Luke 10:29-37 “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ In reply Jesus said: ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said, “and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.” ‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”
Last week, because of the eruption of a volcano in Iceland and the clouds of dust that were said to be blowing across Europe, I discovered that I could not fly to Kenya and speak at the pastors’ conference. Marooned in Birmingham International Airport, uncertain when plane would fly again – would it be the next day? – I called a friend of mine, the local Reformed Baptist pastor, Gearoid Manley. Like a good Samaritan he happily came to pick me up and I spent the day with him and his family. He comes from Ireland and a decade ago was training for the priesthood in the largest of the Roman Catholic seminaries in the Republic. He was increasingly restless about Roman dogmas and structures, finding no answers in its traditions to his questions about salvation but increasingly reading his Bible. Then one Sunday he switched on the radio and listened to the morning service from the BBC when he heard a sermon on the Good Samaritan and that message was the means God used for Gearoid’s conversion.
You know the parable of the Good Samaritan, but what was there in its message that led to the conversion of a theological student in a Roman seminary in Ireland? I find that a very interesting question. Luke tells us that an expert in the law of God tried to put the Lord Christ to a test by asking him that most important of all questions, what have we men and women to do to inherit eternal life. “What does the Bible say?” Jesus asked him in return. He replied, “You must love God with all your being and your neighbour as yourself.” “Correct,” said Jesus, “do this and you will live.” But the exchange between them wasn’t over. The expert had a second question; “And who is my neighbour?” (v.29). He was asking Jesus of Nazareth to define precisely for him this word ‘neighbour.’ Now you’ll understand that this whole encounter is basically a challenge to the teaching and authority of Christ. This man displays barely disguised antagonism. He is testing Jesus Luke tells us, as one political candidate will test another. His first question was asked in order to discover what sort of man Jesus was. A charlatan? A holy fool? A thinker? Maybe even a prophet sent by God into the world, but that was unlikely. This expert already knew what was the correct answer to his own question. His second question was also disingenuous. It was not asked for purposes of information; the expert was not a seeker after truth but a shifty man wanting to justify himself. “And who is my neighbour?” he said. In other words, “If we are to experience eternal life we must love God and love our neighbours as ourselves? I agree, but now, this is the question no one seems to address, who exactly is my ‘neighbour’?”
Do you understand? He was not asking this particular question in order to understand more clearly who were those neighbours whom henceforth he’d actively love truly and deeply, as he would love himself, but rather to ascertain the identity of those men and women he could eliminate from his love. Who could he safely put into the category of ‘non-neighbour’? Who could he cross off his list of ‘neighbours’? Where could he draw the line? He was looking for a loophole to this great command of God. This expert was trying to justify his behaviour – his whole life before God. He wanted eternal life, of course, who wouldn’t? But he wanted to gain it by what he was already doing, loving his own coterie, his cronies, the people who came from the same income group and tribe as himself. He loved his wife, he loved his children, he loved his mother, he loved his brothers and sisters and most of their families, he loved the man who gave him his first break to become a lawyer. He loved quite sincerely all the people in that particular constituency. These were the people who mattered in his life and everyone else he ignored. He hoped that Jesus’ second answer to his question would confirm his own conviction that he was safe in this little circle of love, and bound for glory. He hoped that our Lord would assure him that his group of friends were precisely the neighbours God wanted him to love as he loved himself.
The answer of our Lord Jesus in telling him this parable had a twofold aim, both for the expert and for all of us:
i] Jesus must slay the dragon of self-righteousness that lived in this man’s life. If he went away from Jesus simply with the feeling that the Nazarene was a real smart, sincere fellow then Christ had failed. If you go away from reading these words with nice thoughts about me and my preaching then I’ve let you down. That is not the purpose of your heeding this message. Jesus wanted this man to feel the impossibility of inheriting eternal life solely on the ground of the good life he lived. He wanted this man to realise that only by receiving the grace of God through the good life and death of the Son of God could he be saved. Jesus wanted him to see that he had not loved even his own little circle of family and friends as he loved himself. This was a command that he had not kept and could not keep, not for one day, and not for one moment of a single day. This expert loved himself, and served himself, and provided for himself and thought about himself – far above whatever affection he had for his precious circle of family and friends. Jesus wanted to show this man that he was a lost man, that he was a condemned man, that his self-justifying behaviour would never save himself. Jesus wanted him to say to himself, “Then I cannot be a saved man because I do not love even my wife as I love myself. I am in a hopeless condition. Jehovah Jesus, you must save me by your righteousness and by your death if I am to inherit eternal life.” But there was another purpose Jesus had in answering this question.
