By Scott Brown
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Waverly
Focal Passage: Luke 10:25-37
An expert in the law, testing Jesus, began questioning Him about the law. This wasn’t the inquisitive questioning of a heartfelt seeker but an arrogant questioning seeking only to trap Jesus through cross examination. This lawyer sums up the law rightly with the Great Commandment. He seems to be missing the point, though.
A consuming love for God produces a love of others without preconditions because of being so greatly loved by God. Knowing that He should love God and neighbor, he wants to know who qualifies as his neighbor. Who must he love and who can he hate? What I love about Jesus’ response is that while this scribe is asking what kind of person his neighbor is, Jesus responds by showing what kind of neighbor he himself should be.
This parable shows four main characters and their interactions. This lawyer would immediately identify with three of them but would find it utterly impossible to identify with the fourth. The first character is a man taking the 17-mile journey between Jerusalem and Jericho. This was a trek with which the scribe was likely very familiar.
It was a treacherous journey down a mountain with the constant threat of injury, whether by accident or attack. On his journey the man is robbed, stripped naked, and beaten nearly to death. All could identify with the horror of this possibility. People most often traveled together in groups for this very reason.
The next two characters are a priest and a Levite. These men were honored among the Jews and people with whom the scribe would feel he had much in common. Both were possibly on their way to fulfill their temple service. Whether to avoid the ceremonial uncleanness of touching a (seemingly) dead body or simple apathy, they stay far away.
Preoccupied with their religious practice, they ignore the man and miss the opportunity to practice true religion. These men were so consumed by their “service to God” they intentionally ignore the man and the opportunity to rightly serve God in this moment.
Jesus finally introduces the Samaritan. This was a man with whom the scribe would not identify. There was a long, checkered history of animosity between Jews and Samaritans. Samaritans were viewed with contempt by most everyone. They were the result of the Jews intermarrying with foreigners after the fall of the Northern Kingdom. They were not Jewish enough for the Jews and were too Jewish for everyone else.
It is the Samaritan who shows compassion on the man. This Samaritan who had likely felt a lifelong sting of classism, racism, and rejection would not respond in kind here. He would not reason, as many at the time, that this man must have been an especial sinner for this to happen. He would not consider the potential dangers to himself in this moment. He feels compassion and responds in costly grace, serving as an example of what Jesus would later do on the cross.
The Samaritan who was so despised was the only one who acted in love. Jesus ends the conversation commanding this respected Jewish lawyer to go and be more like the despised Samaritan. May we, too, be “good Samaritans.”