The Parable of the Good Samaritan, found in Luke 10:25-37, isn’t primarily about what we need to do. If it were, given how far short of this standard of love that we usually fall, we would all be in trouble. No, more than anything the parable is about what Christ has done for us. He is our Good Samaritan, and he continues to be.
Sermon Text: Luke 10:25-37
When you get to know me, you’ll learn that my all-time favorite TV show is The Office. And one of my favorite episodes on this, my all-time favorite TV show, is episode 14 of season five, entitled “Stress Relief.” And it’s great in part because of the “CPR Training” scene. You can google it and watch it on YouTube. In this scene, an instructor from the Red Cross is teaching the office employees how to do CPR—using one of those CPR dummies to demonstrate techniques for chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. And Michael Scott, the boss of the office, is the first volunteer to practice CPR on the dummy.
At first, he’s doing chest compressions too quickly. So the instructor tells him that one rule of thumb is to do the compressions to the beat of “Stayin’ Alive,” by the Bee Gees. So Michael is singing, “Ah-ah-ah-ah, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive” [mimic compressions]” And Andy, another office worker, starts singing the verse. And Kelly jumps up and starts dancing. Pretty soon, everyone in the conference room is singing and dancing… and then Michael stops doing compressions and joins them—oblivious to the fact that if this were an actual human being, he or she would now be dead.
It’s funny… And helpful! Because earlier this year, this episode literally saved someone’s life.
It happened in Tuscon, Arizona. A young man named Cross Scott was working at a tire shop. He had replaced and balanced tires on a vehicle and was taking it out for a test drive. He noticed a sedan on the side of the road with its hazard lights on. He stopped to see if he could help. He came close and saw a woman slumped over in the front seat, unconscious. The doors were locked. So he broke open the window with a rock, checked for a pulse—no pulse. She wasn’t breathing. He called 9-1-1 and started administering CPR.
The only thing is… he’d never been trained to do CPR. But he did watch The Office. So he did chest compressions while singing “Stayin’ Alive”! About a minute into it, the woman came to! The paramedics arrived, took her to the hospital. And she’s fine! One paramedic interviewed for the story said that the man’s heroic intervention probably saved the woman’s life.
We have a name for people like this who go out of their way to rescue or save someone else. We call them “good Samaritans,” and they are true heroes. But… I would argue that most people we call good Samaritans don’t come close to measuring up to the actual Good Samaritan that Jesus describes in today’s scripture.
For instance, by stopping to help the man, the Samaritan risked his own life. This road he was on, from Jerusalem to Jericho, was notoriously dangerous, with lots bends in the road and craggy rocks that made waiting in ambush very easy. Indeed, that’s what happened to this injured victim. The Samaritan might have thought, “If they did this to him, who’s to say that I won’t be their next victim? Who’s to say they’re not still here, waiting for someone to stop!” But the Samaritan sacrifices his safety—and potentially his life—in order to stop and help. And then notice what he does: He cleans and bandages the mans wounds, and puts him on his donkey or horse and takes him to an inn. He cares for him until the next morning—and promises to come back later. So he sacrifices a lot of time and convenience!
Finally, he gives the innkeeper two denarii—two day’s wages—and asks him to continue to nurse the man. If the innkeeper needs more money than that, he’ll take care of the bill when he returns. Innkeepers were often shady characters, so he was almost certainly going to have to pay more. So the Samaritan sacrifices an enormous amount of money—and for what? A Jew—a hated enemy. His fellow Samaritans would judge his actions harshly. So he even risks his reputation.
By contrast, consider that modern-day good Samaritan I mentioned earlier—the fan of The Office: When he stopped to help, he didn’t put his life in danger. It probably cost him no more than ten minutes of his time. It didn’t cost him anything, financially. And far from ruining his reputation, he got written up in the Washington Post, among other news outlets!
And I’m not suggesting for a moment that this man wasn’t a hero! I’m only saying that what he did falls far short of what the Good Samaritan does. Moreover, Jesus suggests that this costly, risky, sacrificial kind of love, which the Good Samaritan demonstrates so beautifully, should characterize everything we do… We should love everyone we meet in this same way! This is what true “neighbor love” looks like.
So how are we doing at it? How many times, for example, have I passed homeless people on the street without offering help? How often have I judged poor people as “not worthy” of my help? How often am I afraid to help—out of fear for my safety. And if I’m in a hurry or it’s inconvenient for me, forget about it! So I’m not the good Samaritan!
To make matters worse, look at verse 25: Jesus shares the parable in the first place because this lawyer—an expert in the Law of Moses—asks him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
What must I do to inherit eternal life? Is Jesus saying that unless I do the things that the Good Samaritan does, I cannot be saved? Gulp! Is anyone besides me feeling nervous right now?
