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The "Good" Samaritan

by UNC Contributor

“Love is all you need.” So runs a line from a popular song. But what kind of love do we need and how should we show it?

In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 we read: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”

The apostle Paul here tests our love quotient on three levels:

Does your love only speak eloquently but is not ratified by deeds?

Is your love purely an intellectual concept?

Is it merely a photo opportunity or a show to get applause?

News-making acts of philanthropy and self-sacrifice are just that (news-making) if they are done from ulterior motives and not from genuine love. As they say: “You can give without loving but you can’t love without giving.”

Let us take a fresh look at the parable of the Good Samaritan that demonstrates the principle of true godly, unconditional love. It also shows us that God is more impressed with our living the law of love than merely believing or preaching it. The gospels record two men coming to Christ on different occasions to inquire of Him the way to eternal life: one a rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-22) and the other a legal expert (Luke 10:25-37).

When we compare both passages we see some startling similarities and differences. First thing we notice is that both had the same question: What must I do to gain eternal life? But while the young ruler genuinely wanted to know; the lawyer was just trying to test or try Jesus.

The second thing we see is that Christ showed there is only one way – keep God’s commandments! (See Matthew 19:17). Notice in Luke 10:26 that Jesus answered the fool according to his folly by saying essentially “You are the legal expert. What’s your interpretation of the law?” The lawyer correctly responded by summarizing the law as love toward God (Deuteronomy 6:5) and love for your neighbor (Leviticus 19:18). The young ruler, like many elusive Christians today, wanted to know which of the Ten Commandments were relevant for him to keep. (Anti-sabbatarians in their efforts to minimize or negate the relevance of the fourth commandment usually ask which of the Ten is relevant for us today). A third point to notice is that while the young ruler realized there was a need to do more than just keep the commandments, the lawyer sought to justify or acquit himself from personal responsibility to his fellowman. He did this by attempting to engage Christ in semantics on the word neighbor (Luke 10:29). Jesus went on to explain in Matthew 19:21 two extra steps required to gain eternal life:

1. Self-sacrifice (sell your possessions and give the proceeds to the poor).

2. Self-denial and commitment (“Come follow Me”). Mark, in his account adds, “Take up the cross and follow Me.” This is the same commitment we are called to make when we decide to follow Christ (Luke 14:26-27, 33).

At the end of this discourse we see that both men failed the test of true discipleship. The rich young ruler failed because he was too materialistic. His priority was misplaced on his wealth. The legal expert failed because he was legalistic. He preached the word but did not practice it. That’s hypocrisy.

Now let’s turn our attention to the concluding part of the story in Luke 10:30-37. Here Christ followed up on the legal expert’s question about who is his neighbor. He magnifies the law by using a parable to explain who is a neighbor and how we should show love to our neighbour. In this familiar story a man is robbed, beaten and left half dead on the roadside. A priest passed by and avoided him by walking away on the other side. A Levite came by, looked curiously and then walked right on by. But a Samaritan came by, picked up the unfortunate crime victim, took him to a hotel and took care of him. This story should make us ask ourselves some soul-searching questions. Are you like the priest who just walked away on the other side when you see someone in difficulty? His was an apathetic attitude of non-involvement. Perhaps he was too busy, concerned with more important matters, or considered himself too good to get his hands dirty with the blood of a wounded stranger.

The Levite was a typical curiosity-seeker. He just wanted to see what or who was suffering but had no interest in helping. His behavior is so typical of many motorist on our highways who are more intrigued with looking at a car in the ditch than they are in stopping to see how they can help the unfortunate fellow motorist.

But not everyone is like the uncaring clergymen. Jesus used a most unlikely character, a Samaritan as the one who showed good neighborliness. Often times it is those from whom we expect the least that we receive the most. Those who have been victimized and later shown compassion are usually more apt to identify with others who are suffering.

The Jews despised the Samaritans. Yet it was this despised and rejected Samaritan who came to the rescue of the crime victim. He perhaps never read from the book of the Law in the temple like the priest and the Levite. He was not a legal expert. He never gave a sermon on steps to loving your neighbor. He never had the distinction of presenting an exegetical dissertation on the etymology of the word neighbor. And he was definitely not schooled in the fine art of hermeneutics like the priest. Yet this humble Samaritan preached the greatest sermon on how to love your neighbor by his practical demonstration of compassion to a stranger in need. He practiced love first-hand. He didn’t love at a distance or through an agency. He took personal responsibility for this victim in need. And he went the extra mile by not only staying with him overnight in the hotel, but making arrangements to pay any additional expenses incurred for his care. That is love and compassion in action!

We have all heard stories of Good Samaritans. We may even know people who have risked life and limb to help others in distress. We may have even been Good Samaritans ourselves at one time or another. There are three important lessons we can learn from Good Samaritan situations: Don’t refuse to help when you are able to (Proverbs 3:27).

Never assume someone else will do it. Take personal responsibility.

You may suffer for doing good but it is worth it (1 Peter 3:17; Mattew 5:10).

Next time you have an opportunity to serve someone in need (a motorist in distress on the highway; a person under the cloud of depression; a friend in a financial bind; a single parent being overcome by a rebellious child; a stressed-out coworker)… what will your reaction be? Will you be the religious law-speaking type or the proactive law-living type?

The message of the parable is very clear: good neighborliness and showing love by doing are more honorable than merely speaking about love. Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his inaugural address: “In the field of world policy, I would dedicate this nation [America] to the policy of a good neighbor.” Jesus’ instruction to us is simple yet profound: “Go and do like the Samaritan!”

Love
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