Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A Fresh Look at the Good Samaritan

I listened to this eye-opening sermon that gives a different explanation/application of the Parable of the Good Samaritan than I've ever heard before. Read Luke 10:24-37, and this will make more sense.

For a little background, a lawyer asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. The answer was to "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 your neighbor as yourself." (Luke 10:27, ESV)

Then the lawyer asked Jesus to define "neighbor" in order to "justify himself." (See verse 29.) Jesus answered in a parable, the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

The pastor in the sermon took the parable and told it in modern terms to show how it would've sounded to the original listeners. The Samaritan in the story represents the person we think of as being as far from God as possible. For example, a drug dealing murderer.

So, in modern terms, the parable would go something like this: A person just like you walks through the bad part of town, gets attacked, has everything stolen, and is left for dead. Blood, terrible injuries, almost dead. Along comes the drug dealing murderer, who cleans up the injured person who's just like you and takes him/her to the hospital. The drug dealing murderer pays all the hospital bills and offers to pay for all of the bills to heal the person who's just like you. The sermon suggests that there's an idea of ongoing costs in the original language. Since the injured person is nearly dead, the sermon points out that there would likely be lots and lots of ongoing costs and needs, which the drug-dealing murderer has agreed to take on.

And this is what it means to love one's neighbor: To go to great, costly, messy, personal lengths to love people.

At this point in the sermon, I was feeling completely inadequate. After all, as Christians, we're told to be like the Good Samaritan. Maybe that's how the lawyer felt as he listened to Jesus tell the original version of the parable, too. How could I ever do all this for one person, let alone all the hurting people I come across?

Yet that was only part of what what Christ said in answer to the lawyer's question of what he must do to "inherit eternal life." Remember, Jesus also said to love God with all one's heart, soul, mind, and body. If loving my neighbor is intimidating, dare I even ask what it would look like to love God so completely... so perfectly?

But as inadequate as I felt, I was leery about what answer the pastor would prescribe to solve my problem. Would he just tell me to try harder, to volunteer more? That wouldn't solve my problem. After all, I was doing worse than the drug dealing murderer.

Then the pastor suggested that that was the point: In our sin, we are further from God than the worst person we can think of. We're doomed. We can never do enough to inherit eternal life.

That's when the pastor flipped the sermon on its head by equating Jesus with the Good Samaritan and us with the person who was beat to a pulp and is lying helplessly beside the road. As Christians, Jesus saw us in our completely ugly, doomed state and had compassion on us. He picked us up and saved us and agreed to do whatever it took for however long it took to heal us from our ongoing sin and failings.

The only thing we must do to inherit eternal life is believe. In John 6:29, Jesus says, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." (ESV)

Wow. Thank you, Jesus.

And that gratitude, that understanding of how indebted I am to Jesus, should make me more compassionate toward others. It should help me to want to be more like the Good Samaritan. Not that my efforts to do so will ever be good enough earn me anything--especially not eternal life. But my thankfulness should still motivate me to do better.

After listening to the sermon, I got to wondering why it is that Jesus didn't tell the lawyer about belief. Why not explain that the lawyer couldn't do anything and that he simply had to acknowledge that, repent, and believe in Jesus?

After revisiting the text, I think it's because the lawyer's heart was so far from the truth. He was trying to test Jesus and justify himself. He seemed to think that he did love God with every fiber of his being without realizing the depth of meaning behind what it is to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind.  Without learning how far off he was, he would never admit that he needed a savior. Once he got to that point, Jesus's teachings would be there for him. Just like he's there for you and me.

Your Sister

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