I’ve heard plenty of preachers use this parable to say, “You need to love the same way the Good Samaritan loves,” which is bad enough. But they never say, “You need to love this way… or else face God’s judgment and wrath!”
So for the sake of our souls we better figure out what this parable means!
First, we’re told in verse 25 that the lawyer is “testing” Jesus. Why? Because he doesn’t like what Jesus has been teaching. He doesn’t like, for example, what we saw Jesus do in last week’s scripture: Jesus tells the deeply pious, perfectly respectable Pharisee that there is something so deeply wrong with him that only Jesus can fix him. And he tells this notoriously sinful woman—a prostitute, no less!—that there’s nothing wrong with her that Jesus can’t fix if she turns to him in faith. To the one he says, “You’re more sinful than you can possibly imagine.” To the other he says, “God loves you more than you can possibly imagine.”
Surely if the lawyer were privy to that encounter with Simon the Pharisee and the sinful woman in last week’s scripture he would be indignant. He would tell Jesus, “There’s nothing wrong with me! I’m doing O.K. just the way I am! There’s something wrong with you, Jesus, and your crazy theology, but I’m doing just fine the way I am!” So this lawyer has come to prove to Jesus that he’s right and Jesus is wrong.
And this is why he asks the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
And immediately, there’s a problem with the way he frames the question: what must I do to inherit… Normally, when we think of inheriting something, it’s not a matter of what we do. For example, I was adopted when I was a baby into Kit and Alton White’s family. I did nothing to deserve that, or to earn that, or to prove myself worthy of that. Being adopted never seemed like a big deal to me until I was in the fourth grade, and I got into a fistfight with some kids who were teasing me about being adopted. And, yes, I got beat up… but I was outnumbered! Anyway, my parents found out about it—and it became this big, embarrassing incident at the school. The principal got involved. And I just wanted people to stop talking about it—and me!
But my parents wanted to make sure I was O.K. with being adopted. So they said, “Brent, because you’re adopted, you’re extra special—even more special than if we had had you naturally—because, after all, we chose you. We didn’t have to have you; we chose you.”
I know they meant well, but even as a nine-year-old kid I was skeptical: I didn’t imagine, for example, that my parents went to the hospital, had a nurse rolled out a bunch of babies in bassinets, and say to my parents: “Please pick your favorite baby out of this lot. Please pick the best-looking baby, the most athletic, the most gifted.” My only perceptible talent at that time was this uncanny ability to spit up on my parent’s finest clothing!
My point is, I didn’t do anything to become part of this family; I didn’t do anything to receive my inheritance. I was “written into the will” immediately upon adoption, and nothing I ever did—even being a teenager—was going to change the fact that I had an inheritance; I was part of this family! It was all a gift of grace!
Yet this lawyer wants to know what he must do to become part of God’s family.
So he’s asking the wrong question. It’s like asking, “When did you stop beating your wife?” There’s no good answer to that question because it’s the wrong question!
But Jesus answers this question with a question: “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” And the lawyer responds by quoting the two verses that summarized the Ten Commandments—which, indeed, summarized all 613 laws in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself. Do this, Jesus says, and you will live… Like “doing this” is easy!
So no wonder the lawyer got nervous! He knew he was already failing to love plenty of people: He didn’t love the prostitute we met in last week’s scripture. He didn’t love Samaritans. For that matter, neither did Jesus’ own disciples. Just a couple chapters earlier, Jesus and his disciples come to a Samaritan village, which refuses to welcome them. And James and John, two of Jesus’ closest disciples, encourage Jesus to wipe out the village with “heavenly Napalm.” “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and
?” And I’m sure that the other disciples were like, “Yep. Sounds like a perfectly reasonable plan to me! Why don’t we do that, Jesus?”
So let’s give the lawyer a little credit: He knows he’s not coming close to loving the way Jesus loves. Is Jesus saying that heaven or hell depend on his willingness and ability to love that way? “So, Jesus, what’s the bare minimum that I have to do? How can I pass this class with a “C,” or even a “D”? Who exactly is my neighbor?”
Some of you may recall that back in 1976, the then-Gov. Jimmy Carter got into trouble for granting an interview to Playboy magazine. It’s quaint to imagine that that counted as scandalous behavior back then. But he especially got into trouble when he was asked whether or not he’d ever committed adultery. What did he say? He said, “Only in my heart.” “I’ve only committed adultery in my heart.” Where did the idea of “adultery in the heart” come from? It came from the lips of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, who said that if you lust it’s as if you’ve already committed adultery in your heart. Likewise Jesus said that if you get angry with your brother, it’s as if you’ve murdered him in your heart!
