“Once upon a time…”
And so began most of the worlds beloved tales, stories and fables. Yet the most meaningful and deepest stories never began with those words. The simplest and most important stories began with the words: “Verily, verily, I say to you…” This month, four selected stories from the mouth of Jesus Christ himself will be the focus of our posts in a series called “At Jesus Feet”
One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”
The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”
The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.
“By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.
“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’
“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.
The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”
Luke 10:25-37 NLT
Christ knew that no one could obey the law in his own strength. He desired to lead the lawyer to clearer and more critical research that he might find the truth. Only by accepting the virtue and grace of Christ can we keep the law. Belief in the propitiation for sin enables fallen man to love God with his whole heart and his neighbor as himself.– Christ Object Lessons Ch. 27
The Parable of the Good Samaritan would not be told without first telling the challenge that was given to Jesus Christ. The young expert asked Jesus not as someone who does not know but as someone who wanted to challenge Jesus. The young law expert had been part of the group of priests and lawyers who have been hounding Christ. Their aim was to debunk the claims of this carpenter from Nazareth. The emphasis on him being an expert lawyer means that he knows the answer to at least his first question. He was watching out if Jesus Christ was going to declare an instruction from God that is contrary to the law. Yet, he was taken aback by Christ’s response. Jesus made him answer his own question.
This prompted him to ask another question in order to trap Jesus. He wanted to see if Jesus will point to himself or his disciples as the one who needs to be helped or loved or maybe towards some other group or race so as to turn the people’s favor.
This lead Jesus to tell the story of the Good Samaritan. The story is a response to the man’s challenge and was also meant to return the focus of the people of the law to the supposedly true focus of following God. To them, as long as a person follows the forms and traditions of their religion, it was enough to earn merit and favor in the eyes of God. Yet the story tells a different picture and it brought more shame than honor to the man asking.
The Priest and the Levite
The story was simply told that a Jewish man was travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho and was attacked by bandits along the way. Stripped of his possessions, he was left half dead on the wayside. The priest probably saw him from afar and decided to take another route. The Levite came next. This time, he probably went closer to look at the man. Instead of offering help, he left and took another route. This is controversial since priests and Levites are considered men of high regard. They are men placed with a special mission to do God’s bidding in the church services. Yet they felt they were too proud to be involved in helping a half-beaten man on the road side.
Often we think that breaking the law of God involves committing heinous crimes such as murder or rape or theft. Yet, Jesus tells of an even deeper sin: neglect and pride. The priest and Levite may not have been the direct cause of the man’s suffering, but by neglecting to help him, they are accessory to the crime. In Christ’s story, those people who did not show mercy to the half-dying man on the road is committing a sin similar to murder.
Jesus Christ was describing not just the leaders of their day but also with ours. Men and women of stature and distinction often would rather not care about the plight of the poor and less fortunate. Only a handful would be so kind and loving. Jesus points this out in the parable. We could further reflect that though the priest, an expert on religious law, and a Levite, a participant in religious rites, were not moved with compassion. Rather, they were moved to avoid the situation because they are too proud to look down on someone else. This becomes clear evidence that the knowledge and mastery of the scriptures are utterly worthless if the love and care for others is totally neglected.
“The priest and the Levite had been for worship to the temple whose service was appointed by God Himself. To participate in that service was a great and exalted privilege, and the priest and Levite felt that having been thus honored, it was beneath them to minister to an unknown sufferer by the wayside. Thus they neglected the special opportunity which God had offered them as His agents to bless a fellow being.”– E.G. White
The great difference between the Jews and the Samaritans was a difference in religious belief, a question as to what constitutes true worship. The Pharisees would say nothing good of the Samaritans, but poured their bitterest curses upon– E.G. White
The most controversial aspect of the parable was the story was about a Samaritan. For the Jews who were listening to Jesus, this was a huge slap to their faces. To them, Samaritans were worthless and cursed. Yet in Christ’s parable, the Samaritan was the one who fulfilled God’s command. The man not only brought the Jewish man to an inn but also gave enough money for the innkeeper for the expenses that the man may have. Talk about compassion.
This is Jesus. He never looks at the race. While Jews take pride in their nationality and their heritage, Jesus Christ simply slams it down by making a Samaritan the focus of his story. He simply wanted to remind the Jews that though their ancestors may have made a covenant with God, their inherited favor is not something they should take pride on.
In essence, the Samaritan is none other than Jesus Christ. He was despised and insulted by His own people. Yet with all compassion He chose to willingly die for our sins and give us access to the Father. His compassion and love was so strong that He even left enough provisions for anyone who would like to recover from their sinful state.
On the other hand, we are the Jewish man. We were left half dead by sin on the wayside. Only a compassionate Christ came to save us from the sorry state we are in. Only a compassionate Christ would do more than what was necessary to bring us out of our sick and sorry state and elevate our lives to a life that is worthy of walking side-by-side with Him.
“Now Go and Do the Same”
Christ beckons us to be like the Samaritan. We do not need to go far to look for a half-beaten man on the wayside. Our neighbor is always close by. We only need to open our eyes to the need around us. This may not always come in the form of shelling out money but could just be listening to other people’s woes and offer them comfort and support. When we show compassion to everyone, we are fulfilling in essence what God commands for us to do. Compassion is what moved God to write the commandments, it is also compassion that would drive us to do everything.