On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by 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 traveled, 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 denarii 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 neighbor 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.” (New International Version)
Who do you relate to in the story? Which character most resonates with you in your life right now?
The Lawyer (an expert in the Old Testament Law)
The Gospel writer, Luke, gives us insight into the thought process of the person for whom Jesus told the parable to. That man sought to justify himself. In Christianity, no one justifies themselves. The kingdom of God turns on grace, and not with us working more or harder.
Christ’s mercy is not dependent on what kind of people we are but is simply based on need. God graciously gives us the gift of faith and the mercy of deliverance. By Christ’s wounds we are healed.
As Christians, we already possess justification by grace alone apart from human effort.
Each individual must realize they are in a theological ditch. We are all unable to get out of our predicament. Everyone needs the compassion of Christ.
But now God’s way of putting people right with himself has been revealed. It has nothing to do with law, even though the Law of Moses and the prophets gave their witness to it. God puts people right through their faith in Jesus Christ. God does this to all who believe in Christ, because there is no difference at all: everyone has sinned and is far away from God’s saving presence. But by the free gift of God’s grace all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free. (Romans 3:21-24, GNT)
We do not need to justify ourselves.
The Priest and the Levite (experts in the Law)
The shock that hits closes to home, from Christ’s parable, is how frequently we are the ones who pass by and ignore the other. The command to “Go and do likewise,” extends about as far as the end of the story for modern hearers, landing us in the ditch between knowing the Samaritan and his compassionate generosity are set forth as an example and our tendency to ignore the cries of the downtrodden and disenfranchised.
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord…. When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:18, 33-34, NIV)
The Lord defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18-19, NIV)
We are to go and do likewise.
The Samaritan, the Christ figure in the story, comes and shows the man mercy. This grace was free, lacked any sort of favoritism, and was full of sheer kindness. Without the Samaritan’s actions of binding up the man’s wounds and getting him to a safe place, the victim would have died.
It is no coincidence that there are many hospitals throughout the country named “Good Samaritan.” Christians were at the forefront of establishing hospitals because of this very parable of Jesus. It was a significant way of living into the values of God’s kingdom.
Mercy is at the heart of all Christian ministry.
Jesus, responding to those who questioned his acts of mercy toward questionable people, said:
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13, NRSV)
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, on the basis of God’s mercy, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable act of worship. (Romans 12:1, NRSV)
Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly. (Micah 6:8)
The wounded hapless man was left for dead. In the story, we know he would die apart from help – the kind of help the man could not do for himself. He was completely dependent on someone to rescue him from his plight.
The victim in the ditch reminds us of what it feels like to be forgotten by others — and perhaps even by God. The feeling of loneliness and forsakenness invites compassion and empathy for all who experience it.
Victimization needs a voice and a champion. There are powerless people who either cannot speak or who are not heard by others. There are people, victims of abuse, who cannot get out of their traumatic ditch – overwhelmed by what another did to them.
God stands for the victim and against the robbers.
You will never again
make victims of others
or send messengers to threaten
everyone on this earth. (Nahum 2:13, CEV)
God will send help.
When the righteous cry out, the Lord listens;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
he saves those whose spirits are crushed.
The righteous have many problems,
but the Lord delivers them from every one of them. (Psalm 34:17-19, CEB)
By his wounds we are healed.
The victim in the ditch is worthy of help because he carries the divine image of God.
The one who showed compassion and mercy, the Samaritan, reflected God’s likeness through his actions.
Those who passed by, the priest and the Levite, also bear the indelible mark of their Creator, yet chose to ignore their gut and got lost in their heads.
Maybe God — through Christ — comes to us as the one in the ditch or maybe as the one who shows compassion and mercy; perhaps God even comes to us as a reminder that the call to care for others frequently goes unheeded as we pass by the cries of those in need of help.
Lord God, heavenly Father, you did not spare your only Son, but gave him up for us all to be our Savior, and along with him you have graciously given us all things. We thank you for your precious, saving gospel, and we pray that you would help us to believe in the name of our Savior faithfully and steadfastly, for he alone is our righteousness and wisdom, our comfort and peace, so that we may stand on the day of his appearing, through Jesus Christ, your dear Son, our Lord. Amen.