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Parables of Christ

The Good Samaritan

Luke 10:25-37

Lesson audio

The Story

Let's begin by letting Luke tell the story.

Luke 10:25-37 NASB  And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"  (26)  And He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?"  (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."  (29)  But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"  (30)  Jesus replied and said, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead.  (31)  "And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  (32)  "Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  (33)  "But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion,  (34)  and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  (35)  "On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.'  (36)  "Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?"  (37)  And he said, "The one who showed mercy toward him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same."

This might be the best known of Christ's parables. It is at once famous and obscure, for some of the details might have been overlooked.

The Players

The traveler

The traveler was alone on the Jericho road – an act of folly even into the 20th century. It was much safer to travel in a group. To put it bluntly, our traveler is rather dumb. Worse, he was likely to be ignored because bandits would often waylay the lone traveler and then leave him on the ground, hoping to entice some other traveler into the same trap.

The Samaritan

The hearers of this story would most certainly have been shocked at the person who stopped to help. Samaritans and Jews hated each other. But give that a thought; this Samaritan stopped to help a man whom he knew despised him. Indeed, the Samaritan did so despite the fact that he was on a journey, not just a trip to Jericho. We may observe also:

  • He came prepared – he had his own first aid kit. How often have Christians said, “I wasn’t prepared – I had nothing to give?”
  • He followed through, leaving nothing undone. He was not afraid to enlist the innkeeper’s services at his own expense. He finished what he started. He got involved and stayed involved to the end of the matter.
  • His credit was good!
The priest

Older and more literal translations tell us that the priest’s arrival was “by chance” or “by coincidence.” It was “just one of those things.” We see strange sights along the roads of life, and often enough we look, cluck sorrowfully and move on. After all, it was pure coincidence that we were there, right? Or is coincidence actually the providence of God?

One thing we do know. If the traveler dies in the priest’s care, the priest is ceremonially unclean for seven days. This means he could not perform his duties as a priest. You can hear him thinking, “Prior commitments, can’t take the risk.” Do we make our appointments subject to, “If the Lord wills it?”[1]

The Levite

We might examine two points here:

  • “Passed him by on the other side” – took no risks. Did he congratulate himself on how astute that was?
  • “Saw him” – the phrase literally means “stared at him.”[2] The traveler was nothing more that a traffic accident; the Levite a rubbernecker.
Similar Today?

We might do well to examine ourselves today, looking for situations which are similar to this one. Consider, for example, the guy standing by the roadside with a sign reading "please help." We are wary of such people. Sometimes, we feel bothered by them. Somewhere, deep in our conscience, we know that we should help them. But it's risky.

There are some practical ways you can be prepared to help such a person. For example:

·         Gift cards to local fast food restaurants. If someone has a sign asking for food, one of these places is an excellent source of calories at a low price. Often enough, as in our church, you can get these gift cards and also benefit your church's work at the same time.

·         If you meet the same person day in and out, perhaps this is God giving you a message. Perhaps you are to help this one person.

·         A dollar bill in a convenient location never hurts.

Compassion Is

Risky

Compassion is difficult for us because it is risky.

  • It is risky in the physical sense. The bandits of this time would often beat a man like this – and wait for someone else to stop to help him, thus obtaining another victim. There is the risk of physical danger in compassion; the guy standing by the road with a cardboard sign just might be violent. You never know, do you?
  • It is risky in the sense of emotional distance. The Jews and the Samaritans hated each other. It’s one thing to be compassionate to a friend. It’s another to be compassionate to someone who is outside our comfort zone. It “feels funny” to be in contact with someone who doesn’t speak your language for instance – especially when that person needs help desperately.
  • It is risky because it implies entanglement – you may get tangled up in someone’s life. That life may be very different from yours; you may not approve of that life. “Don’t get involved” is advice that comes from experience. Getting involved entangles your life with theirs, and that is usually rather messy. You don’t know how long it will last or what it will cost. Not knowing is a barrier to compassion. It’s a lot easier to make a definite, one time donation than it is to be compassionate in person.
Expensive

When we use the word “expensive,” we usually mean that the cost is (to us) rather high. That’s the case in compassion as well:

  • Note that the Samaritan puts the man on his own beast, probably a donkey. He gives up his own transportation and walks while this poor fellow rides. Compassion may mean that we do without.
  • Compassion almost always has its cash cost. In this instance, two days wages, perhaps something like $400 in our day. It’s not that we can’t afford it at all; it’s that it’s big enough to be labeled expensive. That’s typical of anything worth doing.
  • It may also have its cost in credit! This man told the innkeeper that he would repay him any additional cost. In our time, that’s like handing him a credit card. Often enough in compassion we have to say, “I’ll handle that.” (It’s interesting to note that the innkeeper, probably Jewish, knew that the Samaritan’s credit was good.)
Heavy impact – on others

It’s generally the case that we cannot complete an act of compassion by ourselves; we need the help of others.

