.

That really bothers people. They are perfectly willing to love the deserving. In our particular age, however, the undeserving are the unloved. You think not? Let me give you a test: One example will suffice: she’s young, pretty, single and pregnant (or has a child) -- her own dumb fault, right? Just how much help does she deserve?

·         None, if you’re the typical taxpayer

·         All you can give, if you’re the grandparents

I submit the answer depends upon the kind of love you have. Now then, what kind of love does Christ command us to have?

(Mat 5:43-45 NIV) "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' {44} But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, {45} that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

The supreme example of this is Jesus Christ, going to the cross for us, the sinners. If you should be in any doubt as to whether or not we need to follow this example, then hear the Word:

(1 Pet 2:21 NIV) To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

Christ, the supreme teacher, puts this into a story which has passed into the English language as a phrase -- but one which requires some understanding:

(Luke 10:25-37 NIV) On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" {26} "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" {27} He answered: "'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, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" {28} "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." {29} But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" {30} In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. {31} A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. {32} So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. {33} But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. {34} He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. {35} The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.' {36} "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" {37} The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

Characters

The Traveler

There is one particular point we can note about the traveler: he’s not very bright. The Jericho road is known to have been the haunt of bandits well into the twentieth century. It drops steeply -- about three thousand feet in twenty miles or so. That means it’s full of switchbacks and sharp turns, in a country full of large rocks. It’s the kind of place where the bandits in old Westerns would have held up the stagecoach. You can just picture Lee Marvin stepping out with a bandanna over his face, growling “Stand and deliver!”

So what is our boy doing on this road by himself? He’s just done the equivalent of walking down a dark alley with hundred dollar bills hanging out of his pockets. He’s been “asking for it.” In short, this is his own dumb fault.

The Samaritan

One of the most amazing things about this story is this: the Samaritan knows what the traveler thinks of him. He’s worse than scum. It would be bad enough to be a Gentile -- but how terrible to be a half breed, traitor Jew. The victim would (in good health) be likely to righteously spit on the Samaritan. We often interpret the story in the light that the Samaritan (not being Jewish) would not know the law well enough to do his duty, and that his behavior is extraordinary in light of his ignorance. It’s not; it’s extraordinary in light of his knowledge. He knows this Jew despises him -- and still he binds up his wounds. There are some other interesting points:

·         The Samaritan is prepared to help. He came with the first century equivalent of a first aid kit. I am reminded of Charlie Fields, who always had a dollar in his pocket -- in case a beggar saw that clerical collar and came calling. He was prepared.

·         The Samaritan followed through. He didn’t just drop off the first aid kit and wish the man well; he took care of the whole job, even to the point of saying he’d be back to settle up.

·         His credit was good too. It’s interesting how true righteousness works: faithfulness comes from the heart.

·         His offer to repay the innkeeper, though, is an interesting parallel to Jesus indeed. Our wounds are healed on his account.

·         He is not concerned that his own efforts may not be sufficient. Indeed, he is quite prepared to turn him over to someone else. For such reason did God give us the church as a body of many members!

Consider then how the Samaritan parallels our Lord: despite the fact that men will reject him -- even crucify him -- he comes anyway. Not only is he prepared to help, but to carry it through to the cross. Credit good? See you on judgment day, to be sure.

The Expert in the Law

The situation is one not seen much today. It is a public forum -- not a television “debate,” but the rough and tumble debate of a society where everyone in the audience can hear, and react, in person. The expert gets up. I suspect he was not the first to speak; this sounds to me like a debater who, having seen his side worsted on the complicated questions, decides to see if his opponent can handle the elegance of simplicity. He has seriously underestimated his opponent.

·         First, he begins with “teacher.” There is certainly a point at which “teacher” must also mean “example,” but that does not seem to be in mind here. The expert is expecting a fine pointed answer, touched with delicate nuance -- and meets instead the Christ willing to go to the cross.

·         Next, he asks what he must “do” to “inherit” eternal life. Now think about that question. It is inherently self-contradictory. The verb “do” implies action; “I did my job, I should get paid.” The verb “inherit” is essentially passive; it’s something that happens to me. How do I “do” anything to obtain an inheritance? Indeed, as Paul puts it about Abraham,

(Gal 3:18 NIV) For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

·         Jesus reply is, as usual, a personal one. He does not ask what the authorities say on the subject; he asks “how to you read it?” It’s interesting to note that the passages quoted[1] are often bound in phylacteries. It’s as if He was saying, “take a look at it yourself.”

