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The Good Samaritan

There is no doubt that sometimes some of us are very self-centred, and concerned only with our own lives. Others are content to retire into a comfortable corner, shut their eyes to the miseries of others and become so absorbed in their own personal affairs that they even forget that they have any neighbours, let alone consider that they have a duty to them. Then it seems that 'look after yourself, no-one else will' is the attitude of the majority.

Jesus, on the other hand, set us a very different example. He was also an excellent teacher, and particularly fond of using parables to give added emphasis to his teaching. The word 'parable' is derived from the Greek 'parabole', which literally means 'putting things side by side', and this is what Jesus did. Parables can be regarded as a form of teaching which presents the listener with interesting illustrations from which can be drawn moral and religious truths. A parable is a somewhat protracted simile or short descriptive story with a hidden meaning. It was usually designed to teach a single truth or answer a question. Many of Jesus' parables were not used to illustrate general principles but rather they embodied messages which perhaps could not be conveyed in any other way. They were certainly an effective means of communication and through them the people could learn the gospel message. Their function was often to jolt them into seeing things in a new way. In addition, they encouraged the hearers, particularly the inquisitive and those who looked earnestly, to seek for the meaning and thus affected the person's spiritual as well as his practical development.

Even those unfamiliar with the Bible know the term 'the Good Samaritan', for it has become proverbial for someone who is always ready to lend a helping hand, particularly to those in trouble. This parable, as told by Jesus and recorded in Luke chapter 10, and the circumstances that led Jesus to use the story as an illustration, were the result of a simple and yet profound question put to him by one who is described as an expert in the law. ‘Master', he asked, 'what shall I do to inherit eternal life?'' Luke 10:25 Anyone who is disillusioned with this life, who believes that the world's problems are insoluble by man and who accepts that there is a future life, must be anxious to know the answer to this question.

Luke says that the lawyer was tempting or testing Jesus, but whether his motives were good or bad is seen by the context. Many of the questions put to Jesus were asked with a view to humiliating him, but all were always suitably answered. However, in this case, the care Jesus took in answering the lawyer indicates the importance of the question.

Jesus replied ' What is written in the law?' Luke 10:26. The man answered confidently:

'Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. Jesus replied, 'Thou hast answered right: this do and thou shall live.' Luke 10:27-28

It can be seen immediately that these two commands are all-embracing. Interestingly, on another occasion (Matt 22:36-40) when Jesus was asked what the first commandment was, he gave a similar reply to the one given by the lawyer, together with the second commandment to love your neighbour. These two encompass all Christ's teaching and if kept will bring to the doer the promised reward of eternal life — a place in God's Kingdom which is to be established here on earth when Jesus returns. But at this point the lawyer betrayed the weakness of those who concentrate on a meticulous observance of the law. He was anxious to know the exact limits of his obligations, for the meaning of 'neighbour' for the Jews was restricted to fellow Jews, ruling out non-Jews or Gentiles as undeserving of inclusion in the term.

THE STORY OF BANDITS

The record states that he wanted to justify himself; and so he asked Jesus 'And who is my neighbour?' Luke 10:29. Surprisingly enough, the parable does not introduce a next-door neighbour or a fellow countryman, but a total stranger. Jesus told a story of a man who went down the desolate road from Jerusalem to Jericho. He was set about by thieves who stripped him of his clothes, robbed him, wounded him and then left him bleeding and half-dead on the roadside Luke 10:30. This was not an unusual experience in those days. Now here was a wonderful opportunity for someone to demonstrate his obedience to the first commandment and his love for God by keeping the second commandment, and thus finding the eternal life that the lawyer sought.

The first to arrive on the scene after the incident was a priest, and he saw the man lying there. But his important service in the house of God apparently made it quite impossible for him to defile himself and he 'passed by on the other side' — another expression in use today.

Next came a Levite. He stood and looked down on the wounded man, and then he crossed to the other side as well. No doubt he reasoned that the Pharisee had ignored the man, and anyway the robbers must still be in the vicinity and he would be in danger.

But then a Samaritan came down the road. Now the Samaritans were a people originally transported by the King of Assyria to the northern Kingdom of Israel to replace the exiled native population after the fall of Samaria in BC 722. Therefore this group and its descendants were hated by the Jews and there was continual animosity between them. When the Samaritan saw the wounded traveller, he had pity on him and went and bandaged up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, the only things available to soothe and sterilise. Then he put him on his own donkey and brought him to an inn, where they took care of him. Not only did the Samaritan do this but he provided for his board and lodging, and added as he went:

'Take care of him, and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.' Luke 10:35

Then Jesus made the lawyer answer his own question. 'Which of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?' Luke 10:36 There could be only one answer, and yet the expert in the law could not bring himself to acknowledge the good work of the hated Samaritan. 'The one who had mercy on him' he said. Then Jesus told him 'Go and do likewise'. Luke 10:37

The parable had shown the lawyer that a Samaritan could be, and must be, included as a neighbour. The Samaritan had performed a neighbourly act when two Jews had failed in their responsibility; and now this man was told to follow the Samaritan's example. Feed the hungry, visit those that are unwell, help the poor and, as Paul said, Vis we have opportunity let us do good unto all men'. Gal 6:10

IMPORTANT TEACHING

The lesson is clear. Good deeds are absolutely necessary if we wish to obtain eternal life: we must love our neighbour as ourselves. However, we must not forget that Jesus said that we must keep the first as well as the second commandment, and the parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates the second. The first, however, is to love God. The order is important; God first, neighbour second and self last. Today, however, many people have taken the liberty of reversing the order and put self first, neighbour sometimes and, for some, God — never.

It really depends on whether you wish to have eternal life. The kind of life we should lead and the neighbourly way we should behave is summarised in the well-known 'Sermon on the Mount'. (Matthew Ch. 5) Here the standard set by Jesus is even greater:

' Ye have heard that it hath been said, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies . . . and pray for them who . . persecute you' Matt 5:43-44. But having told us how we should behave, Jesus says 'seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness' Matt 6:33.

 There really is no alternative if we want the eternal life promised by Jesus — we have to put God first and then by keeping His commandments show our love for Him by loving our neighbour. In case we are uncertain how that love should be manifested, we can remind ourselves of Paul's words to the Corinthians: 'Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.' 1Cor 13:4-8 (NIV)

Its hard work, but well worth it in the end