Text: Luke 10:23-37
Our Gospel reading for this morning, the parable of the Good Samaritan, may be one of the most famous of Jesus’ teachings. Even someone who has never set foot in church or cracked open a bible likely knows what a “Good Samaritan” is. If a stranger helps you change a tire, carry out your groceries, or pays for your coffee when you forgot your wallet, it’s almost universal to call the stranger a “Good Samaritan.” For most English speakers, the very word “Samaritan” has become synonymous with this parable, which his highly ironic when we consider that Jesus chose the Samaritan as the hero of the story specifically because he would have been the last person his audience would have chosen! After all, the Jews and the Samaritans had generations of hatred between themselves, to the point that Jesus’ adversaries called him a Samaritan on several occasions as a sort of ad hominem attack.
This is indeed a familiar parable. A man is attacked by robbers and left for dead. The two good religious folks, the priest and the Levite, pass him by, but the Samaritan rescues him at his own expense. The story concludes with Jesus saying to the scribe: “’Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise’” (verses 36,37). When we look at this parable, we typically conclude that the point is to tell us how to be a good neighbor.
While this is a very reasonable conclusion, I think it misses some significant details of the setup to the parable.
First, notice that our specific Gospel reading begins with Verse 23: “Then turning to the disciples he said privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.’” If your bible is like mine, it has little subheadings to break up the text into “pericopes,” little sections that are considered by the editors of the translation to be a complete unit or thought. My bible breaks up two sections between the two verses we just read and the parable proper. It’s important to remember that this break-up is not in the text of scripture itself, but is something used by the editors to help with reading. The use of this portion of the text for the Gospel reading predates verse numbers, chapter numbers, or pericope headings. In other words, the Church Fathers thought that these two verses are an important introduction to the parable. In these two verses, Jesus is making an important point about himself and about Scripture, namely that it is all about him! Scripture always has a Christological meaning, a meaning that teaches us something about Christ, even when the surface meaning appears to be about something else.
Our Epistle reading from Galatians 3 is a great example of this. St. Paul writes in verse 16, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to his offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.” If you read the passages from Genesis to which St. Paul is alluding, you would never come to that conclusion if we didn’t have Galatians in the bible! My Old Testament professor would probably have given St. Paul a bad grade if he wrote that in a term paper! Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit, through the pen of St. Paul tells us that this is the proper reading of the text.
Similarly, verses 23 and 24 of our Gospel tell us that we should be looking for a Christ-centered meaning to the parable, not a moralistic one.
Note also, the beginning of the parable itself. Verse 25:
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 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.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
The lawyer comes to Jesus with a question about salvation, and Jesus answers with the Law! If a person came to you asking, “What must I do to be saved,” I would hope you would point them to Jesus and not merely tell them to live a good life. But that’s not what Jesus does. He doesn’t say “Follow me.” In fact, when the man responds with the Summary of the Law that we recite most every Sunday, Jesus reaffirms his conclusion.
Why would Jesus answer with the Law rather than with the Gospel? Verse 29 gives us a clue: “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” The man is a student of the Law and gives a stereotypical legal answer. He wants to justify himself by finding a technicality. He wants to find a loophole. He knows that loving one’s neighbor is difficult, so he seeks to limit his liability to God’s law by finding a narrow definition of “neighbor.” The parable is Jesus’ response to the man’s self-justification. Verse 30:
Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out to denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
Do you think the lawyer went away encouraged to be a better man who would show mercy even to his enemies? Probably not. He probably left Jesus highly discouraged. He just came face-to-face with how high a standard God’s Law really sets. The thing about the Law is that it always accuses us. It always shows us that we fail to live up to its standards. The lawyer wanted to justify himself; Jesus took away his self-justification.
Believe it or not, that was the most merciful thing Jesus could have done for the man. Self-justification is absolute poison because it prevents us from repenting. It prevents us from coming to Christ begging for his mercy. You see, the lawyer wasn’t the Good Samaritan in the parable; the Lawyer was the beaten, bloody, and dying traveler, unable to save himself. Rather, Jesus is the Good Samaritan.
Like the Good Samaritan, Jesus heals us, pouring the oil of his Spirit and the wine of his blood into our spiritual and moral wounds. Jesus paid for our care with his own life on the cross. Jesus is the one who shows mercy. Only Jesus showed absolute love to his neighbors, to us, even while we were enemies of God, dead in our sins. This fulfillment of the Law is why, like the disciples, we have blessed eyes. We have seen the Savior. We have what all the prophets and patriarchs and kings of old longed to see. Not even Abraham, Elijah, or David loved God with all their hearts, souls, strength, and minds. None of the saints have ever completely loved their neighbor as themselves. No one has kept the Law in perfect righteousness; only the Lord Jesus Christ.
But there’s a surprising beauty to the Spiritual oil and wine that cleanses the wounds of our sins: we do indeed get better. Jesus crafts us more and more into his image as we follow him. Jesus makes us more like himself. We start to live up to our name, “Christians,” “Christ-lings.” And then, when the Good Samaritan looks at us with his mercy, the mercy we ourselves have seen at his hands, and says “Go, and do thou likewise,” we can say, “Yes, Lord,” not for our justification, not for the sake of attaining eternal life, but because of it.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.