ii] Our Lord wants this man to appreciate the magnificence of God’s will for men and women in his creation. He doesn’t want us to be content being average. He wants us to rise far above a life of common decency, with the routine of attendance at church at regular intervals. Remember how Jesus spoke to his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount and said to them, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). The Lord Christ wants us to understand just what God expects of us when he tells us we are to love our neighbours as ourselves. It is that you have no ‘non-neighbours’ whom you can ignore. That person who has caused you such trouble, scorning you and making your life a misery, is still your neighbour. Even your enemy is your neighbour. The person who betrayed you, the man who broke your heart, is your neighbour and you must love him as yourself. This is something that we have to take on board.
There are not two classes of people on the train that leads to heaven, the second class consisting of those who love the people who love them in return, and then the first class compartment on the railway to glory in which only super-Christians ride who have sought to love each one of their neighbours as themselves. No, it is not like that at all. Only those whose great aim in life is to love their neighbours as they love themselves, those who seek to do this 24/7 while life and thought and being last or immortality endures, they alone will arrive at the kingdom of heaven. In other words, we live our Christian lives not by our own choices of friends and ideas and practices and human resources. If that is so then we’ll become little more than average people with some decency and good manners. That is not the will of God for those who would inherit eternal life. We must stand on the edge of this commandment letting its authority intimidate us . . . “love my neighbour . . . as myself? . . . love . . . my neighbour as myself” and feel we are about to fall crashing down. Who is sufficient for these things? Aren’t we too full of a base instinct of survival looking after Number One, let alone living a life of loving other people, loving them all as we love ourselves? Impossible! I can’t do it. I don’t want to do it; I shrink from it, and yet I must do it if I am to inherit eternal life. That is what you must see. This is where the Christian life begins. It is then that the blessed message of the Christian gospel comes and says to you that left to yourself such loving is utterly unattainable, but that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. You can love like this when Jesus Christ is your head. By limitless access to the indwelling life and energy of our Saviour all things are possible, not that we shall attain this side of glory perfect love for all our neighbours as we love ourselves, but we shall always set that goal before us, and seek to live and love like that, yet not us, but Christ who dwells in us. The name of the railway that takes everyone to heaven is this, “Faith that Works by Love.”
So how does Jesus impress these two truths on this expert? He tells him a parable. He seeks to circumnavigate this expert’s pride of intellect by focusing his counselling on his affections. He does this by telling him a very moving and convicting story, the parable of the Good Samaritan. After the parable of the Prodigal Son it is the most well known parable in the Bible.
SCENE ONE IS OF HUMAN SUFFERING.
Whatever else suffering may be, it is certainly a nuisance isn’t it? It is a massive inconvenience in our lives. We have plans which end something like this, “ . . . and they all lived happily ever after” but then into our lives comes pain. Our husbands or wives develop cancer or Alzheimer’s or heart disease; our children have a cleft palate or Down’s Syndrome or develop a brain tumour; they are involved in a traffic accident and are in a wheel-chair for the rest of their lives, or people persuade them to take drugs which change their personalities. There are people in our circle of friends and family who have Parkinson’s or Huntingdon’s or dementia. There are others who are the victims of violence through criminals or by warfare. There are floods and famines and earthquakes and disease and millions are affected by such natural disasters. Man is born into trouble as the sparks fly upward, and some of those people who suffer in those ways are our neighbours. What a nuisance all that can be to those who want their lives to go along the channels that they’ve planned.
Our Lord was answering this expert’s question as to who was his neighbour and he did so by telling him a story, beginning thus, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers” (v.30).There was a movement and from behind a rock a group of evil men appeared and ran onto him hitting him to the ground and, heart in mouth, he realised he was in serious trouble. It happened without any planning on his part. One moment fit and healthy, able to walk the seventeen mile journey to Jericho, and the next half dead. He’s in the hands of thieves who beat him up mercilessly and take everything of value from him, including his clothes. They leave him naked and dying in the dust on that lonely road. It all happens without warning. We are never safe from trouble. It meets us in the family, in the congregation and far from home, it perforates the lives of distant relatives and the best servants of God.
