Luke 10: 25-37
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 neighbour 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 neighbour?”
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 neighbour 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.”
When Jesus wanted to shift someone’s perspective, he told a parable. Parables aren’t neat moral stories or easy to understand illustrations. They are cryptic, on purpose. One of the reasons Jesus told parables was because the truth he was proclaiming was controversial – to the point of being dangerous. He was warning people: the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom you’ve all been waiting for, is here. And, I’m the King. It wasn’t the kind of Kingdom people were expecting. That’s why Jesus told parables – to paint a picture of Kingdom which was radically different to the expectations of his audience. With this paradigm in mind, let’s take a look at the famous story of the Good Samaritan.
A man, a goody-two-shoes of sorts, asks Jesus a question. He wants to know how to get eternal life – that is, how to be a part of God’s kingdom. Jesus asks him what the Law requires. The man knows the Law well. He replies, without missing a beat, ‘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 neighbour as yourself’. But, he isn’t satisfied just yet. Like any decent goody-two-shoes, he wants to be totally sure that he’s doing all the right things. He asks for a clearer definition, ‘who is my neighbour?’ He’s asking: who do I have to love?
The kind of Kingdom of God this man was expecting was probably one with pretty clear boundary lines. Certain people were in – the righteous, the religious, the good. And certain people were out – the sinner, the impure, the non-Jewish. These kind of divisions were probably in his mind as he asked, ‘Who is my neighbour?’.
Jesus flips these ideas on their head. Like most stories, the Good Samaritan has three main character roles.
The ‘bad’ guys.
The ‘good’ guys.
The actual characters who fill these roles are:
A Samaritan. This was a group of people hated by most Jews. This group represented everyone on the other side of the Kingdom-of-God-fence. Impure, sinful, non-Jewish (at least, not properly Jewish).
‘A man’. An ordinary guy, possibly someone a bit like the man who asked Jesus the question.
A group of robbers.
Two religious leaders. These people were definitely on the right side of the fence – good and righteous through and through.
In the story, the ordinary man gets beaten up by the robbers and left to die on the side of the road. Two religious leaders walk past – and can’t be bothered to help. They don’t want to get their hands dirty. After all, anyone who has gotten themselves in that kind of mess isn’t worth their time of day. Then, the Samaritan – the ‘baddie’ – walks by. He stops. He helps. He goes above and beyond.
The crowd listening to Jesus must have been surprised. All the normal narrative categories were mixed up. The ‘good guys’ – the religious leaders – are acting like ‘bad’ guys. The ‘bad’ guy – the Samaritan – is clearly the hero of the story. And, the ordinary guy? The one who seems a lot like the man who asked Jesus the question? Well, he’s the victim in the story. He needs help. He needs help from the ‘baddie’. The Samaritan shows him mercy – and saves his life.
The man asked Jesus, ‘who is my neighbour?’. Jesus tells him this surprising story in response. And then, he doesn’t even answer his question. Instead, he asks one of his own, ‘Who was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’. Instead of categorising who we are obligated to love, the story answers a different question: what does love look like? The answer was uncomfortable but blindingly obvious. Love looks like the Samaritan. When Jesus asks his listener to identify who acted in neighbourly love toward the victim in the story, the man answers, ‘’The one who had mercy on him’’. The Samaritan was the real neighbour. And, Jesus says, he is the example to follow, ‘Go and do likewise’.
Parables are cryptic and complex. They’re not simple explanations. They are beautiful, expectation-flipping stories about what Jesus’ Kingdom is like. What can we learn about Jesus’ Kingdom from the parable of the Good Samaritan?
Jesus’ Kingdom is one where fences are knocked down. The ‘baddies’ are not locked out. The ‘goodies’ are not automatically welcomed, merely because of their religious or social status.
In Jesus’ Kingdom, love looks like mercy. Being a neighbour means giving a helping hand – even when it is uncomfortable, inconvenient and even dangerous. The Samaritan goes to great lengths to show love to someone who would have been considered a cultural enemy. That’s what being a neighbour looks like, in Jesus’ Kingdom.
In Jesus’ Kingdom, it’s not about ‘who do I have to love?’ – it’s about ‘Who can I love?’. The man wanted to make sure he was following the Law. Jesus has fulfilled the law perfectly, which means we don’t need to. But, he calls us to follow him – above and beyond the Law. The Samaritan didn’t ask, ‘Do I need to love this man? Is it my duty?’. He wasn’t thinking Law, he was thinking generous mercy.
The Good Samaritan parable is set on Jericho Road. That’s where we got our name. And, when you take a look at this parable – we hope you see why. We want to see Jesus’ Kingdom enacted here and now. As we look forward to its final fulfilment, we want to live according to the Way of the Kingdom which Jesus established. That looks like Samaritan-love. It looks like knocking fences down and asking, ‘Who can we love?’. It looks like generous mercy. Thanks for walking along Jericho Road with us, as we follow our King.