HAVING GOOD SAMARITAN HEARTS
8th after Pentecost C
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 26 "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" 27 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 neighbor as yourself.'" 28 "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 30 In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins 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.' 36 "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" 37 The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
If asked to name the world’s foremost example of charity and “Good Samaritanism” in recent decades, most people would likely answer “Mother Teresa,” who dedicated her life to aiding the poor, sick and starving in India. Both Christians and non-believers throughout the world recognize Christ’s teaching of the Good Samaritan as being just about the highest level that human love can reach. As Christians ourselves, we’re not only encouraged by Scriptures and the Church to live in such a way, but the world around us is watching and ready to jump on us with accusations of insincerity! We’re expected to “come through” in other words, yet we can even fail with opportunities God allows to fall right under our noses.
Whether we do consistently reflect the Good Samaritan’s loving deeds is a matter of what’s really in our hearts in the first place, though, and God alone can give us what’s needed. He’s able and wanting to do that, and our having “Good Samaritan Hearts” is within the realm of possibility!
THE HEARTS OF THOSE IN CHRIST’S TEACHING
Jesus had just finished telling 70 followers who were now returned from His sending them out that they could rejoice because their names were written in Heaven. Therefore the lawyer came forward and asked: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The man’s character was no doubt unquestioned by his friends and peers. He was well-learned in the Law of God and a regular law-abiding citizen, so Jesus therefore asked him: “What is written in the Law? How do YOU read (or understand) it?”
The man stated the correct summary about loving God and neighbor, which Jesus acknowledged and encouraged: “Do this, and you WILL live.” The lawyer’s heart is shown to us in two phrases in the Text, though: He “stood up to test Jesus,” and secondly: “He wanted to justify himself.” God’s Word forbids us to put Him to the test except where He expressly invites us to, and to present God with what WE think should be accepted as righteous about ourselves is not what “cuts it” with Him. Isaiah taught that such deeds are looked upon by God as “filthy rags.”
There weren’t any makings of a Good Samaritan heart in the attitude of the lawyer! He was blind to his personal failure and inability to keep the spirit of the Law required by God. Law-abiding people don’t necessarily have right hearts, in other words.
The Priest and Levite in Christ’s illustration were two of the same kind as the lawyer. We can speculate about their being indoctrinated with racial and cultural prejudices (if the injured man was a foreigner like the Samaritan), or about their possible fear that the man in the road was faking injury and was laying in wait to make them victims, or that they were too busy and hurried, or that touching a body with open wounds would render them unclean according to Jewish Law, … or whatever … The fact remains that, for whatever reasons or excuses, each SAW the man laying helpless in the road and “passed by on the other side.” It’s ever so true that even “religious” people can lack the makings of a Good Samaritan heart!
But listen again to the long list of actions that characterize the heart of the foreign Samaritan himself… He, too: “saw (the wounded man),” “took pity on him,” “went to him,” “bandaged his wounds,” “pour(ed) on oil and wine,” “put the man on his own donkey,” “took him to an inn” and himself “took care of (the man)” through to the next day. Then he gave two silver coins to the innkeeper, saying: “(You) look after him, and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.”
Contrasted with the Priest and Levite, the Samaritan’s heart was wider, going beyond any boundaries set by racial prejudice. His love extended farther, going way beyond just the bare minimum of aid. His character was higher, above leaving it to someone else who might happen by to assist the poor victim.\
There’s a possibility that Jesus was describing a real occurrence. Although it’s often called a “Parable,” the Scripture Text doesn’t specifically claim so. Jesus also used the present-tense in directing the lawyer to follow the Samaritan’s example. “Go and do likewise” was an admonition to be about the business of good-heartedness all the time! And that, in turn, implies a necessity to never fail in having a good heart or to engage in right deeds! If he had any truly substantive spiritual insight whatsoever, the lawyer should have realized that he had presented a devastating indictment against himself. The demand to keep on and be consistent in love for God and our fellow-humans knocks us ALL out of the running for eternal life.
CHRIST’S OWN HEART
It maybe helps to know a bit about the road between Jerusalem and Jericho… It’s about 17 miles long and full of rocky hideouts and stretches we might call “no man’s land.” It would take an adult a full day to travel it, and anyone who had trouble on the way could be hours from the nearest help. Bandit raids were common. The wilderness terrain, the robbery, and the helplessness of the man beaten and left to die paint a picture comparable to our condition as victims of SIN.
Jesus is continually meeting up with us on our “Jericho roads.” He stoops to pick up the fallen, binds our wounds and applies balm and ointment to our care-worn souls with the Gospel’s assuring promises and forgiveness. He stopped at His own expense and inconvenience, committing Himself to pay all it would cost for our rescue, care and healing restoration; even making Himself responsible for all the future debts we may rack up. He refused to stay on “the other side,” but has come right to us: FOR US MEN AND FOR OUR SALVATION, CAME DOWN FROM HEAVEN ... AND WAS MADE MAN; AND WAS CRUCIFIED ALSO FOR US … HE ...WAS BURIED. AND THE THIRD DAY HE ROSE AGAIN…
More than Mother Teresa’s, CHRIST’S heart is the best example of what it means to be a Good Samaritan. And He still consistently gives from that heart, “Daily and richly forgiving all sins to (us) and ... all believers” by His Holy Spirit. The torment He experienced and blood He shed on the Cross at Golgotha earned forgiveness even for the very thing we recognize in this Lesson: Failing as Good Samaritans ourselves! His resurrection also shows us that we “inherit eternal life” as a GIFT(!); not by what we do, but through faith in Him and what HE has done.
It’s that glorious inheritance which leads us to practice good-heartedness as Jesus did. Not only is He history’s best example, but His Good Samaritan heart is the very basis of our actual salvation, and our already being saved is the motivation for us to practice love for others!
St. Paul spelled it out specifically in Ephesians: “By grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - - not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
“Christian” behavior includes not only avoiding what’s wrong or evil, but DOING what’s good and right, not neglecting or omitting actions we should take. Christ’s command to the lawyer needs to be personally taken to heart by each of us as well! Seeing needs around us and knowing the Samaritan’s example: Go and DO likewise! Ask not “Who is my neighbor?”, but “To whom can I be one?” In God’s grace we ARE given right hearts and CAN be Good Samaritans!
Jesus promised that whoever believes in Him would do even greater works than He did, and on Judgment Day will be surprised at all the good works for which He gives us credit. He promised that in being His followers we’ll be rewarded by grace for even just giving a cup of cold water to a little one. Picture Him speaking over your shoulder: “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you have done it unto ME.” Believe Him! Believe IN Him! And then let’s go and DO like the Good Samaritan!