The man was blameless. It was pure misfortune, like much of the grief of the world, it had no causal connection with the past life of the person who’s being afflicted. In other words, this man was not being punished because of what he’d done in the past. We have no idea why troubles arise as they do, but we do know that God does not afflict willingly. Why one person has an enlarged encounter with pain while another has a calm and peaceful life we have no answer to such questions, but we do know that much distress in our world is caused by the wickedness of others.
It was thus with this victim. Here he is dying on the road, and there he’s soon to breathe his last unless kind hands reach out to him. He hardly has the strength to groan; soon the vultures will be circling overhead. He’s not a man who’s been destroying his life with excess, yet out of the blue this has happened. Of course it was a dangerous route to take; the journey from Jerusalem to Jericho was always a notorious, lonely road through bandit territory. Wives said to their husbands, “Be careful! Don’t travel alone!” when they told them they were going down to Jericho. Today there are dangerous places and times even for us, for example, for a woman to walk home after midnight by herself in the safest town is unwise. There are dangerous necessary professions, soldiers regularly face the danger of roadside bombs, firemen and policemen are confronted with dangers; but teachers also can face dangers, staff in casualty wards meet dangers; even preachers can face dangers quite out of the blue. This is a fallen groaning world. Don’t we all agree that we should do something to help those who are suffering the effects of danger? Wouldn’t we be worse than savages to ignore a person in pain? It was a murderer who sullenly said to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” No. You are not your brother’s keeper, but you are your brother’s brother and you are your neighbour’s neighbour.
SCENE TWO IS OF HUMAN INDIFFERENCE.
Another man comes down the road walking quickly, looking to the right and left, hurrying on his journey. Did his wife also say to him, “Be careful” as she kissed him goodbye that morning? Did he look lovingly at his children as they waved him away? What would he do without them? He had to leave Jerusalem that day; maybe there was an important appointment before him in Jericho or more likely he was going home. So watching this way and that he walked hurriedly down the Jericho road, every step was one closer to his destination, longing that those 17 miles would be ended.
Then there in front of him was something lying in the road. He grew more nervous and suspicious the nearer he got to it; what was this? Some trick? A trap? He crossed to the other side of the road away from the object, but as he got alongside he could see that it was the naked body of a man lying there bleeding and groaning. What a blessing for this victim to see through his blackened, unfocussed eyes a man coming up to him. Someone had turned up and found him; someone could help him. God had heard his prayers and brought someone along. But more than that, and unknown to him, this man was a priest, a man who stood between the people and the Lord, presenting sacrifices and offerings to God for sinners, and teaching people the way of God. He was a priest whose monthly tour of duty in the Jerusalem temple had come to an end. He had been in the precincts of the temple week after week serving at the altar, sacrificing lambs, offering them to God for forgiveness for people’s sins. He was as near to God as anyone could be. He’d heard the daily psalms sung and the word of God read and the solemn prayers. How kind of the Lord to bring such a man to him at this time of need. But, can you believe me? Such a religious man did not stop for a moment. He gave the man no help at all. He walked on by.
Then soon after him another figure came walking down the road with the same uncertainties and fears but also needing to travel to Jericho, and soon he too saw what the priest had seen, the half-dead man lying naked in the dust. He happened to be a Levite, an assistant to a priest, another full time holy man. Here were two men sent by God at this time, the Levite being able to help the priest minister to this victim. Maybe they could pick up the man and wash him and cover him in some clothes and carry him on his way out of danger to a place where he could rest and be healed. Or the Levite might stay with him while the priest ran for help. God had brought the two of them there at that time to help this poor man, the God who had protected and kept them, blessed them with good health and prospered them. This is the God whom they served, whose teaching they knew, who told them in their own Scriptures that they were to love their neighbours as themselves, and that whatsoever they would have men do to them they should do to their fellow men. “I will have mercy and not sacrifice, saith the Lord.” They both knew those words like all of us know them, but, alas, they were strangers to their power. The priest had been near to God but he was not like God. The Levite knew the teaching but he was a stranger to its life transforming energy.
Here were men who were bound by their high calling to help their neighbours. They should have been gentle, generous-hearted, kindly examples of the love of Jehovah God, full of sympathy and compassion and tenderness. If religion doesn’t do that for you what good is that religion? If it turns you into a suicide bomber what good is that religion? If it makes you turn your face away from dying men whose eyes are beseeching you in hope then what good is such a religion? Good for nothing. They could see in a moment what had happened to this man. They didn’t need to be doctors to get a basic diagnosis. The road to Jericho wasn’t a four lane highway. It was a narrow track that would take a chariot or a donkey and cart in each direction. It was no wider than that. The dying man was under their nose; they almost had to step over his body or put their fingers in their ears to silence his groans and cries for help, but their pace did not slacken. They looked firmly ahead and carried on, putting the whole incident behind them, out of sight and out of mind. They both passed by on the other side.
