Passage: Luke 10:25-37
Love has been sung about, written about and dreamt about probably more than any other subject, and yet the one thing that is so obviously missing in our increasingly divided world is love. Occasionally we catch glimpses of love, be it a young couple arm in arm or indeed an elderly couple hand in hand. But more often we see signs of discord, anger and hatred. Just before sitting to write this I witnessed a slanging match in the street between a young couple with a child (maybe theirs) stood in the middle. It was ugly, sad and painful, and I was only a bystander! To help us to get to grips with love, not merely the theory of love but it’s practice, we’re looking at one of the most well known parables (an everyday story with a spiritual meaning) that Jesus ever told; the parable of the Good Samaritan. But be warned. Jesus’ parables are not nice little stories with a moral message, like Aesop’s fables, but are powerful messages that unsettle us from our spiritual complacency and self-righteousness.
The Theory of Love (10:25-28)
Jesus is confronted one day by an expert in the Jewish law. He has a question for Jesus, but Luke tells us that his motives where not completely honourable as he “stood up to test Jesus.” This was one of the many attempts by the religious leaders to expose Jesus as a fraud and undermine him in his follower’s eyes. The question is the same one later asked by the rich ruler (Luke 18:18)- “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” So Jesus invites the man to answer his own question from the Old Testament which he’d have known well, and the expert delivers- “’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 neighbour as yourself’” Jesus commends the expert and says- “Do this and you will live.” The evidence of genuine Christian faith is most certainly love, love for God and love for one another. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. But this is not what Jesus is dealing with here. He’s facing a proud religious expert who is clearly confident of his performance in the love department, at least in theory!
The Practice of Love (10:29-35)
This was not a very satisfactory dialogue for the expert so, in an attempt to justify himself, he asks Jesus, “So who is my neighbour?” To which Jesus tells him the parable; a man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho is beaten up, robbed and left for dead by the side of the road. Then two significant Jewish religious leaders walk past, first a priest and then a Levite, and they both do nothing. They might have rationalised their inactivity as the touching of a dead body would have rendered them unclean ceremonially. They also might have feared that the half-dead man was just a trap and they might have been jumped upon and suffered a similar fate. Whatever their reasoning, these Jewish religious leaders do nothing. They fail to show love. But then along comes a Samaritan. These days we’re so familiar with the term Samaritan as someone who acts in a caring, loving way, but a ‘Samaritan’ to the ears of Jew would have been unthinkable. Jesus could not have chosen a hero more offensive to his audience. And then Jesus describes the sacrificial love of the Samaritan for the poor man as he goes above and beyond to care for him, meet his needs and enable him to make a full recovery. The contrast in reactions could not have been greater.
The Challenge of Love (10:36-37)
So Jesus asks the expert a question- “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert couldn’t bring himself to say the Samaritan, so he just says- “The one who had mercy on him.” To which Jesus replies- “Go and do likewise.” You see love is not simply a theory it is something that has to be done! As one writer puts it- “When God says ‘love your neighbour’ he means love which willingly engages in positive acts of care and extravagant gestures of self-sacrifice, irrespective of race, colour or creed of the one in need.” Our world desperately needs to see such love in action and as followers of Christ we’re to be at the forefront. Important that such a call is though, that’s not why Jesus told this parable. Rewind to the man’s initial question, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He clearly thinks he can earn his way to heaven and this parable is aimed at shattering such a delusion. This story isn’t to teach us our moral duty but to expose our moral bankruptcy. This story should puncture our pride in our own performance and belief that we can save ourselves. Then, with our self-righteousness in tatters, we might see our need for rescue. You see, there was a man who travelled along the same road but in the opposite direction, towards Jerusalem, only he was carrying a cross. It was Jesus who turned the parable into the practical. He demonstrated such sacrificial love for all people, irrespective of race, tribe or class. He perfectly loves His Father and perfectly loves his neighbour as he laid down his life for our sin. What we must do is to turn in repentance and faith to Jesus as our rescuer, and he will, by his Spirit, give us the ability to love like him. As he puts it- “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (Jn 13:34) Jesus is the Good Samaritan that we desperately need!
Points to ponder
-Has your understanding of this parable been challenged by these notes? It shows us that it’s impossible humanly to fulfil the law of love. We are all sinners in need of the Saviour. Although love for others is not the way into eternal life it is a mark of eternal life in the life of the Christian. Who are you struggling to love at the moment?
Dear Lord God. Please help us to see our inability to save ourselves and receive your love for us in Christ. Thank you that you have poured out your love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, help us to love each other as you love us. Amen
(This week’s Pep Talk is based on chap 2 of ‘A Sting in the Tale’ by Roy Clements)