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4501 Waller Rd E
Tacoma, Washington
INI
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
August 17, 2008
Ascension Lutheran Church, Tacoma WA
Paul Naumann, Pastor

WHO'S WHO IN THE PARABLE OF THE GOOD SAMARITAN
Luke 10:25-37

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen. Our text for today is found in the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, beginning with the 25th verse, as follows:

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?" So he answered and said, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,' and 'your neighbor as yourself.'" And He said to him, "You have answered rightly; do this and you will live." But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Then Jesus answered and said: "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.' So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?" And he said, "He who showed mercy on him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise." So far our text.

In Christ Jesus, Who shows mercy to us and says, "Go and do likewise," Dear Fellow Redeemed,

When I was growing up there was a reference work which young students consulted often. It was called, "Who's Who." If you were doing a term paper on current events and needed to identify a prominent businessman, politician or a community leader, you could probably find it in "Who's Who." It was such an important reference, in fact, that inclusion came to be seen as a status symbol - if you got your name in "Who's Who," you were considered a success. You had arrived. I don't know if the book's around any more or not - I haven't seen a copy for a long time.

Pity, really. Because it's so important to identify people correctly. That's particularly true for us Christians, and particularly as it concerns the Bible text which I just read to you. Because many Christians have no idea who the Parable of the Good Samaritan is all about - and neither do their preachers! In fact, many preachers completely miss the point of this parable. They tell their people that, if they want to earn God's favor and assure themselves a place in heaven, they must be Good Samaritans themselves. They must love their enemies, befriend the needy, and be kind to their neighbors. But the main point of Jesus' parable lies much deeper than that. Whether or not you discover the real point of the Parable of the Good Samaritan depends on how you identify the characters of the story. Let's look more closely at that story this morning and, in the words of our theme, see if we can tell --

WHO'S WHO IN THE PARABLE OF THE GOOD SAMARITAN
I. Who is the man by the roadside?
II. Who are the priest and the Levite?
III. Who is the Good Samaritan?

When Jesus first told this parable, His immediate audience wasn't a group of believers like I have sitting in front of me right now. They were unbelieving Jews - Bible scholars, Pharisees and lawyers. Not only did they not believe in Jesus, they had a burning hatred for Him because of His claim to be the Son of God, the Savior of the world. They took every opportunity to test Him, trying to trap Him into saying something wrong.

On this occasion, it was a certain lawyer - an expert in the Old Testament Law - who thought he could outwit Jesus. Trying to look innocent, he asked Jesus, "Teacher, what good work do I need to do to get into heaven?" Instead of answering that unanswerable question, Jesus threw the ball back into his own court. "What does the Old Testament Law say about it?" The lawyer dutifully quoted from memory two passages from Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19: "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,' and '[You shall love] your neighbor as yourself.'" And Jesus quickly replied, "Good answer! That's all you have to do to get eternal life."

Imagine the stunned silence! Jesus had just dropped the whole weight of God's Law right on top of that lawyer. It was like dropping a house on a mosquito. For what human being can say he has a perfect love for God? Which of us really loves our neighbor just as much as we love ourselves? Not you or I. Not that lawyer, either. If he knew those other passages from memory, then he also knew Psalm 53: "God looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. Every one of them has turned aside; they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one." Ps 53:2-3.

It was a scorching accusation, but the lawyer thought he still might wiggle out of it. Maybe he could find an escape clause in the definition of the word, "neighbor." "He, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?'" Get it? -If he could establish that only his friends - people like him - were his "neighbors", then he still might come out of the discussion looking pretty good. But Jesus wouldn't let him slip away. He nailed him to the wall. He told the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

I won't read the parable again; most of you have heard it twenty times if you've heard it once. What I would like you to do is think about this question: who's who in the Parable of the Good Samaritan? Who do the different characters represent? Especially, where do you, yourself, fit into the story?

The account is simple, and it's one that might well have taken place in real life. Jerusalem is only three or four miles from Jericho, downhill all the way. Historians tell us that the road that stretched between them was very unsafe. Robbers and bandits would hide along the mountainous trail, waiting to ambush innocent travelers. And that's what happened to the man in the parable who, by the way, was undoubtedly Jewish. Not only did the thieves rob him and strip him of his clothing, but they beat him within an inch of his life. They left him, wounded and bleeding, half-dead along the roadside.