I want to say this, that both of them had what they believed to be good reasons for not helping this man, quite excellent reasons. I’ve never met a man refusing to help needy people who didn’t have a ready excuse for his action. There’s not one single person in our whole town who, having turned his face from some need, couldn’t provide you with three or four reasons for acting as he did, reasons that were eminently satisfactory to him. These two men on the road to Jericho had their reasons for not helping . . . they had no ointment and no first aid box . . . no money . . . no donkey . . . it was a dangerous place to be and they had no defence against highway robbers, better that it were only one man lying there and not two or three . . . taking care of yourself was really the religious thing to do . . . the sun was going down and it would soon be dark . . . they had important business that evening and one of them in particular loved to be punctual . . and in any case the man was half dead, in half-an-hour he would be totally dead and what could they do? What could anyone do? They were not covered by insurance. They were warned about acting in such cases because they could be sued by the victim. There would soon be someone more qualified, with more time, and more strength, and do a better job of looking after him than themselves. They could say a prayer for the man; praying was very important and much ignored; they could leave a tract commending good works and promising a divine blessing for the next man coming by to read. And neither the priest not the Levite wanted to be defiled as holy men by touching a body that might die while in their hands. There we are; many good reasons for not helping this victim as he lay bleeding there. Enough reasons to satisfy both of them; the excuses flooded into their minds, a dozen of them, one a second, all of them telling both priest and Levite, “Keep moving on. Let someone else help the man.”
At Princeton University ten years ago an experiment took place unknown to the students. A group of them were asked to give a talk to some of their teachers. Some of them were told to speak on this very parable, and others were asked to speak on the relevance of the Christian ministry to daily life. Some had a few hours to prepare but others just a short time and off they were sent one by one at intervals to a classroom. On their way there they came in turn across a man lying by the path unwell. They had to be in the classroom within a few minutes; the marks from the exercise they were going to do would contribute to their degree; some of them stopped, but others didn’t stop. They didn’t offer to help the man because they had a deadline to meet when they were going to give a talk on being good neighbours. I wonder what I would do at ten minutes to six on a Sunday evening, driving along to church a little late, if I saw a man lying on the pavement. I believe I’d stop the car and go to see if I could help. I hope I would. You never know what good you might do.
In Easter 1964 I drove from Philadelphia to Quebec to visit my cousin Bobi. It was a long foolhardy trip in my 1955 pink Chevrolet still with winter clinging to east Canada But I got there and we had a great time of family reunion, talking amongst other things about our forthcoming wedding when Bobi was to be the best man. One afternoon we went out in my Chevy onto one of the large islands in the midst of the St Laurence river and while we were driving along the car went through a pool of water on the road and stalled. It would not start. It was very cold and few cars were on the road. Finally when we were very low in spirits a motorist did see our plight and he stopped. This French Canadian had jump leads, and the car was started again. I will always remember Bobi thanking the motorist as he was getting back into his car saying to him, “Vous etes un bon Samaritan.” You are a good Samaritan. People stop and help and we are mighty glad when they do.
SCENE THREE IS OF HUMAN COMPASSION.
Along came another man and he was not a cleric, not a professional religious man, in fact he happened to be a different race from the half dead man and also he belonged to a cult. He was a Samaritan. But the New Testament tells us, “As we have opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” This man lying in the road was a Jew and Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans. There was no love lost between these two people groups, but this beaten up Jew was a man made in God’s image and likeness, and he was lying a metre away from the Samaritan on the road; he was a man in need and the Samaritan was there. So this man had become the Samaritan’s neighbour. He was not to kneel alongside him and ask him what religion he was before he helped him. He didn’t do that. The Samaritan was not to think, “He’s a Jew and a great hater of my people. I’ve had stone thrown at me and dogs set on me and curses hurled in my direction from Jews all through my life. If I were lying here he’d walk by on the other side thinking, “It’s a mere Samaritan dog!” He didn’t think, “Let his own people help him.” No. They had been given that privilege and they had passed it by. Not to stop and help the abandoned man didn’t occur to the Samaritan; he decided that he would pull the reins on his donkey and cry, “Woe!” He would help him as much as he could, and incidentally in doing so he would heap coals of fire on this proud Jew’s head as he lay in the dust. Would he remember in his guilt and shame those many times when he’d mocked the Samaritans? How this groaning Jew blessed Jehovah that that day a Samaritan had stopped and was helping him.
