Today’s “tangible truth” was one of the first times Jesus words, when truly considered, caught my attention. It is a parable that Jesus used – the familiar story of the Good Samaritan.
Now to set the stage for Jesus’ storytime, we have a crowd gathered and the story immediately gets interesting. Luke 10.25 tells us that an “expert in the Law of Moses stood up to test Jesus “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Immediate tension.
Jesus tests back, asking for the man’s opinion, which he shares by quoting Leviticus 19 – Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus tells him “do this and you will live”, but the man presses Jesus with another question “Who is my neighbor?”
And the table is set for Jesus to teach. Here is a review of the facts of Jesus’ story:
A man is going from Jerusalem to Jericho – a journey of about 18 miles. It was a rough, mountainous journey, reputed to be dangerous because there were many places where robbers could lay in wait. And that is what happens in Jesus’ story. The man is attacked, robbed, beaten and left for dead. A priest and a levite come along separately, and they cross the road and pass by, leaving the man in the same condition. Then, a Samaritan comes along, sees the man, bandages his wounds, helps him to an inn and takes care of him through the night. The next day, he pays the innkeeper to take care of him. And if the cost to do so goes beyond what the Samaritan initially leaves, he will settle the account when he returns. Jesus then asks which was the neighbor to the man. The expert in the Law says “the one who had mercy on him.”
On the surface, it seems like an easy lesson about helping those in need, going above and beyond and noticing those around us. But here is the piece that I missed. Jesus is telling this story to a Jew, likely in the midst of several other Jews. And he makes the hero of the story a Samaritan! The Jews and the Samaritans have a long history of detesting each other. Hundreds of years. One article I read compared it to the discord seen more modernly in the conflicts in Bosnia or Ireland that were both ethnic and political. For me, here in Minneapolis, it would be like a Vikings fan gets beat up and the only one that would help him would be a Packers fan. (OK, the relationship between Jews and Samaritans was even more strained than that!) To his audience, the story Jesus’ told, with its Samaritan hero, would have dropped jaws. It was surprising, offensive and attention-grabbing. Why would Jesus choose this plot twist for his story?
Here are the tangible truths that I have learned from this parable:
1- Jesus really meant it when He told us to Love our enemy – He tells of the Samaritan loving the Jew enough to help him, care for him and even sacrifice for him. He made the Samaritan in his story a likeable guy who helped way more than those who were “supposed to help”. The Samaritan loved his enemy and the story invites the Jews listening to love the one who was “their enemy”. Who is your enemy? How does it make you feel to know that Jesus expects us to love those “neighbors” as we do ourselves. Are you ready to help and show love to others – even the “enemy” around you.
2- Not just a one time thing – It may have been attributable to conscience if the Samaritan helped the attacked man left for dead on the road. Enemy or no, he didn’t want to see anyone die. But for the Samaritan in the story, his actions are motivated by something more. He pays for care for the injured man, and vows to come back to check on him and settle accounts if the cost of care was greater than what he had left. Likewise, we are not called to simply tolerate our enemies for the minimal amount of time – we are called to love our enemies (which we discussed in the last Tangible Truth post). It isn’t enough to not show hatred towards others, we are called to love others, and the “whenever possible, live at peace with EVERYONE.” (Romans 12.18 emphasis mine)
3- Roadkill – The reality is that we are the ones on the side of the road. We are destitute, hopeless, beaten down and this world has left us for dead. The man and the Samaritan were enemies, just by the nature of their ethnicity. We, by our nature are enemies of God. We rebel against him, defy him, ignore him or consider him irrelevant. And while we were still in that state, doomed and destitute, Jesus died for our sins. He, in essence, found us on the side of the road, bandaged us, cared for us and rescued us. Jesus’ tangible truth here challenges us through this story to love our neighbors, even ones that hate us. He not only asks us to do it, He shows us that it can be done when He died for his enemies – us!