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The Good Samaritan Parable

“The Good Samaritan Parable” (Luke 10:25-37)
by Pastor Katherine Goerzen
November 3, 2013, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

The Lawyer
I had heard much about Jesus of Nazareth before I actually met him. My friends have mixed feelings about him. Some of my friends tell me about how he eats with tax collectors and sinners, those who are clearly unclean. And one of my friends even told me about the time that he invited Jesus over to his house and Jesus allowed a woman who was clearly a sinner to touch him, to anoint his feet with her hair. I couldn’t believe it.

And of course, they say he seems to have no regard for the Sabbath Law at all. Some saw him pluck grain and eat it on the Sabbath. And some of my other friends told me about when he healed someone on the Sabbath. There was a man with a withered hand whom he healed in the synagogue. And while I’m amazed at his power to heal, he should have known better than to chose that day. For the Law of Moses has very clear Sabbath regulations, which he seems to disregard completely. And to be honest, I feel somewhat uncomfortable with that. I mean, we can’t simply pick and choose which parts of the Law to follow.

And yet there are these amazing things that I have heard that he has done. I hear that he has healed a centurion’s son and that he cast demons out of a man who had been possessed for a long time. Other friends of mine told me how he had fed a crowd of over 5,000 with only 5 loaves and 2 fish. And Jairus told me that Jesus had raised his own daughter from the dead.

And I wonder, how can he do these things apart from God’s power? Some of my friends are sure that it is because he has a demon, but I’m not convinced. Why would Satan be working against his own kingdom like that?

These are truly miraculous things! It is almost as if the words of the prophet Isaiah are being fulfilled through this man for those who have long been held captive through disease and demons have been set free, and those who have long been blind or ill have recovered their sight and been healed!

I don’t agree with everything that he does, but I have a good deal of respect for him. He seems to be a great teacher and he has gathered quite a group of followers (I mean, he recently sent out 70 people to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom). And if he would just change a few of his practices, I feel that he would become a great leader. And if he would just take the Law of Moses more seriously, this man who does such amazing things could be remembered for a long time.

But I was curious about how he felt about following God’s Law after hearing all these things, and so when I heard he was speaking in my village, I decided to test him to find out. I wanted to find out for myself whether or not he thought it important to follow God’s commandments.

So I asked him how one inherits eternal life, as any good teacher of the Law knows that one inherits eternal life through following God’s Law.

He responded to my question with a question of his own. It almost made me wonder, who is the one who is really being tested here?

But I answered him as I thought any good Jew should answer, straight from the Torah, “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 you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I mean, this pretty much sums up the 10 commandments, doesn’t it? The first four teach us how to love God and the last 6 teach us how to love our neighbor.

And he told me that I had responded correctly, as I knew that I had.

And so, wanting to let him know that I righteously followed the Law, I decided to ask him “And who is my neighbor?” I fully expected him to answer from the book of Leviticus, that “you shall not hate anyone of your own kin” and that “you shall not bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”1 I fully expected him to say “Your relative, your friend, your fellow Jew” whereas I would have responded faithfully, “I have fully loved these” and that he would have praised me for fulfilling the Law.

But instead he responded with a story, about a man who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, who fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead, and about the three who came upon this man on the side of the road.

The Priest2
The road from Jerusalem to Jericho has always been a dangerous road. And so when I came upon a stripped and bloody man lying on the side of the road, I was not surprised. This was not the first beaten man I had come upon who had fallen prey to the robbers and bandits who lie in wait behind the rocks along this treacherous highway. One feels sorry for anyone who falls to such a fate. And one shudders to think how excruciating the last thoughts of such a man might be as he waits to die, bloody and alone in the ditch.

If the man wasn’t already dead when I passed by, he certainly would be soon. And I felt sorry for him; I really did. But there was little that I could do to help him. As a man who has been called by God to be a priest, there are very specific ways that we are called to live as befit such a high and holy calling. We are to avoid all contact with anything unclean to avoid being contaminated by the powers of sin; and we cannot perform our priestly and holy duties while we are in a state of uncleanness. You see, I cannot even come within 4 cubits of a corpse without defiling myself and so I could not even get close enough to the man to see if he needed my help without risking defilement especially since there was such a good chance that he was already dead and beyond my aid.