So who's who in this parable? Where do you and I fit into the story? If you automatically cast yourself as the Good Samaritan, I'd like you to think again. Doesn't the character of the wounded man along the roadside fit us much better? Oh, I'm sure none of you have ever physically been beaten up and left for dead along the roadside; neither have I. But look again at that man in the ditch: he's wounded and dying, in fact he's half dead already. He's powerless to help himself. His only chance for life is that someone passing by will have pity on him.

My friends, that's you and I! We were lost in the guilt of our sins. We were wounded - not by others, but by our own sinfulness. We lay there in our sins, not just dying, not just half-dead, but dead, as Paul says to the Christians in Ephesus: "You were dead in trespasses and sins." Eph 2:1. And as everyone knows, a dead man can't so much as lift a finger or bat an eyelash to help himself. We were helpless and powerless. Eternal torment stretched before us as the just reward for our sins, and we were powerless to do anything about it. Just like that man by the roadside, our only hope lay in the chance that someone happening by might help us.

Well, in the parable, several people happened by, didn't they? The first was a Jewish priest. When he saw his countryman lying there in the ditch, he didn't rush to help. No, this respectable religious man rushed to the opposite side of the road and went on quickly. The same thing with the Levite, who was another church worker.

Who do the priest and the Levite represent? Take your pick. It could be any hypocrite who hides a lack of love and mercy behind a cloak of religious pride. I think Jesus was particularly taking aim at the self-righteous lawyer of our text. But it could be anybody - anybody who sits in church on the Sabbath mouthing prayers for his neighbor, and then goes out the rest of the week and proceeds to conveniently ignore the people who need his help. This, too, could be us, couldn't it? Especially if we claim to have faith, but never show any fruits of faith. As if the name "Christian" gives us a license to ignore the needs of our neighbor! James asks, "If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?"

Did you know that there's actually an organized travel club for Good Samaritans? It's called the "Good Sam Club," and in 1966 when it started, motorists who joined had to promise that they would help fellow-travelers who had broken down along the road. The club's still there, but the pledge of course is long gone. I remember once I was traveling west on interstate 90 in South Dakota, and I happened to get behind a big Winnebago that had a "Good Sam" sticker in the back window. It had a picture of a smiling face, with a halo above it. But as I was following him, I wondered just how much of a "Good Samaritan" the driver really was. That happened to be the week of the big motorcycle rally in Sturgis and there were a lot of bikers on the road. I wondered: if one of those sketchy-looking bikers had been broken down along the road, would this "Good Sam" have pulled over to help? I doubt it. I think he'd have moved into the passing lane and stepped on the gas (just like I probably would!)

So the final question remains: who is the Good Samaritan? If the lawyer had any honesty in his nature at all, he had to see that it wasn't him. It's not me, either, and if you look within your conscience, I think you'll admit that it's not you. There is only one Person who fits the description of the Good Samaritan perfectly: JESUS CHRIST.

The Jews were the avowed enemies of the Samaritans, and yet, when that particular Samaritan saw the man by the roadside, our text says, "He had compassion on him, and went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him." The Samaritan followed through with the care, and provided everything that was needed to nurse the wounded man back to health. He did nothing less than this: he gave him back his life.

What a perfect picture of Jesus Christ! Although we were by nature God's enemies, although we would have been perfectly willing to continue in our sins and be damned, our dear Lord had compassion on us. He refused to pass by on the other side. He saw how helpless we were, so He provided everything that was needed to guarantee eternal life for us. Yes, we were dead in trespasses and sins, Paul says, " -- But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ by grace you have been saved." Eph 2:4-5. Jesus' love was so great that He willingly paid whatever it cost to bring us back to life. And my friends, that cost was a lot more than the price of a hotel room and some medicine. Unlike the Samaritan, Jesus paid with His own blood. He loved you so much that He gladly carried the burden of all your sins to the cross. And when He died on that cursed tree, all your sins died with Him. When He rose to life again on the third day, it was the triumphant proof that you, too, would one day rise to eternal life! Perhaps the most precious sentence that a Christian can hold dear in his heart is this promise of Christ: "Because I live, you shall live also." Jn 14:19.

Yes, Jesus is our Good Samaritan, and now that He has freed us from our sins, He bids us follow in His footsteps. Now that He has stopped and helped us in our misery, and nursed us back to life, let us do the same for others. As Paul said to the Galatians, And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. -- Gal. 6:9-10.In faith toward our Savior, let's help our neighbors, whoever they might be, by supplying any physical needs that lie within our power. But most of all, let's do everything we can to lead them, too, into the arms of the real Good Samaritan: Jesus Christ. In His saving name, AMEN.