  • In this the innkeeper is involved. He might well ask the Samaritan whether or not this was an inn or a hospital. I suspect that he knew the Samaritan to be a regular customer; we put up with a lot for regular customers. We socially obligate others in our compassion; a real inconvenience.
  • More commonly, we obligate family and friends. If you don’t think so, what happens when your daughter brings home a stray cat? (Or a stray person, for that matter).
  • One impact you may not have considered is the impact on your reputation. To show compassion in a socially acceptable way (for example, giving to an orphanage like the one we support) usually enhances your reputation. But if you do it in a strange way (there are dozens of examples, but let’s suppose you bail out a friend arrested for soliciting a prostitute) you can definitely acquire a reputation for doing strange things.

Types of Compassion

In our church today there are more options for dealing with this kind of trouble than the Samaritan had. Let's look at three.

Parachurch

Organizations such as the Fullerton Interfaith Emergency Services — the people who collect boxes of food from us about this time of year — are much more commonplace today. Since such organizations typically deal with this problem on our behalf, the risk of getting involved is much, much lower. Indeed, the financial aspect is also reduced. The difficulty of course is that you may decide that you are charitable and compassionate – but only with a cardboard box. If you get involved with such an organization you will have to face those in need. It's a lot easier to do it as a group that it was for our Samaritan. An example of do-it-yourself compassion might be prison ministry. This too is a low risk example of compassion, but it doesn't necessarily feel like that when the jail bars clank behind you.

Church Corporate

Since the beginning of the church Christians have been giving on behalf of their congregation. The risk in doing this is very low; in fact, the chief danger is that you will be praised from the pulpit so much that your right hand and your left hand will become closely acquainted. There is a distinct danger in thinking you are compassionate when in fact you are just easily led.

Expense, on the other hand, is a bit different. At least our church, corporate compassion includes trips to places like Kenya. It is not cheap to go to Kenya and it is very time-consuming. The expense seems to range from minor to "vacation of a lifetime."

That said, we should point out the impact this activity has on other people. If you go to Kenya, you will bless some of those people in Kenya. You are also setting an example to others in the church – an appeal to get out of their comfort zone – and it does good things for the church's reputation too.

This Individual

The risk in individual compassion depends very much on the circumstances, and also on whether or not you know the circumstances. That guy by the roadside could be extremely dangerous; that's the chance you take when you roll your window down. The expense and the situation is, however, rather small.

The expense might grow greatly, however, if it's compassion for a person you know. If you take in a homeless person, for example, it's usually someone you know. What you don't know is how long this is going to take and what it's going to cost. The expense can be social, as well. The best indicator of this is whether or not anyone else would be willing to help. Some are homeless through no real fault of their own; some got themselves into that mess. There are socially acceptable sins; there are socially unacceptable sins. What you see as compassion others might see as idiocy.

So what is a Christian to do? Follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, and don't worry what everyone else says.

Imitation of Christ

The behavior of the Christian has been defined for 2000 years in one question: what would Jesus do?

Sense of Purpose

To begin with, do not think of compassion as "random acts of kindness." You must have a sense of purpose in your compassion; you must be prepared. (I know that's not what is preached from the pulpit today.) Be prepared to be compassionate. Do it like Jesus would.

·         Jesus was not one to respect a person's position in life. He treated them all with the love he had for sinners. The homeless and bank presidents too – Jesus loves them all. Do likewise.

·         When reading through the Scriptures, remember that the adjective "merciful" is more commonly used than our word "compassionate." Compassion is an emotion; mercy is a fact. Be prepared to be merciful. Think about it in advance.

·         Remember also that your acts of compassion are way of spreading the faith. When someone asks you, "Why do you do this" be prepared with a ready answer.

Style

Christian compassion is performed with a certain style:[1]

·         Christian compassion is done in kindness. It is done with joy mixed in with the mercy. Remember, your compassion may be embarrassing somebody. It's tough for people who have been self-sufficient for years to take someone else's charity. Make it clear that you have the joy of giving.

·         Christian compassion is done in humility. You are not condescending to someone to bless them; rather, you are the servant of God Most High, and at his command (not by your pride) you obediently provide.

·         Christian compassion is done with patience. Often enough, the person upon whom you are having compassion has done something wrong, or can't see why they're always being rejected. Sometimes, they don't get it. And if that is the case, they usually don't get why they don't get it. Be patient, as your Heavenly Father is patient with you.

Being a Cheerful Giver

You have often been exhorted to be a cheerful giver. This applies not only in the offering plate but in your personal compassion. There are two things of which you must beware:

·         First, you must beware of cynicism. It's easy to be compassionate at the start and then give way to cynicism. But it is not possible to be a cynic and cheerful about it.

·         Next, you must also beware of anger. People tend to repeat their stupid mistakes. Even when you tell them not to. Put the anger aside, and be a cheerful giver. They usually know when they repeated their own stupid mistake.

In short, be a reflection of Christ. Why? Because those upon whom you have compassion are also a reflection of Christ.[2]



[1] See Colossians 3:12-13

[2] Matthew 25:31-46

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