Time and again, Jesus says, our problem isn’t so much what we do; it’s why we do it; it’s what motivates us. In other words, it’s what’s in here—in our hearts!
And Jesus makes that same point in this parable.
But maybe you don’t believe me…? Then let me prove it to you. Look at the parable with me again… What’s the main difference between the priest and Levite, on the one hand, and the Samaritan, on the other? Is the main difference that the priest and Levite don’t stop and help? Look at verse 33: Jesus doesn’t say, “When the Samaritan saw him, he stopped and helped.” It says, “and when [the Samaritan] saw him, he had compassion.” He had compassion. That’s the first and most important thing. The Samaritan’s loving actions were motivated by compassion—by something that was in his heart. If that didn’t happen first, he wouldn’t have stopped to help! You can’t fake compassion. Either you have it or you don’t! But Jesus is saying that we should have it—and that reflects what’s in our hearts, not anything that we do!
What Jesus wants this lawyer—and the rest of us—to see is that our problem is not with what we do or fail to do; our problem is who we are. In other words, we have a problem with our hearts! That’s where a change needs to happen! And that kind of change is impossible—at least without divine intervention; without God working some kind of miracle in here!
If only this lawyer understood Jesus’ point! If only he had seen how enormous, how profound, his spiritual problem really was! Then he would have fallen at Jesus’ feet and begged him for mercy! “Save me, Lord Jesus! I now see how badly I fail to measure up to God’s standard of perfect, costly, sacrificial love. As a matter of pride I thought I could make myself righteous. I judged my neighbor for the speck of dirt in his eye, all the while ignoring the log sticking out of my own! I now see how utterly helpless, how lost, how powerless I am! I’m no better than any prostitute, or tax collector, or Samaritan. I might even be worse! I now see that I’m a dead man walking. I deserve judgment, I deserve hell, I deserve wrath! Please help me because I can’t help myself! I give up! I surrender!”
What Jesus wanted the lawyer to see—indeed, what he wants all of us to see—is that we are injured victim lying half-dead on the side of the road.
We’re as good as dead, unless someone comes by who will rescue us, care for us, heal us—at great personal cost, even to the point of death.
The good news is this: Jesus is our Good Samaritan. He saw that we were dying in our sins, and he had compassion on us. Even though, as the Bible says, our sins had made us enemies of God. See Romans 5:10. God loved us in spite of that. He had compassion. And out of this great love, he came into this world to rescue us. Just as the Good Samaritan was willing to pay whatever it cost to save this dying man who was his enemy, so Jesus was willing to pay whatever it cost to save sinners like you and me—even though it cost him everything, even sacrificing his life on the cross.
So maybe you’re thinking, “O.K., Pastor Brent, but I’m already saved! I’ve been a Christian, in some cases, for 30, 40, 50 years or more. What does this have to do with me?”
It has everything to do with you! See, I’ll bet there’s something in your life that you’re struggling with right now. Something that you’re worried about. Something that you’re stressed out about. Something that’s making you angry. Something that’s making you sad or lonely or depressed. Something you’re addicted to. Something over which you feel helpless, or out of control, or without hope.
And you think you just have to live with it? Just grin and bear it. This is just the way things are going to be. Nothing I can do about it.
Are you kidding? If Jesus your Good Samaritan wanted to rescue you when you were still dead in your sins—when your sins made you his enemy, when you were rebelling against Christ the King, when you were committing treason against him and his loving rule in a million different ways—if he sacrificed everything to save you back then, what do you think he wants to do for you now?
[Ephesians 6:11-12; “He that is in you is greater than he who is in the world,” 1 John 4:4]
I’ll tell you: He wants to show you his favor! He wants to bless you! He wants to protect you and defend you; he wants to make you strong with his strength; he wants to heal you; he wants to give you everything you need to be happy and fulfilled; he wants to show you his power. He wants to fill you with his Spirit. He wants to work supernaturally in your life. He wants to work miracles! He wants you to be “more than a conqueror”! He doesn’t want you to walk around feeling defeated any longer! Do you believe it?
He’s got the power to change you! To change your circumstances! To change your heart! Do you believe it?
If so, will you pray this prayer? “Lord Jesus, you’re my Good Samaritan. I can’t fix this problem. Like the lawyer in today’s scripture, I’ve been trying to do it on my own—by my own strength, my own power. But I confess I can’t. I’m weak and powerless without you. But I believe you have all the power I need! So I surrender, Lord! Take control. Heal me! Amen.”
1. Luke 9:54 ESV
2. Matthew 5:28
3. Romans 8:37