(…continued) Jesus was also a teacher of morality and goodness. Jonathan Swift himself was, of course, a servant of that Jesus, so in Gulliver’s Travels he was merely passing on what he learned about life from Jesus; and doing so by telling a story. Jesus also told stories to teach us how to live, and one of the many such stories he told was the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37:
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 neighbor 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 neighbor?”
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 neighbor 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.”
Did you notice that Jesus isn’t telling us anything new here? The lesson of the story can be summed up in three words: Help other people. Jesus wasn’t the first person to say that, nor has he been the only one to say that, nor do you have to be a Christian to do that. The most important thing about Jesus is not his moral teachings. Yes, Jesus did teach about obedience and goodness and morality. And yes, he did preach a morality that is beyond even the most famous of history’s moral teachers. Jesus taught us things like forgiving and praying even for our enemies, and he taught us to do good even to those who do us wrong. But even those things had been said by a few others.
What makes Jesus unique is that he is so much more than a moral teacher. He was the Son of God Himself, here to die for us to forgive us of our sins— because it is impossible for any of us to perfectly fulfill the moral law of God. God’s commandments were revealed to humanity long before Jesus came to earth. In fact, Romans 2:15 says that God has written the Law on our very hearts, and even on the hearts of those who have not yet heard of Him.
So the idea to help others wasn’t new with Jesus. Neither did Jesus come up with anything new about telling the truth or not stealing or obeying your parents or staying away from false gods or anything else. It had all been said before.
What Jesus brought was forgiveness for our failure to obey that moral code, and eternal salvation for all who believed in Him. That was new with Jesus, and that we can receive only from Jesus. And no other religious leader rose from the dead to validate their claims and promises, as did Jesus.
But that doesn’t mean that the story of the Good Samaritan is unimportant. It just means that it is important for other reasons. Just because we know what is right, doesn’t mean that we are going to do it. We all try to get out of it and live only for ourselves as much as we can. And then we try to justify our disobedience. We try to convince ourselves that it was necessary, in that situation, to do what was not right.
The young lawyer who was questioning Jesus in Luke 10 knows very well what is right and what is wrong. Jesus asked him, “What is written in the Law?” And the young lawyer answered, “Love the Lord 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.” And Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”
But then the lawyer wanted to justify himself, so he said, “But who is my neighbor?” There is the problem. The lawyer ‘wanted to justify himself’ (v. 29).
We all know we should love our neighbor and help each other out, but the lawyer implies that we need to put some limits on that. We just can’t be helping everybody with everything, can we Jesus?
But Jesus doesn’t define neighbor and he doesn’t get into the specifics of who we should help and who we don’t have to help. Jesus simply tells a story, a story of a man who actually needs help, and is in the path of three men who would be able to help.
What’s more, the one man who does help, the Samaritan, is the last person any Jew would put on their list of ‘neighbors’ to love and serve. Samaritans and Jews disliked and avoided each other. But this Samaritan is the one who helped. At the end of the story, Jesus asked the expert in the law to answer his own question: “Which of the three was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’
“The one who had mercy,” said the expert. What else could he say? And then Jesus told him to, “Go and do likewise.”
Jesus shows himself to be very different here from that other ancient teacher of wisdom, Socrates. Socrates taught not so much by telling other people what to do, but by asking them question after question, thus teaching them to think for themselves. That also can be a good way to teach, and Jesus also teaches that way sometimes. He does it for a while in this story, asking the lawyer three questions before he concludes this lesson.
But the difference between Jesus and Socrates is that Jesus does not end with the questions. He will not allow us to just talk about our faith. Jesus applies the lesson and gives everyone something to take home and work on. “Go and do likewise,” Jesus said to him, thus concluding the lesson.
I think the young lawyer would have liked Socrates better. They could have sat around all day just talking about whether or not it was one’s ethical obligation to help a needy man on the road, not ever getting around to actually doing anything. But Jesus says, “Get at it; there are people who need your help.” (continued…)
Dear God, You constantly pour out Your blessings on us: help us to be a blessing to others. You gave us our hands: help us to use them to work for You. You gave us our feet: help us to use them to walk in Your ways. You gave us our voices: help us to use them to speak gentleness and truth. Help us to please You, Lord. Amen.