Who is my neighbor? This question prompted one of the most familiar teachings of Jesus. It is not uncommon to hear a newscaster describe someone who has gone out the way to help someone else as a “Good Samaritan” (Remember the finale of Seinfeld?). This parable is familiar because it makes sense. Be nice. Do good. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Pay it forward.
But the Lawyer’s question about his neighbor was not his first question. If we want to make sense of the question about the neighbor, we need to pay attention to his prior question about salvation. Indeed, a lack of attention to the first question has sanitized this parable by turning it into a pithy little story about lending a hand.
When Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan, He was not simply encouraging us to be good citizens. He was continuing a conversation which had begun with a serious question about salvation. “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He was testing Jesus, but Jesus affirmed the answer to his question. “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” That is right. “Do this,” Jesus said, “and you will live.”
You might ask your congregation how they are doing with these commands (Actually, you might start by asking yourself the same question). Are you loving the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your strength, and all your mind? How about your neighbor? Are you loving your neighbor as much as you love yourself? Not just the people who live next door, but those who are unlike you. Those who require more than just a handout. Those who need serious and sustained help. Jesus means what He says in verse 37. Go and do like the Samaritan. Give your time, your money, and your safety to help those around you who need you. Do this, He says, and you will live.
So, let me ask it again. And you might ask your congregation again, too. Are you doing it? Are you following the Good Samaritan’s lead?
If not, Jesus says pretty clearly, you will not inherit eternal life. If you are not loving God with everything you have got, and if you are not loving your neighbor as yourself, then you will not live. You are as good as dead. You may as well be lying in the ditch beaten and bloodied and on the road to the grave.
Indeed, that is who we are. And that is how you might preach this parable.
Usually when we read the Parable of the Good Samaritan we identify with the Samaritan. Do not be like the priest. Do not be like the Levite. Be like the Samaritan. Care for those who are in need. Sacrifice your own comfort for the sake of the other. That is a good lesson. It is a lesson, unfortunately, we need to hear again and again.
But we miss the whole point of it all if we forget how this story began. It began with a question about salvation. When salvation is part of the conversation, it is not long before we find ourselves in the ditch. Let us be honest. Despite our noble intentions and sanctified efforts, we do not love God with everything. Despite our philanthropic impulses and willingness to contribute to a cause, we do not love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. We are more like the man who had been beaten than the man who stopped to help him.
If anyone is like the Samaritan, it is Jesus. Notice the verb in verse 33. The Samaritan had compassion (ἐσπλαγχνίσθη) on the man. Jeff Oschwald points out how every other use of this verb in the New Testament has God or a character representing God as its subject. Which reminds us that, before sending us to have compassion on others, Jesus has compassion on us. He is the author and only subject of true compassion. He looks at us in our sin and helplessness, and He refuses to walk on by. He comes down to us, binds up our wounds and cares for us. He paid a price—a steep price—to restore us to life. And He continues to check up on us.
The promise to proclaim from this text is the compassion of the one telling the story. Not only did He tell the Parable of the Good Samaritan. He Himself lived and lives it out. This is why we love God—because He first loved us. That is why we love our neighbor—because we have been in the ditch, too. In a very real sense, we are still there.
After proclaiming the compassionate and loving promise of God in Christ to your hearers, it would be appropriate to call them to go and do likewise. Call them to follow their Savior’s footsteps by going to the ditch, to care for those around them who are hurting, to share the love of Christ with their neighbors—especially those neighbors who are unlike us. This is what Christians do, because that is what God has done for us.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 10:25-37.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Peter Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 10:25-37.