We come to a passage this morning that is likely one of the most well known passages in Scripture. It is also one of those passages that is one of the most misinterpreted and most ill used.
It is a simple enough passages. Two exchanges between Jesus and a Religious Lawyer at the time. I believe that the exchange was adversarial between the two. In other words I believe the the intent of the Lawyer in questioning Jesus was not benign. I advance this because of the word “test” in the passage. The Lawyer “stands up” which was a sign of respect in the culture and asks a question to “test Jesus.”
We see this “testing of Jesus” frequently by his detractors.
The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. (Mt. 16)
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” (Mt. 19)
They said this to test Him, in order to have a basis for accusing Him. (John 8)
The fact that this is an adversarial setting is important to keep in mind because in such situations Jesus seldom gives a straight answer to questions but instead often answers their questions with questions. What happens here is no different. The Lawyer asks questions and Jesus deflects the questions with questions of His own to drive the conversation Jesus desires.
Well, back to how the text is misused. Time does not allow us to go as fully in depth in dismissing these errant readings as I would like. I want to raise them. Try to dismiss them. Then move on to the correct reading of the Parable.
I.) Mis-reading #1 — The Good Samaritan Parable Was Given In Order to Support Amnesty Legislation for Illegal Immigrants in the West.
I can’t tell you how much material I’ve run across in preparation this week which appeals to the Parable of the Good Samaritan as the template that all Christians must use in order to demand that amnesty for illegal immigrants be put in place.
The Good Samaritan has been made the tool of Social Justice Warriors everywhere and by it we are being taught that in order to inherit eternal life we must disinherit ourselves and our children so that the alien and the stranger can inherit the here and the now. This is an exceptionally un-neighborly thing to do to our Children and our descendants. According to this interpretation the teaching of the Good Samaritan means that we must treat our children and our people as Aliens and Stranger in order to treat Aliens and Stranger like our children and our people.
The failure with this interpretation lies in the attempt to universalize a particular obligation. Jesus is teaching here in a very specific and particular situation. The Lord Christ was not laying down policy for 21st century Nation States to take up. He was not creating new policy for Magistrates of all time everywhere to pursue. He was speaking to a religious Lawyer in order to crack his smug confidence that he indeed was a good person.
Jesus is giving ethical instruction, I believe, to the end that the Lawyer would see that he is not an ethical person.
The thinking that insists that the parable of the Good Samaritan is about immigration and amnesty policy, if taken literally, would mean the disappearance of borders and nations and peoples. It is a world where we can
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Upon giving this Parable, Jesus was not setting National or International Policy. He was not teaching on the Universal brotherhood of all man. He was not negating the reality of ever widening concentric circles whereby we first have to look out for our own who are of the household of faith. Jesus was not negating the prioritizing of them who are of the household of faith in terms of our care and affection.
He is simply teaching that in the course of our daily living, as we walk through life, when we come upon a real live human being in desperate need of care we have a duty and privilege to care for the least of these.
Some will retort that by seeing this passage as individual and personal that I am not loving my neighbor. Some will insist that by not championing that the Government open up the borders that I am not loving my neighbor. But what of my next door neighbor who can’t find work? How loving is it to that neighbor to glut the market with cheap labor so he will never find work? What of the minority communities in this country who’s unemployment rate is 25-30% in some quarters? Is it neighbor love to them to insist on an amnesty which will cement their unemployment? Is it neighbor love to fellow Christians to invite in a global population that is hostile to Biblical Christianity? Is it neighbor love to Christian women to open the borders to those from misogynistic cultures?
Those who want to use the Parable of the Good Samaritan to the end of pursuing the Cultural Marxist agenda of Social Justice have only incompletely thought through the matter. In many instances the misuse of the Parable of the Good Samaritan is just a means to advance a liberal humanist non Christian agenda.
Much more could be said but time wanes.
