The main message of the story is pretty clear. The Jews believed that you were supposed to be kind and neighborly to other Jews. People who were not Jews did not need to be treated with kindness or respect. Jesus sought to expand their understanding without having to fight through their prejudice. That’s why he tells this story.
A man was on the 19 mile road between Jerusalem and Jericho. This is a road that goes through many hills and crevices and is notorious for being the home of robbers. The man fell victim to assault along that road and was left for dead.
A Priest came walking along the road. He saw the man that had been assaulted, and moved over to the other side of the road and walked on by. A Levite (a man who worked at the temple assisting the priests) also came along. He saw the man on the side of the road and also did nothing to help the man. Next a Samaritan came down the road. (The Jewish people hated the Samaritans. Samaritans were descendents of Jews who had intermarried with non-Jews during a time of occupation. As a result these people were viewed by traditional Jews as traitors, half-breeds, and counterfeit Jews.) But in the story of Jesus the Samaritan who was walking down the road stopped, cared for the man who had been brutalized, put him on his donkey, and brought him to an Inn where he could be taken care of. He paid for his care and established a line of credit to make sure he was well cared for.
Now, Jesus looked at the teacher of the Law who had been listening to the story, “Who do you think was the better neighbor?” The man had no choice but to say, “The one who showed mercy”. This expert in the law could not bear to even say the name “Samaritan”. It would be the equivalent of Jew making a Palestinian the hero in a story.
The main point of this parable is that our neighbor is not just the person who lives closest to us. Our neighbor, by God’s definition, is any person who is in need.
TRUE COMPASSION IS ACTIVE AND NOT PASSIVE
If you could ask the priest and the Levite why they didn’t care about the man who had been beaten, I’m sure they would tell you that they did care. They might say that they were concerned. They might say they were worried about the man. But . . . they didn’t do anything. Jesus is making the point that true compassion is active. In the book of James we read,
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (James 2:14-18)
Compassion should lead us to prayer but not JUST to prayer. Compassion may stimulate a true concern for another person . . . but should also provoke action. Even if it is a phone call, a meal, an offer of a ride, compassion is active.
How many times have we seen a need and done nothing? How many times have we
· Ignored a tear in someone’s eye?
· Walked away when another was talking?
· Raced by when we saw someone stranded on the road?
· Resisted visiting someone who was sick and dying?
· Refused to help when we had it within our means to do so?
The parable of the Good Samaritan should make us a little uncomfortable too.
CARING IS INCONVIENIENT
Do you wonder what was going on in the head of the Priest and the Levite in the story? I think both of them were “too busy”. They had other things to do. If they were on their way TO Jerusalem they were probably going to serve their assignment at the temple. This was an honor. If they got involved with this man and he was dead or died while they were there, they would be defiled for seven days and unable to serve at the temple. If they were coming FROM Jerusalem they were eager to get home to their families.
It’s certain that people won’t be in need when it is convenient. You will always be going somewhere, rushing to something, A crisis will come in the middle of the night at a time when you really need a good night’s sleep. I really think these times are tests of our faith. They are opportunities for us to show what is really important in our lives. If you are like me, you often fail the test. We make excuses instead of making time.
CARING CAN BE COSTLY
One more thing we need to state quite honestly. If we are going to care for someone it could be costly. Look at the cost for the Samaritan to get involved.
· There was a risk that he would be viewed as the assailant
· There was the risk that this man was a decoy and he would be robbed
· There was the risk that the robbers were still in the area
· There was the cost of time
· There was the cost of the oil and wine
· There was the cost of the hotel
The compassionate person may pay an emotional price as well. It is hard to go through times sharing the burdens of others. Doctors, nurses, Social workers, Counselors, teachers often carry a heavy load. It is difficult to really care about others because it affects you emotionally. Let me quote Swindoll again,
Compassionate people are often hard to understand. They take risks most people would never take. They give away what most would cling to. They reach out and touch when most would hold back with folded arms. They don’t usually operate on the basis of human logic or care very much about rules of safety. Their caring bring them up close where they feel the other person’s pain and do whatever is necessary to demonstrate true concern. An arm’s length “be warmed and be filled” comment won’t cut it. [Swindoll. P. 50]
But there is also a payoff. There is nothing more satisfying or gives a greater sense of fulfillment than to help another person. There is nothing that solidifies a friendship like going through hard times together. The hard times show us what we are made of and show us who we can count on. Yes, it may be costly to care, but it is a price worth paying.
Let me make several points in conclusion. First, this parable will make everyone uncomfortable. We can all care more than we do. This parable like most, should make us aware of our need for forgiveness and grace. Please understand that Jesus never intended to tell the man that if he was more caring he could earn his way to Heaven. (Remember the original question was, “What must I do to gain eternal life?”) Jesus was trying to show the man that the whole notion of earning heaven was foolish. The standard is a devotion and love that we do not possess.
But even as I say that don’t conclude that grace sets us free from the need to be compassionate. The New Testament is filled with commands to love one another, to bear each other’s burdens, and to be compassionate toward one another. God still wants us to be loving and caring, but now He wants us to do so because we represent Him and are empowered by Him.
Second, we should take some practical steps to be more caring. What should we do?We need to slow down. We are so busy that we don’t have time for each other. We need to learn to listen better. This is something I want to be better at in my life. I love to talk and I need to learn to listen. We need to hear what is said and what is left unsaid. We need to listen with our ears, our eyes, and our hearts. We need to learn to forget our agenda and to pay attention to someone else. Sometimes all someone needs is someone who will take the time to listen. Sometimes we don’t have to say anything.We can get out a Bible concordance or find a list of all the “one another” passages and study them. It’s important that we remind ourselves that we do not exist as an island. We depend on each other for our life and our joy. Here’s a few of the passages you can begin studying:
· John 13:34 Love one another
· Romans 12:10 Be devoted to one another
· Romans 14:13 Stop Passing Judgment on one another
· Romans 15:7 Accept one another
· Ephesian 4:2 Bear with one another
· Ephesians 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another
· Colossians 3:13 Forgive one another
· 1 Thessalonians 5:11 Encourage one another
· 1 Peter 4:9 Offer hospitality to one anotherWe need to be on the forefront of the battle against prejudice of all sorts. When someone is diminished because of their race, gender, income level, appearance, reputation, we should be there to stand with that person. We should stand up for them as an act of love and compassion. We know better. We know God looks past these superficial measures. We know God cares even about those the world rejects.
I must confess that I’ve been convicted. It’s so much easier to talk about compassion than to extend it. It is easy to hide behind “all I have to do” and “how tired I am” or any number of other excuses. I know I can do better. And I suspect you can as well.
None of us can care for everyone. In fact, it’s hard to care at all. It is draining. We need help. Compassion and prayer go hand in hand. I think this is why Jesus prayed as much as He did. He loved being with the Father, but also knew He needed the Lord’s strength and the heart of compassion that only the Lord could give. Jesus knew that if he didn’t spend time in prayer He could easily be too concerned with building monuments than touching lives. He could become more concerned with being famous than being faithful. He might become more concerned about organization, programs and methods than people and their needs. So He prayed. He spent time with the Father to remind Himself why He was here and to get the strength He needed for the job that needed to be done. If we want to be compassionate people and be considered good neighbors by those around us then we would be wise to follow our Lord’s example.