The good Samaritan is a fairly popular Bible story that has always intrigued me. Yeah, I know all the teachings about being kind to those you wouldn’t normally associate with and the angle of how Jesus was getting at the religious leaders. And there is the approach of being a neighbor rather than asking who is my neighbor. But today I saw something different. I saw Jesus.
The books of the New Testament known as the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are not written so much to give a chronological history of Jesus’ life but more of a collage intended to portray the message of Jesus. In other words, the authors of these first four books of the New Testament, inspired by the Holy Spirit, place stories in a particular order to get across a point or the perspective they want the reader to see.
Preceding the “Good Samaritan” story we find Jesus feeding 5,000; predicting his death a couple times; meeting up with Moses and Elijah for a chat; driving out a demon after his disciples couldn’t; being rejected by a Samaritan village; having a brief exchange with three different people about following him; sending seventy (or 72) of his disciples to do some run of the mill supernatural stuff like healing the sick and driving out demons; THEN we get to the story of the good samaritan when an “expert of the law” wants to know how to inherit the eternal life that God promises. You can read the details in Luke 10:25-37.
The expert knows that he is to love God and love his neighbor but perhaps hoping to get rid of some guilty feelings about the way he treats some people – maybe even some who are standing there – the expert asks, “who is my neighbor?” And Jesus tells the story.
After the story Jesus asks the intriguing question, “which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert has asked, “who is my neighbor?” But even the expert responds to Jesus’ question with a description of love rather than a description of a neighbor.
The Samaritan “saw him,” “took pity on him,” “went to him and bandaged his wounds.” Then the Samaritan talks about returning and compensating the inn keeper for his trouble. Here’s what I found for the word translated “neighbor:”
plésion: near, neighboring
Part of Speech: Adverb
Do you see Jesus? God saw us just as the Samaritan saw the wounded man. God took pity on us because mankind was helpless against the power of evil. God came to us in the form of a man, namely Jesus the Christ. He has bandaged our wounds and given us the Holy Spirit as a deposit of what is to come when he returns.
Which one was a neighbor? The one who had mercy on the helpless man. This reminds me of the story of the judge who forgave an enormous debt only to watch that man go out and demand a small payment be made to him (Matthew 18:23-35). In the Samaritan story, Jesus tells the expert to “go and do likewise.”
Go. Go near to those you see who are wounded and helpless. Go in the power and authority that Jesus gave the 72 and heal the wounds, feed the hungry, drive out demons. Go! Jesus is coming back and he will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have for doing the work he began.
A quick note here to a do, do, do culture. The story immediately following the Good Samaritan is the story of Martha being busy and Mary sitting at Jesus feet. Jesus gets after Martha a little bit for being so concerned with tasks and he praises Mary for sitting at his feet. Right after that, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray and he teaches them to pray for the power of the kingdom to come. It’s possible to be a good neighbor without love but we can only show mercy in response to having experienced and recognizing the mercy shown to us through the love of Christ.
Sit with this collage for a bit and let me know what you think. Can you see Jesus as the neighbor and you as the one who has been robbed of life? We don’t get to see how the wounded man responds to the Good Samaritan when he returns. How does the story continue if you are the man who was robbed and beaten? What will you say to the one who took pity on you? How will his pity and his care impact your life? How has Jesus coming near to be a neighbor to mankind impacted you?
Update Jan 3, 2013
Support for Jesus being the Good Samaritan dates back to St. Thomas Aquinas’ Catena Aurea: http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.com/2010/07/jesus-good-samaritan.html
Seems strange to me that our culture, to some degree, lost this interpretation. That’s kind of what had happened to the religious leaders of Jesus’ time. They had become so caught up in the Law, they couldn’t see that the Law was pointing to Jesus and therefore they rejected him when he arrived. I think this is a good example of how our culture has taken Jesus out of scripture and made even the New Testament a book of law. I posted on that thought some time ago http://grow2sow.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/bible-book-of-rules/
One of my preaching instructors in VLI talked about the importance of going beyond personal application to revealing Jesus. Too often we teach scripture as a way to behave. It is Jesus and his kingdom we want people to see, not how to behave. If we truly see Jesus, we will respond in worship (or rejection) of him and that worship in spirit and truth will change lives (both for those worshipping and those seeing true worship).