That dying man could not repay him because all he’d got had been stolen from him, even his clothes. But love doesn’t ask for payment or it’s not love at all. The injured man was a total stranger to the Samaritan, but he was a man and all men are the same, creatures of God, sinners in need of good news of Jesus’ love, good news in word, and good news in action. Look at the spirit in which the Samaritan did his work. He asked no questions, and he helped him without hesitation. He took out his oil and wine; he used the wine as an antiseptic to clean the wound and the oil was a balm to soothe the pain; the sun had also burned his naked body. He took the initiative and used what skill he had, and what materials he had, and what strength he had, and what money he had – all to help his neighbour. He did it without fear of the bandits returning. He did it with self-denial; he did it with tenderness and care. He put the man on his own donkey and, supporting him on its back, walked alongside the beast and took him to the first inn that would look after him.
When the Samaritan got to the inn he didn’t say to the man, “Well, anyone will look after you now.” He went to the manager of the inn and he gave him money and said, “Look after him.” I like that little sentence because first he had looked after him. So what you’ve done yourself you can exhort others to do. The Samaritan then said, “I am leaving this man with you and I don’t want you to neglect him. Here is money” (and he gave him enough money equivalent to a month or even two months’ salary) “and if he takes a turn for the worse and you need to give him some lamb soup to build him up then you do it and I will pay you any excess when I return up this road again. That broken rib will take time to heal. Don’t hurry him away. Let him stop here until he can resume his journey home. His family will come looking for him soon. I know you have many people in this inn, but don’t neglect this man.” He was giving this inn-keeper – a vocation notorious for the greed of its holders – a blank cheque. “Why all this?” wouldn’t the inn-keeper have asked? “Is he a relation of yours?” “No, I never saw him before in my life.” “Then why are you under any obligation to help him?” “Because I feel under obligation to everybody that is a man whom I meet. If he needs help then I’ll do what I can. I am obliged to help him. He became my neighbour when God brought me into his presence on the Jericho road.”
SCENE FOUR IS OF HUMAN EXPECTATION.
Thus the parable ended, and Jesus turned to the expert who’d asked him, “And who is my neighbour?” and our Lord asked him his third and final question, “’Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise’” (vv. 36&37). Who is a neighbour? It’s me. It is you. It is someone you’ve become by the grace of God. It’s a spirit, a lifestyle, a discipleship, a disposition you’ve been taught by Christ and have chosen to take up. You will display this for the rest of your life, almost automatically, as someone indwelt by the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Yet you never take it for granted. You educate and nourish and cherish and strengthen it. The Lutheran Christian, Johann Sebastian Bach, has a beautiful piece, Cantata 77 where it says,
“And give me too, my God, a Samaritan’s heart,
That I may love my neighbour as well
And be troubled for him in his anguish,
That I do not pass him by and abandon him in his extremity.”
Then Bach has him shake his head with sadness, “Ah!” he sighs,
“There abides in my love naught but imperfection,
Though I often have the will to accomplish God’s commandments,
It is not yet possible.”
We would be like this man, wouldn’t we? Each one of us admires this great man, but so often we don’t act like him. We’re so glad that we are not saved because we have been Good Samaritans. How can I possibly love my neighbour as I love myself? How can I reach out in compassion to all people, even to my enemies? I love God’s law and the perfection of its demands, but I am only too conscious of my selfishness and excuses. I am a lost man if my getting to glory hangs on my being a Good Samaritan. How glad I am that Jesus Christ is the perfect Samaritan, yet, as Philip Ryken says, that is to give him too little praise. The mercy he has shown us is far greater. Now you can see what Gearoid Manley heard in that sermon preached a decade ago on the radio that changed his life around. It was not a message of good works, but the greatest of all Samaritans who had come into the world to help us. When he came to our aid we weren’t merely dying, we were dead; dead in our trespasses and sins. And what a long way Jesus came to rescue us, not just seventeen miles, but coming that infinite distance from heaven to earth, down and down he came, humbling himself to the death of the cross. It took him more than a day or two of his time and a couple of coins given to an inn-keeper. To heal us it cost him terrible sufferings, the blood of his body and the death of the cross. He came much further and helped people in deeper need, and of course at much greater cost. He too is as committed as the Samaritan to see our healing through to the end. He has begun a good work in us and he’ll complete it; he has made up his mind. He will come back to this earth where he found us bruised and broken by the fall of our father Adam and our own many sins, and he himself will escort us all to paradise. We were not his neighbours. He lived in heaven and we were in the kingdom of darkness, rebels against him, and yet, though we hounded him to the death of the cross, he came alongside us in our darkness and rescued us at his own expense. We didn’t contribute a penny. He’s paid everything in advance for perfecting us with unimaginable glory. Believe it and salvation will be yours as it is Gearoid’s.
