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.”
The road to Jericho was known as “the bloody way”. One man found out just how dangerous the road was - robbers stripped him, beat him and left him half dead. He was a Jew. A priest and a Levite soon came along and saw him, one of their own, and each passed by on the other side of the road. They didn't want to get involved in the man's needs. In passing by the man they both passed by the clear teaching of the Bible to have mercy on even strangers in need (Leviticus 19:34). They appear to have put their schedule above their purpose.
A Samaritan appears. Samaritans and Jews were bitter enemies. All of the Samaritan’s training and experience should have led him to step on the poor victim not just step around him. Nevertheless, against all comprehension, the Samaritan "took pity on him." His compassion was full-bodied, leading him to meet a variety of needs - friendship, emergency medical treatment, transport, financial subsidy for accommodation, and a follow-up visit.
This parable is provocative. Jesus attacks the complacency of comfortable religious people who protect themselves from the needs of others. In the very last phrase we have nothing less than an order from our Lord in the clearest of terms, "Go and do likewise." Our paradigm is the Samaritan who risked his safety, destroyed his schedule, and became dirty and bloody through personal involvement with a needy person of another race and social class.
The expert in the Law didn't deny that the poor man needed caring for - who would? - he questions whether it's his responsibility. Are we not tempted to put limits on mercy too? You could imagine the expert as a typical Westerner: doesn't charity begin at home? I'm busy! Isn't it the government's job? I barely have enough money for myself. Aren't many of the poor simply irresponsible? I can't possibly make a difference.
Bible believing Christians have avoided the radical nature of the teaching of this parable. At most, we have heard it telling us to collect tins of food
and warm clothing for the needy each Christmas and winter, or to give money to relief agencies when there is a famine or earthquake in a distant country.
It is time to listen more closely to this parable. We live on the Jericho Road. Suffering and need surrounds us. Unemployment, underemployment, new
migrants, loneliness, broken homes, domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health, the elderly, the dying, the sick, the disabled, the homeless.
These are our neighbours. Do we want to reach them with the good news of the gospel of the Lord Jesus? Then we must give our faith active expression
through deeds of compassion coupled with evangelism and discipleship. Ministry of mercy to our 'neighbour' is the responsibility of every Christian.
It is as fundamental to Christian living as evangelism, giving and worship.
It’s important to remember the context of this parable or we will easily fall into moralism. Jesus is seeking to humble us with the love God requires, so that we will be willing to receive the love God offers. Jesus' goal was to show the expert in the Law that he was desperately poor and in need. Imagine the most unsightly, smelly, decrepit homeless person, mindlessly wandering the streets in filthy rags. He has no resources at all. He has nothing to commend him. That is what we all are before God. Jesus was trying to show the self-assured, self-confident, self-justified law expert his own desperate need, and how God has mercifully met it. God has provided spiritual wealth by impoverishing his own Son. Jesus' spiritual riches and righteousness is given to those who trust him rather than themselves. The only true and enduring motivation to show mercy and meet need is an experience and a grasp of the mercy of God towards us in the gospel of the Lord Jesus. If we know that we are desperately needy sinners saved by the grace and mercy of God alone, we will be open and generous to the outcasts and the unlovely.
This issue of mercy is something that we'll be looking at a little more closely during Mission Month. It will challenge us biblically on the issue of mercy and justice - an area that evangelicals are traditionally weak in (people like me). One of our corporate goals is to raise $10 000 for Ropes Crossing Anglican Church which ministers in the Mount Druitt area of Sydney. We’ll also seek to raise a further $5000 to resource our current ministries of mercy in ESL and Grace Ministries (ministry to sex workers in Chatswood).
Mission month is not to be our only response to the Good Samaritan, it is part of the journey towards us growing as a church of love and mercy because we are growing more in our experience and grasp of God's love and mercy towards us. Those who are loved much, love much.