II.) Mis-reading #2 — The Good Samaritan Parable Was Given In Order That We Might Be Able to Inherit Eternal Life
One of the curios of this passage is that many people don’t bother to spend the time to point out that Jesus is not here pointing out how it is that someone can go about inheriting eternal life.
What the Lord Christ is doing here is showing the folly of the premise of the Lawyer. You want to inherit eternal life? Fine … go to the law and fulfill all that it requires you will inherit eternal life?
What does it mean to fulfill the law to love God and neighbor? Well, let me tell you a story. Now, you go on loving God and neighbor in just this way and you will indeed inherit eternal life.
The “Go and do likewise” we find at the end of the passage was NOT good news. The impact of the “go and do likewise” at the end of the passage would have been punctuated by the sound of wind being sucked through the collective audience’s teeth as they doubtless asked themselves “who then can be saved.”
The impact of this teaching, I am convinced, is to bring the man to the end of himself. The necessity of loving God with all my heart, soul and mind and my neighbor as myself as a prerequisite for inheriting Eternal life is not good news for humans this side of heaven. We are a people who are incessantly self centered. In even the most thoroughly converted of us we tend to look to our own interest and not the interests of others. We have problems loving our own kith and kin unselfishly never mind the complete stranger … or worse yet time worn enemies. What Jesus tells this man he must do to inherit eternal life is not possible for those of us who know ourselves.
Love God and neighbor? Is that all? Well why didn’t you tell me that sooner Jesus? No problem. Is that the way we would really have God’s people think about this passage? As ministers do we want our people leaving service thinking that they can indeed do something to inherit eternal life?
So, why does Jesus play along with the Lawyer here? Why not just say … “Only legal heirs inherit eternal life, there is no doing unto Eternal life?”
Likely the answer to that is that Jesus desired the Lawyer to come to that conclusion by lifting the requirement bar for doing that would bring inheritance so high that the Lawyer would conclude, “Who then can be saved.”
Jesus speaks this way from time to time. When he says that “ye must be perfect even as your heavenly father is perfect,” He raises the behavior standard so high for inheritance of heaven that it is seen as impossible. When Jesus gives the behavioral standard for a rich man to get into heaven He is met with the exclamation … “who then can be saved.” When Jesus speaks this way the intent is to both esteem the Law AND to bring people to an end of themselves in terms of thinking of themselves in terms of doing the law in order to inherit eternal life.
So, this parable is not here so that people can love God and neighbor so well that they can inherit eternal life. The passage is not here to stoke confidence in the self which is exactly what the Lawyer is seeking to accomplish. We know this because the text tells us of the Lawyer,
29 But he, desiring to justify himself …
Benson in his commentary offers,
(He asks this), to show he had done this, and was blameless, even with respect to the duties which are least liable to be counterfeited … ”
The Lawyer wanted it to be clearly seen that he indeed had fulfilled the law in terms of loving God and neighbor and had earned his inheritance of Eternal life. Jesus tells the parable, I’m convinced, in order to dissuade this Lawyer and everybody else of this conviction.
So, the Good Samaritan Parable Was not Given In Order That We Might Be Able to convince ourselves that we are the excellent doers, who, because of our doing, will inherit eternal life.
So, what is the proper reading of the parable of the Good Samaritan? If these are improper readings what is the proper reading of this text.
III.) The Proper Reading of This Text Examined
A.) A proper reading of the parable reminds us that the function of the law is both a street light to show us our sin and a guide to life.
Jesus goes to the Law, thus demonstrating He is not antinomian.
But the Law has more than one purpose. As I have said earlier the purpose here is to cut out the legs from underneath this self righteous lawyer’s misinterpretation and smugness.
However, this does not mean that the law does not have the purpose as a guide to life. It should be our intent to be a people who help others in need as we have opportunity and means.
And so a proper reading of this text esteems the law, as rightly interpreted.
B.) A proper reading of the parable casts us upon Christ.
