So You Want to be a Good Samaritan?
At the 1992 synodical youth gathering, the text for the big, festival service was the Good Samaritan. In place of the sermon, they had a chancel drama based on the text. The mini-play ended with two of the readers walking out through the congregation saying, "Go and do likewise; Go and do likewise." Friends, if the message of this parable is really "go and do likewise," there is no reason to have a sermon or a chancel drama on it. Just read the text. The message "go and do likewise" is perfectly clear without any additional preaching or teaching.
But the message "go and do likewise" only puts us back to where the lawyer began. It puts us back to wondering what must we do to be saved? Do we have to help this person or that person? Can we pass by someone in need in such a such circumstance? But Jesus didn't tell this parable so the expert in the law would at last know who his neighbor was. Jesus didn't speak this parable so this Jewish legal expert would go out and find helpless, bleeding people and help them. Jesus spoke this parable to stop the lawyer from trying to justify himself. Jesus spoke this parable to save him, and us, not to recruit us as roadside rescue workers! However, we can't see this until the parable does to us what it was suppose to do to the lawyer.
So you want to be a Good Samaritan? That's a fine, noble, pious goal! But before you start cruising the highways looking for people in need, ask yourself how are you doing with those closer to home? How are you at helping those you know and love? Don't you find that, just like the priest and Levite, you pass by the needs of your loved ones? How many wives are wounded and hurt while their fine Christian husbands pretend not to notice? How many husbands are beat up and bruised from life while their wives conclude they'll get over it? How many children sit around in a self-centered state not caring if they inflict wounds on their parents or not?
Good Samaritans? Hah! We aren't even good husbands, good wives, or good children! Before you get all worked up about helping that stranded motorist or that homeless family, or that dirty derelict, turn your eyes toward your own family! You'll find that you've been ignoring enough needs to keep you plenty busy
And before you start thinking you're able to pay for someone's lodging or stop your day to help a hitchhiker, consider the little things you won't do now. Do you think we who won't give a dollar to help the elderly with their utility bill are going to pay a homeless person's hotel bill? Do you think we, I'm including myself notice, who won't give the guy by the side of the road a dollar, will give a homeless person carte blanche at a restaurant like the Good Samaritan did? Do you really think that we who don't want to risk getting the dirt of a derelict on us are going to risk our lives to help a bloody stranger by the side of the road who has just been robbed?
Get real people! We act like Levites and priests in even the little ways we could help our neighbor. What chance do we have of doing something big for them? In fact, isn't it true that we actually do more to hurt than we do to help our neighbor? Don't we actually act more like bad robbers than we do Good Samaritans? According to the explanation of the 7th Commandment, anyone who doesn't help his neighbor to improve and protect his property and business is a robber! Anyone who doesn't offer his services to help his neighbor keep his property is a thief! Yet how many blaring car or house alarms do we pass by not caring? How many times have we knowingly let our neighbor's property suffer? Fact is we are not Good Samaritans; we aren't even fair Samaritans. We are bad robbers. We may not wound or beat people with out fists, but we have harmed them by not acting. We may not rob people of money and clothes, but we've robbed them of their dignity and humiliated them with words no less than if we had left them naked!
There is no chance of us ever being Good Samaritans. "Go and do likewise" is a death sentence. We can't go and do like the Good Samaritan because we are too busy doing like the Levite, the priest, and even the robbers. Besides, being a Good Samaritan, is not even good enough. Really what is required here is being the BEST Samaritan.
The ordinary Samaritan was no better than you and I. The ordinary Samaritan hated the Jews as much as the Jews hated the Samaritans. So this is no ordinary Samaritan who does what the priest and Levite did not. No ordinary Samaritan, not even a good one, would have stopped to bandage the wounds of a stranger lying by the road. Even a better Samaritan wouldn't have put a wounded stranger on his own donkey and led him to safety. Only the best Samaritan would have done these things. Only the best Samaritan would've taken him to an inn, cared for him all night, and then promised to pay all of his bills!
Don't believe me? Still think what the so called Good Samaritan did is within your reach? Look at the risk this man incurs in order to help a total stranger. The Samaritan is on a journey; he's traveling. He's not merely commuting between Jerusalem and Jericho like the other two. He's on a road trip. He certainly has more possessions with him than the two commuters do. In fact, the Samaritan himself is a ripe target for robbery. Not only is he loaded, but he is a Samaritan passing through Jewish lands. Robbers may be inclined to let a priest and a Levite go, but they would only be too glad to attack a Samaritan. Furthermore, it was a robber's ploy to have one of them pose as wounded just so they could attack someone who stopped. Robbers use such tricks today. In fact we call them "Good Samaritan" crimes. Hasn't the risk of helping a broken down motorist on a lonely road stopped you from lending aid? Yet, we think we can be as good as this Samaritan.
