The Good Samaritan
By Pastor Brian
A man went down to Jericho, traveling a perilous road known as Bloody Pass. Unarmed, he rounded a blind corner where bandits leapt from the shadows in ambush. They stripped him bare, assaulted his flesh, chucked his body on the broken line, and vanished into the surrounding desert.
Minutes later, a priest and his associate, religious leaders headed for church, heard the pleas and saw the man begging for rescue. But after glancing at their watches, they decided it was an inconvenient time. Vestments need ironing; lambs need sacrificing; candles need lighting. Worship can’t start late.
After the clergymen passed by, a foreigner approached. Alerted to the emergency, the Samaritan dropped to his knees beside the bleeding man. He wrapped gauze around the gapping wounds, sterilized the gashes with wine, applied oil to the lacerated skin, hoisted the stranger onto his donkey, led the animal into town, prepaid for two months lodging, nursed the patient’s every infirmity, and left the innkeeper with a blank check.
While the Good Samaritan didn’t stick around for the awards ceremony, his selfless discipleship captivated listeners then and now, making today’s text Jesus’ most popular. But with two thousand years of overexposure, diminishing the story to a fable about neighborhood charity, the parable has lost its conviction. One way to reclaim it is by starting with the question, according to the Good Samaritan, what does love require?
Luke 10:25-37 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, 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 while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Risking your safety for the radical other.
Respecting the divinity of someone else enough to respond.
After countless racially motivated atrocities in South Africa, Nelson Mandela appointed Archbishop Desmond Tutu with leading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a government panel charged with blunting revenge. During the proceedings, one rule was non-negotiable. If a white policeman voluntarily confessed and faced his accuser, then amnesty, not criminal punishment, was recommended. At one hearing, officer Van de Broek admitted to ravaging a family, murdering the father and son. The black wife and mother sat nearby, steadying herself. The Commission, uncertain how to execute justice, asked her opinion. She answered, “I want three things. [First, take me] to the place where my husband’s body was burned so that I can gather up the dust and give his remains a decent burial.” Second, since I’m alone, “I want Mr. Van de Broek to become my son. I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I can pour out on him whatever love I have still remaining… Finally… I would like Mr. Van de Broek to know that I offer him my forgiveness because Jesus Christ died to forgive.”1 Motioning for help, she asked an assistant to lead her across the courtroom, where she embraced her new child. Mr. Van de Broek, in reaction, fainted. The witnesses in attendance, all victims of injustice, lifted their voices and began singing “Amazing Grace.”
In Cape Town, Mr. Van de Broek was the hated adversary; in Seoul, South Korea, it’s the maniacal dictator Kim Jong Un; in Oklahoma City, it’s the domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh; in Cherokee, it’s President Andrew Jackson; and in Shechem, the religious center of ancient Samaria, it was the Jew.
Jews believed the kingdom of God didn’t include Samaritans since they opposed rebuilding Solomon’s temple, colluded with Syria, deviated from Torah, and rejected Jerusalem as the Holy City. Samaritans, mocked as inferior for being on the wrong side of redemption history, held Jews in contempt.
While the detail eludes modern readers, the original hearers of Jesus’ parable would have immediately recognized the injured man on Bloody Pass as Jewish. The Samaritan, therefore, isn’t caring for the neighbor next door but rather the rival who wishes he were dead. Following the Good Samaritan, love requires mercifully moving towards, attending to, and initiating relationship with your sworn enemy.
Preaching on this text, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “No longer can we afford the luxury of passing by on the other side. Such folly was once called moral failure; today it will lead to universal suicide. We cannot long survive spiritually separated in a world that is geographically together. I must not ignore the wounded man on life’s Jericho Road, because he is a part of me and I am a part of him. His agony diminishes me, and his salvation enlarges me.”2
On this MLK weekend, the rallying cry will likely organize around individual civil rights, the personal liberties of selfhood. That’s significant, but necessarily an essential of faith. While often omitted, the late pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church believed that liberation is communal. No one, not the oppressed or the oppressor, is saved by themselves.
For those of us here tonight not just looking to be free, the power to act as a citizen without restraint, but rather free in Christ, our collective freedom is bound up in the foe who denies your sacred worth, who slanders your reputation, who insults your character, who demeans your dignity, who will never respond in kind. Although the hardest thing to do is usually the most Christian thing to do, “go and do likewise” by crossing over.
1 Philip Yancey, Rumors of Another World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003) 224.
2 Martin Luther King, Strength to Love (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2010), 30.