Do you know how humiliating it is to undergo the ritual of purification? I’m called to be a leader within the community, an example to others of what it means to live righteously. What would the people think if I stood with those who were unclean at the Eastern gate in front of the altar? Would they think that I had been influenced by the powers of sin? Would they think that I was no longer fit for my high calling?

Not only would I publicly humiliate myself in front of those who I am called to be a good example to, but I would need to complete the ritual of purification which involves finding and purchasing a red heifer to sacrifice upon the altar until it was reduced to ashes. This process of purification takes an entire week; it is very time consuming and very costly. And my family would suffer through the expense of the cow and through my not being able to perform my sacred duties during the time that I would remain unclean. They might even have to go without food because I would be unable to provide for them and we would not receive the food that I receive for performing my duties.

It is most unfortunate what happened to this man. And I hope that someone will take pity on him and at least give him a proper burial. But because God has called me to live a life that it set apart and holy, it could not be me. I cannot defile myself due to the holiness of the office that God has called me to. And who am I to go against the Law of Moses just to help this man who was most likely already dead and beyond my aid?

This is a very dangerous road. And it’s sad that yet another man had to fall victim to it.

May God have mercy on his soul.

The Levite
I saw a priest pass by a beaten man on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. I can completely understand why he did this, as he could not risk contaminating his holy calling by coming in contact with a corpse or with a non-Jew. And since this man had been stripped of his clothing, there was no way for the priest to identify this man’s nationality.

But my own calling does not require that I follow such strict regulations of purity as the priest is called to do.3 And so I decided to stop and at least check on the state of this poor man4 whom fate decided should meet with such an unfortunate predicament. He appeared to be unconscious, but he was still breathing. But I wondered, “What should I do for this poor man?” His breathing was shallow and so perhaps death was close enough that, regardless of what I did, he would still die. Perhaps it was best not to prolong the inevitable.

Besides, even if I was able to clean and bandage his wounds, there would be no way for me to transport him to a safe place. I had no beast of my own to carry him and he was too heavy for me to carry a long distance and so I would have to wait until someone else would come by who would be willing to help transport this poor man. And chances were good that I myself would be attacked by robbers before someone would come along who would be willing to help. And then they would need to transport two men to safety, or even worse, bury two corpses.

I really felt sorry for the man, but what could I do, especially since there were no guarantees for his safety or for my own safety.

Or what if he was simply pretending to be hurt and that he was just waiting for some naive victim who was kind enough to help him, but then he in turn would rob and harm me?

Or what if he deserved what he got? Maybe he was flaunting his wealth and so he was bound to attract the attention of bandits. Or maybe he has been a terrible person, and God sought to punish him because of his unrighteous living and who am I to go against God and come to the aid of a sinner?

But again, I don’t know. I don’t know what’s right when I see people who are in need of help or who are begging for money or bread. I hate to see people suffering; I really do. But I’m just one person. There’s so much suffering that happens in this world, and what can I do to help alleviate all of the pain? Where does one even begin? One would get overwhelmed and burnt-out if we tried to help everyone who needed our aid.

And so I went on my way, hoping that someone else would come along who would help this man. For I did not feel that I was able to do so.

The Samaritan
I had seen both a priest and a Levite walk past a beaten man on the side of the road, and so I had assumed that he was dead. But as I got closer to him, I noticed that this was not the case, and that he was still breathing. And I felt moved with compassion for this poor man. I know that it was likely that he was not a fellow Samaritan, as we were in Judea, but no one should have to suffer such a fate, alone and forsaken, bleeding and broken, dying on the side of the road. What would his family say when he didn’t come home? What would happen to his wife and children? What would they think if they never knew the fate of their husband and father?

Perhaps it was a foolish thing, but I felt in my gut that I could not simply leave this man to die if there was anything that was within my power to save him.