And what about the risk this Samaritan takes by bringing a wounded Jew to an inn? So you can appreciate the risk let me but it in American terms. Imagine a Cherokee Indian in 1875 riding into town with a wounded cowboy full of arrows and checking him into the local hotel. How do you think the townspeople might react? Might not they blame the Indian for the cowboy's wounds?
But this Samaritan takes such an incredible risk, and he spends an incredible amount of money doing so. Forget the time he loses; forget the oil he uses to soften the wounds; forget the wine he wastes to cleanse them. He gives the innkeeper 2 sliver coins which we know from the Greek are denari. He gives the innkeeper the equivalent of 2 days wages. Don't think that's very much? We know in Italy, 100 years after Jesus told this parable, lodging and food cost 1/32 of a denari per day. That means the Samaritan paid in advance for the wounded man to stay in the inn at least 2 months. Then he said, "Whatever else the wounded man spends, I'll pay for it." In effect, the Samaritan you call "good" but I call "best" slaps his Visa Platinum down on the hotel counter and says, "Charge his expenses to me."
This can't be any ordinary "good" Samaritan; this can only be the Best there ever was. Do you really think any of us, even on our very best day, can "go and do likewise?" Are you going to give your MasterCard to the guy standing by Mopac claiming he'll work for food? Will you go into East Austin to help those beaten and robbed there daily?
Who among us would be so crazy as to do these things? Yet this is exactly what Christ Jesus did for you. Christ found you beaten, stripped, and robbed of everything godly and decent. He found us pummeled by our sins and bruised by our iniquities. He found us as poor miserable sinners who were not only complete strangers to Him but total enemies. Christ came to our aid though we were ungodly sinners who deserved to be beaten, stripped and left for damned.
To rescue us, however, somebody had to pay for our sins; somebody had to be stripped, beaten, robbed, and left for dead in our place. That Somebody, was Jesus, God's only Son. Christ said, "What's ever on their accounts, I will pay." So "robbed" of all His godly glory, Jesus suffered the beatings you deserve at the hands of a wrathful God. By the beatings Jesus got, we are made whole. As Isaiah says, "By His stripes, we are healed." What the Best Samaritan did in the parable is parallel to what the Best Son of God did for us in reality. Surely, therefore, the Church was right in Her first 300 years to identify the Samaritan as none other than Jesus!
The parable itself leads us to this conclusion. It says the Samaritan "took pity" on the wounded man. The Greek word translated "took pity" is used only in the Gospels for Jesus. 9 times it's used specifically of Him. 3 other times it's used in parables. Here of the Good Samaritan. In Matthew 18 it's used of the forgiving king. In Luke 15 it's used of the father of the prodigal son. All 3 of these characters are Christ-figures showing compassion on those who don't deserve it.
Even Jesus' enemies called Him a Samaritan. In John 8 they say, "Do we not say rightly that you are a Samaritan." They mean this as an insult, but it fits the parable. As the Jews listened to the parable, when they hear that a Samaritan is coming down the road, they gasped. To them this meant the wounded man was a goner. If the priest and the Levite wouldn't help, what would this hated Samaritan do? Jesus, to them, was no better than a hated Samaritan. The Jews were not looking to Jesus for help, but they should've been. They were as mistaken about Jesus as they were about the Samaritan.
Jesus alone saves and heals helpless enemies. That's the point of this parable, but you will miss it if you insist on looking at it like the lawyer did. If you are self-righteous, like the text says he was; if you only want to put Jesus to the test, like the text says he did; and if you are trying to justify the wrongs you do, like he was trying to, then hear the parable as he did. Hear that you are to go and do like the Good Samaritan did. However, if you realize that you fail not only at being a Good Samaritan but even at being a fair one, then hear this parable from the point of view of the wounded man.
You've been ministered to by the Best Samaritan. He has poured the cool waters of Baptism over your failures, and has soothed your wounds with His Body and Blood in Communion. And Christ Jesus has not left you out there on life's highway all alone. He has carried you on His bloody back and checked you into the inn of the Holy Christian Church saying, "Whatever he or she needs is on Me; I will pay all the expenses when I return." So here we are left to wallow in God's grace, safe within the Church until Christ returns for us on the Last Day.
Friends, the message for sinners in this parable is what the Best Samaritan did and still does for us, not what we should do for others. Rather than that youth chancel drama ending with "go and do likewise" being repeated, it should have ended with, "Jesus came and did likewise for you; Jesus came and did likewise for you." Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost VIII (7-29-01), Luke 10:25-37