Our tendency in reading the Scriptures is always to make the Scripture about ourselves. This text is no different. Often we leave the text examining ourselves to see if we have been Good Samaritans in our lives. And there is nothing automatically wrong with that. Scripture calls for self examination.
However before we make the passage subjective as about us we should pause to ask if the passage is about someone else being a good Samaritan.
Examined closely the parable of the good Samaritan is not teaching us about what our immigration policy should be. After all, this parable was not given in order for the Magistrate to set policy but it was given that men might see Christ and their own individual duty. The parable is not teaching us that we can earn eternal life. After all, if loving God and neighbor perfectly is the standard who can earn eternal life? The parable is only about us after it is about Christ. Christ is the good Samaritan who found us as beaten by the fall and stripped of any hope. The Priest and the Levite, representatives of the Law, passed by, unable and unwilling to do us any good. It is Lord Christ, who was, just as the Samaritan was, one who was not received by the institutional religious community and it is the Lord Christ, just as the Good Samaritan, who stops and binds up our wounds and gives us the medicinal oil and wine of the Gospel … who has compassion upon us as completely unable to help ourselves … who took it upon Himself to do all the doing that we as beaten sinners could not do.
You see, we are not so much the Good Samaritans of the account here. We are the unidentified chap robbed, beat up, and left for dead. The Good Samaritan is Christ who has bound up our wounds and treated us with the oblation of Himself.
Here is the picture of inheriting eternal life. We were left for dead and someone came along and did all the doing.
If we have any hope to be Good Samaritans ourselves it is only in light of the reality that Christ was first our own Good Samaritan. He had pity on us as beaten and stripped sinners and provided our healing and paid all our costs.
The parable thus shows that Eternal life is not a matter of us fulfilling all the law and so being worthy of life as inheritance. The parable demonstrates the Gospel of Christ as doing what we can’t do for ourselves.
1.) Many people want to use this parable to show that Jesus was sharply attacking communal or racial prejudices. I don’t see that in the text. The chap beaten up was unidentifiable. The Priest and the Levite do not pass by because they know the victim is Gentile or Samaritan or Jew. There is no communal or racial prejudice connected with their passing by. They pass by in keeping with their teaching from the book of Ecclesiasticus,
12 When you do a good deed, make sure you know who is benefiting from it; then what you do will not be wasted. 2 You will be repaid for any kindness you show to a devout person. If he doesn’t repay you, the Most High will. 3 No good ever comes to a person who gives comfort to the wicked; it is not a righteous act. 4 Give to religious people, but don’t help sinners. 5 Do good to humble people, but don’t give anything to those who are not devout. Don’t give them food, or they will use your kindness against you. Every good thing you do for such people will bring you twice as much trouble in return. 6 The Most High himself hates sinners, and he will punish them. 7 Give to good people, but do not help sinners.
They pass by because of concerns about becoming ceremonially unclean.
If Jesus is sharply attacking anything He is sharply attacking what He constantly attacks in Scripture and that is the damnable hypocrisy of the Religious leadership.
Jesus introduces the Samaritan in order to demonstrate that those thought to be religiously and racially vile are more righteous than the supposed religious good guys.
The Samaritan likewise knows nothing about the victim. The point isn’t that he is rising above his racial prejudices. The point is that the hated Samaritan enemy is more of a lawkeeper than the righteous.
2.) We live in an age, as one writer has put it, of pornographic compassion. We bleed over the sensationalism made by the news media of the suffering in Rawanda, or Afghanistan, or Syria, all the while we turn a blind eye to the needs that Jesus has brought to our own feet found among our family and neighbors. We rush past the stripped and beaten of our own circle of influence so that we can feel good about ourselves by how big a check we cut for the stripped and beaten 4000 miles away.
In the words of Thomas Fleming,
“We have been plagued … by the cynical sentimentalism that raises trillions of dollars to help strangers while poisoning us against the needs of family, neighbors, and friends.”