Guest Author: Wills Osborn | follow
If you don’t think you have anything to be thankful for today, you can thank the Lord that you didn’t live in the apartment directly below me in 2012.
After college, I moved from California to Maryland and lived in an apartment with my best friend from high school. Occasionally, I needed to let off some steam so I would instigate a wrestling match with my roommate. Unfortunately for the couple downstairs and their newborn daughter, these wrestling matches usually began around 11pm. My roommate and I found out that the barrier between our units was not soundproof when the folks below us started pounding on their ceiling/our floor with the end of a broomstick.
It’s safe to say that we were not good neighbors.
In Luke 10:25-37, an expert in the law came to hear Jesus and to ask him a question. During their conversation, he ended up posing two questions. The first was, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The second, “And who is my neighbor?” The first question was meant to be a test and the second came as a reaction to Jesus’ convicting answer.
After hearing the man’s first question, Jesus wisely asked the expert to explain what he knew of the law. The man synthesized the entire law beautifully into two succinct commands:
“Love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus lauded him for his good answer and commanded him, “do this and you will live.”
Instead of falling to his knees and admitting his inability to love God or his neighbor perfectly, the expert sought to justify himself. (The word “justify” means to “declare righteous.” This man wanted to prove to himself, and possibly God, that he was worthy of eternal life because of his efforts. Disappointingly, Romans 3:22 warns that “… no one will be justified in [God’s] sight by the works of the law, because knowledge of sin comes through the law.”)
In his attempt to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “and who is my neighbor?” It would be easy for the expert in the law to consider the other “religious elite” as neighbors and he, likely, had no problem loving them. Unfortunately, Jesus had a story to share that would shatter his sense of self-righteousness. In this story, commonly referred to as “The Good Samaritan,” Jesus introduced two religious men and a foreigner to help the expert in the law see that it’s more important to be a neighbor than to know exactly who one’s neighbors are. In the process of conveying this lesson, Jesus also revealed a deeper divine truth.
The first part of Jesus’ story sets the scene: A man was making a journey from Jerusalem to Jericho. (The 17-mile road between these two cities descends treacherously through a rough, hilly region. The hills provided bandits with hiding places while the winding road made escape difficult.) Suddenly, the man “fell into the hands of robbers” who beat him up, stole his clothing, and fled, leaving him for dead by the side of the road. What a terrible predicament for the poor man! He couldn’t get a broomstick and make this problem go away. His survival was entirely dependent upon the generosity and care of another traveler.
The next part of the story introduces two very religious men. While the victim was lying by the side of the road perishing, a figure appeared in the distance. A man was coming! This wasn’t just any man, it was a Priest! Priests were chosen by God to work in the temple, presenting sacrifices on behalf of the people. Every day the priests stood ankle-deep in blood, which served as a reminder of how sinful the Israelites were. This religious man would certainly encourage the people around him to extend love to their neighbors.
But, he didn’t stop to help the wounded man.
Instead, upon seeing the man, he crossed to the far side of the road and continued his journey. A little while later, another religious man appeared. He was a Levite. Levites assisted the priests in the temple, focusing on administrative tasks. (While the children of Israel were wandering in the wilderness, certain Levites were given the job of setting up, breaking down, and carrying the tabernacle. This carried over into similar jobs when the temple was constructed.) This man, too, saw the beaten man lying on the side of the road
and passed by on the other side.
Although not every religious person is apathetic to the needs of those around them, Jesus seems to be revealing something of the religious temperature of His day when He tells of the actions (or, rather, inaction) of these religious men. It appears that the religious people were so focused on their own righteousness that they were willing to let others around them languish unaided. Jesus used these two men as examples of what it does not mean to be a neighbor.
The next part of the story shows how a despised Samaritan proved to be a better neighbor than the religious men. After the two religious men passed by, a Samaritan entered the scene. (Samaritans were a group of “half-breeds” who lived in the north/central part of Israel. The author(s) behind GotQuestions.org explain that “when the ten tribes were carried away into captivity to Assyria, the king of Assyria sent people from Cutha, Ava, Hamath, and Sepharvaim to inhabit Samaria (2 Kings 17:24; Ezra 4:2-11). These foreigners intermarried with the Israelite population that was still in and around Samaria.” The offspring of these marriages were not fully Jewish or gentile and, for this reason, they weren’t accepted by either group.)
It is likely that the expert in the law recoiled at the mention of a Samaritan because Jews hated Samaritans. Regardless, Jesus went on to tell how the Samaritan saw the pitiful man lying by the road, stopped, dismounted from his animal and retrieved his first aid kit. This Samaritan was taking a huge risk by stopping to help the man. The robbers may have been hiding in the hills waiting for another victim and there was no guarantee that his actions would be appreciated or reciprocated. Undaunted, he bandaged the man’s wounds, placed him on his own animal and delivered him to an inn in Jericho where he could begin to recover. He spent the rest of the day caring for the man and left in the morning, giving the innkeeper the equivalent of two day’s wages and requesting continued care for the man. He even promised to pay any other expenses the innkeeper incurred while helping the man recover.
This Samaritan risked life and limb, gave up any plans he had for that afternoon, chose to walk beside his animal for miles so the hurt man could ride, and shelled out a significant amount of money for someone he didn’t even know.
What made him do it?
What was it that made this Samaritan different from the Priest and Levite? In Luke 10:33, Jesus says that the Samaritan had compassion. Compassion, according to Vine’s New Testament Dictionary, means “to be moved or yearn inwardly.” It was compassion, a deep internal yearning, that motivated the Samaritan to prove himself a neighbor to the man in need. Upon seeing the man lying on the ground, he may have asked himself, “If I were lying in his place, and he were sitting in mine, what would I want him to do for me?” His actions, as told by Jesus, gave his glorious answer.
Jesus concluded the parable by asking, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The expert responded, “The one who showed mercy to him” and Jesus told him, “go and do the same.” Jesus never directly answered the expert’s question, “who is my neighbor?” Instead, Jesus told him this story and instructed him to
“go and prove yourself a neighbor to those you meet who are in need.”
An application of this passage is clear: go and prove that we are good neighbors. We should refrain from wrestling late at night while living in upstairs apartments. Instead, we should be kind and courteous to those around us. Indeed, as we live our lives and travel from place to place we should look for broken people and attend to their needs, no matter the cost. We should cultivate compassion in our hearts so that we yearn to help the hurting. But is this even possible? Who has time to look for people to help? Who has the resources to help others? How do we “cultivate compassion”? It’s exhausting to even think about. Fortunately, Jesus offers a solution. In the Gospel, Jesus offers to give us the power we need to love our neighbors.
The Gospel shows that we all start out “dead in… trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). You and I are in a state worse than that of the man who had been beaten and left half dead—
we are d e a d .
We not only need help “developing compassion,” we need to be restored to spiritual life so we can do anything good at all!
Amazingly, God saw our need and, motivated by love, gave His “one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16b). Jesus obediently came to earth as a baby, lived a perfect life, allowed the Jews to ask Him, “aren’t we right in saying that you’re a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8:48), and paid the ultimate price for our salvation. He willingly “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death- even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8).
By His death, we who were dead in sin were given the opportunity to be made alive with Him! When a person is made alive through faith, they are filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s the Spirit of God, living in each of us and reminding us of the ultimate price Jesus paid, that provides the power necessary to love our neighbors as ourselves.