·         Character comes out. The lawyer is always looking for a loophole. The debating tactic is present: give me a definition of that term “neighbor,” and then I’ll quibble about it. It is to this character that Jesus points the parable.

·         But even this man recognizes “mercy” in the story. But just to see it is not to do it; faith without works is dead. The essential point that the lawyer has missed is that the two commandments he recited are inextricably linked.

(1 John 3:17-18 NIV) If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? {18} Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

 

(James 2:16-19 NIV) If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? {17} In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. {18} But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. {19} You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder.

The Priest

Here’s a man with a couple of good reasons not to deal with the problem:

·         This guy could die on him. If that happens, the priest becomes ceremonially unclean for seven days.[2] And then he wouldn’t be able to perform his priestly duties. Suppose he’s on his way to officiate at a wedding? He has work to do, folks; let the man get on with the job.

·         Besides, the traveler is in pretty ratty condition (of his own making). And who would want to associate with people like that? After all, a man needs to choose his companions carefully, right?

The problem, of course, is that as a priest he should know better. He might die? Does that show trust in God? If God plants this man in front of you, do the duty in front of you. The future belongs to Him; trust Him with it. If God sends you a broken one to deal with, deal with him. Are you too proud to visit someone in jail?

The Levite

The Levite, it has been suggested[3], sees the man and perhaps thinks, “It’s a decoy.” Perhaps that’s the meaning of walking by on the other side (or rolling up the windows on the Cadillac). Have you ever had that reaction? (“He’s not really homeless, he’s just a professional beggar.”) The interesting thing about this reaction is that it springs not from the traveler but from the Levite. Just because I’m too proud to beg doesn’t mean the guy on the corner is the same way. Suspicion comes from the heart:

(Mat 15:18-20 NIV) But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' {19} For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. {20} These are what make a man 'unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him 'unclean.'"

Worse yet, the Levite should know better. The Old Testament is filled with injunctions -- the lawyer just quoted one -- to love your neighbor. How much greater is our responsibility if we know the word of God intimately!

(James 3:1 NIV) Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

Motives and Excuses

Christ ends with the words, “Go and do likewise.” So why don’t we go and do likewise? I suggest we have our motives, and we have our excuses:

Motives

·         Fear. We are afraid. That guy on the corner looks pretty rough; AIDS might just be contagious; maybe even bad luck rubs off. Fear is that which casts out love, but as St. John put it,

(1 John 4:18 NIV) There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

·         Time. “My time is my own,” we say. Or we tell ourselves that we have places to go and things to do. The Samaritan had to give up some of his time to help the traveler. But is our time our own -- or just what we do with it?

(James 4:13-17 NIV) Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." {14} Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. {15} Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." {16} As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. {17} Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.

·         Judgment. That person doesn’t deserve any help. But where does judgment come into this?

If I close my ears to the feeble cry

Of the poor man’s child, as he passes by me

I can mark your Word[4] there will come a time

When my cries will fall -- on ears like mine.

With what measure we measure, it will be measured to us. That is why our Lord commanded us not to judge.[5]

Excuses

Sometimes we don’t need a motive as much as we need an excuse. There are many such excuses; I present two here for your amusement:

·         I didn’t know what was going on. You didn’t? Then how did you know how ignorant you are?

(Prov 24:12 NIV) If you say, "But we knew nothing about this," does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?

·         This is the church’s (or the government’s, or “somebody’s”) problem. It’s not my task to deal with this. But who is the church? In a democracy, who is the government, Mr. Lincoln? And am I not “somebody?”

Two Views of Self

Perhaps it boils down to this. There are two views of the “self”:

·         There is the view that I am the captain of my fate, the master of my soul. In my good pleasure I have made a great bargain with God, becoming a Christian, and thus placing God in my debt. He will repay that debt by taking me to heaven in the next world and rewarding me spiritually in this. Everything I have is my own -- my goods, my family and friends, my time -- and I generously share some of that with God. I am righteous.

·         There is the view that I am not my own. All that I am -- body, soul and spirit -- belongs to God.

(1 Cor 6:19-20 NIV) Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; {20} you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

If then I encounter the wounded traveler, should I not “be about my Father’s business?”[6] My employer hires me to look after our customers; should I not look after my Master’s children all the more? Who is supreme in my life -- me, or Jesus Christ? And if Jesus, and I am a child of God, then should I not love as He does?


[1] Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18

[2] Numbers 19:11

[3] Barclay

[4] Proverbs 21:13

[5] Matthew 7:1-5

[6] Luke 2:49, KJV

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