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus our Lord. He has left us an example that we should follow his steps, and Christians have followed him being Good Samaritans for 2,000 years. In Don Stephens’ book, War and Grace, he tells us the story of British soldiers forced to work on the railway line the Japanese were building for the invasion of India. In Chungkai, Thailand, near the river Kwai the working party of prisoners of war was about to return to their prison camp when a Japanese guard shouted that a shovel was missing. “Who is responsible?” When no one confessed he became very angry and declared he would shoot all of them, and he was quite likely to do that without turning a hair. Then a Scottish Christian stepped forward and said he was responsible for the missing shovel. The guard immediately shot him. When the prisoners’ work party arrived back in camp it was discovered that no shovels were missing. The Christian had laid down his life that they might be spared. He had loved his neighbours as he loved himself.
Now such examples of extraordinary courage and love fill the history of the church, but that is not why this parable is in the gospels or why I am preaching on it. It is here primarily to say very seriously to all of us who profess to be Christians that religion without mercy is worthless. Here were two religious men, a priest and a Levite, and they were outdone by the non-Jewish Samaritan. You may have had a very memorable conversion experience; some Christians do. You may have been baptized. You may have made ecstatic sounds on your knees. You may have gone to church all your lives, but if you do not love your neighbour you’re nothing at all. If you are a stranger to good works your faith is dead; it is not real faith at all. To love like this Samaritan loved you need a new heart.
Whom would God have you love today? Your neighbour, and your neighbour is the person who in the providence of God has been brought into your life at this time, and is in need of mercy and help from you. Is there a boy or girl in your class in school who needs your help? Is there someone on your street, or a colleague at work, or someone in the church who can never seem to get it together? Maybe it is an orphan in Kenya or someone there training for the ministry. You have to start where you are. Love begins at home. Jesus is saying that if this Samaritan showed such love to someone he had never seen before in his entire life, and would probably never meet again, then how much more should we show love to our families, to our spouses, our parents, our brothers and sisters whom we are seeing every day? Am I being a good Samaritan at home? Love is all about concrete, sacrificial actions that require time, and energy, and treasure.
“People will take advantage of us,” you say. Yes they will. We have to run that risk. We are not obligated to be naïve but we are obligated to love. Now that love means that we may refuse to give a man some money but we will go to the bus station and buy a ticket for the place he says he needs to go to. Sometimes we will ask him for a telephone number of someone who can vouchsafe that the story he has told us is true. Sometimes we will take him to the chip shop and buy a bag of fish and chips for him rather than give him money. All this will take time, but we can use that time with him well. But we have to love him even though he is our enemy, a stranger, an immigrant, an idol worshipper or a criminal.
Ernest Gordon was another British soldier who had become a prisoner of war on the River Kwai. One day he and the other Englishmen came across a train full of wounded Japanese soldiers dying of neglect. Ernest and number of the other officers went to them and changed their bandages. They took water to them and washed them. One of the officers was very offended at this. “Don’t be fools,” he said to them, “these are our enemies.” Ernest Gordon asked if he had ever heard of the parable of the Good Samaritan, how a man had been beaten up and robbed and stripped, and a couple of religious men passed by on the other side ignoring him though he was the same race and religion as they were. Then a half-caste, a heretic, one of their enemies, a Samaritan man came and stopped. His heart was full of compassion and he knelt down and poured wine and oil on the man and clothed him with his own clothes and took him to an inn where he was cared for at the man’s expense until he was recovered. The officer heard the story and then protested, “Yes, but that’s the Bible. These swine are starving us and beating us. They’ve murdered our comrades. They’re our enemies.” Ernest said to him, “Who is my enemy? Isn’t he my neighbour? My enemy is my neighbour,” and back he went to helping these Japanese soldiers. This parable is here in Scripture to move us to go and do the same as the Samaritan, to love my neighbour as myself. We have no choice in the matter if we are inheriting eternal life.
25th April 2010 GEOFF THOMAS