And so I poured oil and wine over his wounds to clean them, and I bound his wounds with strips of cloth from my own garment. And I placed him on my own animal and took him to an inn, where I was able to continue taking care of him. And once I saw that he would be okay, I decided that it was time for me to be on my way. But not before making sure to pay for this man. After all, all that he had had been taken from him, and he would have no way of paying for himself. And I did not want to put him further in debt and make things worse. And then I was on my way, and I was glad that I could help a fellow human being in need. And that’s it. That’s all I did.

I do not judge the priest or the Levite for acting as they did. They did what they thought was right and they did what they had to do based upon their own callings. And I’m sure no one would blame them for acting as they did.

For myself, I helped him because, well, I would hope that someone would show the same kindness to me if I were in such dire need. And I did it because I follow God. I didn’t feel obligated to because of this; no one would blame me for not helping someone who was most likely an enemy. But I did it because of God’s deep love for us and because God saves us even when we do not deserve it.

And I’m not comparing myself to God. I mean, I certainly have my own flaws and am in no way perfect, let alone a hero. But I have experienced God’s love in my own life and I felt called to show God’s love and healing to someone who needed it. Maybe if it were a different day and I had saw this man lying on the side of the road then, I would have passed by. I don’t know. Please don’t assume that I have all the answers on what it means to follow God and live a righteous life. I just happened to see a fellow human being in need, and I took pity on him.

The Lawyer
I have pondered my encounter with Jesus for a long time now. And I am still struck by the things that he said to me.

First of all, a Samaritan? Really? Was he making a statement on how he feels about me and other religious leaders teachers and all of us fellow Jews who are faithfully trying to follow God’s Law? Was this why he made the Samaritan be the one who acted rightly? I mean, we’re all just trying to follow God’s Law as best we can.

I mean, the Law says that my neighbor is my fellow Jew, my kin. What Jesus is asking, well, it’s almost as if he’s asking me to love my enemy! And well, that’s impossible for mortals!

I’ve been taught from a young age that Samaritans are cursed and that they will not receive eternal life. I was so sure that the third person in his parable was going to be a righteous Jew. Even had the Jew been the one to help a Samaritan, that would have been easier for me to take at the time.

But I suppose that I’m not the one who ultimately sets limits on who God can and cannot work through. I mean, Abraham lied about his wife’s identity, and God still used him to become the ancestor of all of my people. Rahab was a prostitute, yet she played an influential role in helping my people enter into the Promised Land. Ruth was a foreigner from the land of Moab, and yet she became the great grandmother of King David. Who am I to say who God can and cannot work through?

But a Samaritan? Really? At the time I was so shocked, maybe even angry at who he had chosen to respond in the morally righteous way, that I couldn’t even bring myself to name the Samaritan for who he was. “The one who showed him mercy.” That’s what I said.

A Samaritan … is my neighbor …

But I guess I’m focusing too much on the question that I asked Jesus. And Jesus wasn’t really interested in answering my question, “Who is my neighbor?”

He wasn’t really interested in answering who’s in and who’s out, although perhaps he began to answer that question by choosing who he did for his parable.

But instead, Jesus was much more interested in the question, “To whom must I become a neighbor?”5

And it feels as though Jesus was trying to say to me that in order to fulfill God’s Law, I am called to reach out in costly compassion to all people, even to my enemies. Even if it seems impossible to us, all things are possible for God.6

We will all stand before God on that day. And I suppose that God won’t be focusing on whether or not I noticed who all was following God’s Law or who wasn’t, but that the focus will be upon my own life, how I myself lived and how I myself followed God’s commandments; how I loved the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and how I loved my neighbor as myself.

So that’s really what I have been pondering here of late, as I walk along the road and see all the faces of the people I encounter as I journey, Jews and Samaritans, Male and Female, Slave and Free, Friend and Enemy, and I wonder: how can I go and be a neighbor to others?

1. Leviticus 19:17-18.
2. All ideas on purity regulations are taken from Kenneth Bailey’s Through Peasant Eyes and his chapter on the Good Samaritan.
3. Above taken from Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes.
4. The text seems to suggest that the Levite does more than the priest. The priest “saw him, and passed by on the other side.” The Levite “came to the place and saw him.”
5. Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes, p. 55.
6. Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes, p. 55.

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The Good Samaritan Parable by Katherine Goerzen, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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