The story of the Good Samaritan is one of the most recognizable Scripture passages. It is familiar to us. We’ve studied it in Sunday School classes, during Vacation Bible School, in small groups, and, yes, even in sermons.
As the story goes, a Samaritan helped an injured person after meeting him on the road to Jericho. The injured person was left for dead after being robbed of his possessions. Of course, the other important aspect to the story is that the Samaritan provided help after others, who were more expected to help, refused to do so.
The example of the Good Samaritan has inspired us for generations. Organizations and missions have been based upon this passage. We have tried to live by Jesus’ call to go and be like the Samaritan in how we care for our communities and the world.
One reason why this passage inspires us is because we can relate to it. We have been both the injured person and the Good Samaritan. Each of us have experienced brokenness and the need for others to offer help to us. As well, there have been times when we have help someone in need. These moments show us something about God’s love and what it means to care for our neighbors, both in our own lives and as a community of faith.
However, our familiarity with the story of the Good Samaritan presents us with a challenge. The challenge is that we can come to this passage and think “what more can be said.” Because we have read and studied this passage and that it is so familiar, we tend to gloss over these verses and think there is nothing more we can take from it. How can we approach this parable in a way that inspires us to live for Christ and love our neighbors today? We do so by going beneath the passage’s surface. Once we do we will see there is much we can take from the parable of the Good Samaritan that is applicable for our lives and mission today.
The parable comes as a legal expert questions Jesus about how someone receives eternal life. Jesus perhaps knew that the expert wanted to be honored. This might be why Jesus turns the question back on him and asks how he reads Scripture. Knowing the commands of the Torah, which are the first five books of the Old Testament, the expert responds with passages from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, which call us to love God and our neighbors.
Jesus affirms the expert’s reading and encourages him to go and do likewise. This is when the expert believes he has Jesus where he wants him. The expert wants to trap Jesus in his answer. He wants to discredit Jesus, which is why he asks him who exactly is his neighbor. The expert likely wanted it defined based upon who was like him or shared similar interests. Jesus had others ideas. The call to love our neighbors is to care for everyone and to see all people as our neighbor.
Jesus presents this understanding of neighbor through a story. Parables were an important tool that Jesus used to teach and express the values of the kingdom of God. A parable uses familiar illustrations to express something of greater importance. The best way to understand a parable is to look at all the elements and see how they are connected.
This particular parable tells about a man who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. It is no accident Jesus mentioned this road. This was a very dangerous road during Jesus’ earthly time. The journey was approximately 18 miles and featured steep descents. That made it a place where robbers would hide and attack non-suspecting travelers.
Jesus says this is what happened to the traveler. Robbers approached him and took all he had. He was beaten and was left for dead. This traveler was broken, abused, violated, and, now, ignored. He was injured and needed someone to help him.
This is where we begin to relate to this story. Even though we likely have not felt the same physical or emotional pain, we know what it is like to hurt. We all have felt physical pains. We have been broken, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, by situations in our homes, our jobs, or the world. All of us have carried hurts and burdens with us and have needed someone to be with us in those moments. Even if we don’t want to always admit it, we know what it is like to need help.
This is a part of the parable I can especially relate to. My story of how I went from a journalist to recognizing my call as a pastor came out of a time of brokenness and a need for help. It’s a long story, but one that can be easily summarized. When I lived in West Virginia I dated someone from my high school throughout college. We didn’t have the best relationship, but after three years of life together we got married because “that’s what you do.” In time, we learned we were polar opposites and not in a good way. Failure to properly communicate led to distance and distrust. Eventually, she left when I was gone for work. I was hurt and broken, both emotionally and financially. I needed help, but I didn’t want to recognize it. I tried to help myself through unhealthy and unhelpful ways.
Those moments when we feel brokenness and hurt makes us vulnerable. It is a reminder that we cannot live this life on our own. We need others. In these moments of hurt, perhaps just like this traveler, we wait for someone to come to us and offer help.
Just imagine then the additional pain the traveler felt when no one came to help. I have to believe the traveler saw the priest and Levite look at him and refuse to help. They were the ones expected to help. They were the religious leaders of the day, but they decide not to help. Some have suggested it was because they did not want to become unclean for worship. If the traveler was dead, which is what they presumed, and they touched him, it would have made them ceremonial unclean. We might be able to understand their motives, but we wonder why someone called to help, and who likely had the means to help, would simply move to the other side of the road to avoid doing so.
This adds insult to the already painful injuries. I’m sure the traveler thought no one would help him. Long after the wounds have healed from the physical pain, that kind of rejection takes years to overcome. Think about this in our lives. We have experienced moments when someone knows about our hurts or we’ve approached someone for help and they decide not to help us. Whether it is a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or even the church, when we feel this rejection it is more painful than that initial pain.
Even though the traveler believed all hope was gone, truly help was on the way. It came in an unexpected way. A Samaritan traveler stopped and provided help. Why would this have been unexpected? In those days, Samaritans were a despised group because of their views about worship and what mountaintop was important to Moses. Perhaps the traveler didn’t expect the Samaritan to stop. The Samaritan does more than just stop. He cares for the traveler’s wounds, puts him on his own donkey, and takes him to an inn where he pays for all his recovery expenses. The Samaritan showed God’s love to the traveler when he needed to experience it the most.
Think about it in this way: The most unexpected person (a Samaritan) offered help in the most unexpected time (after normal avenues of help didn’t come through). This is what God’s grace and love looks like. God pours out his love through servants we may not have expected and in ways we may not have considered. We have all experienced this. For me, it was through a community who showed me what it meant to have a friend when I had given up on having the support of others. For you, it might be something else. We all know those moments when we have experienced unexpected help when we needed it the most. Without a doubt, those were the moments when God’s hand touched us and showed us the way out of our pain.
After Jesus told this parable, he looked at the legal expert and asked who really showed grace to the neighbor. The legal expert correctly responded when he said it was the Samaritan. Jesus tells him, and us, to go and do likewise. This command calls us to share the love of Christ with our neighbors. Jesus calls us to share love and hope with everyone, no matter who they are, in response to what God has done in us, for us, and through us.
The story of the Good Samaritan is the story of God’s love and how God’s presence is active and at work in every situation, especially in moments of deep pain and brokenness. God sends the Samaritan to provide assistance, grace, hope, and love when we are in need. That is God’s grace. God is the true god love. The Lord’s love is always present and at work.
As recipients of God’s grace, we are called to be like the Samaritan and share love to our neighbors when they need help. Our neighbors are not just the ones familiar to us. They are everyone. In God’s eyes all of humanity are our neighbors. How might we be like the Samaritan and respond to God’s love in the places of need in Latonia, throughout Covington, in Northern Kentucky, and all the world?
We’ve all experienced the love of a neighbor who has been a witness of God’s love in our time of need. Let us share the gift of God’s love in the ways we help those in need. Can you imagine the difference we could make in our communities and world if we lived like the Good Samaritan?