Serving neighbors, serving God
Quarter: Acts of Worship
Unit 3: Stewardship for life
Sunday school lesson for the week of Feb. 8, 2015
By Helen & Rev. Sam Rogers
Scripture: Luke 10: 25-37
In this second lesson of the final unit of the quarter, the act of worship is demonstrated by Jesus in one of the most familiar stories He told. “The Good Samaritan” is known to all Christians of every age. Acted out in Vacation Bible School and studied in the theological seminary, the story is packed with meaning and understanding on many levels – yet, at its heart, is very simple to grasp.
As Luke often does, we are in that in-between world where the last, the least, and the lost come to the forefront. The setting is a discussion begun with a question posed to Jesus by an expert in the Jewish Torah/Law. The question is: How does one gain eternal life?
All three Synoptic Gospels report this question. In Matthew and Mark, the questioner is a young man; in Luke he is a ruler – we call him the rich, young ruler! Elsewhere, Jesus is asked by another legal expert to choose the greatest commandment. In all these encounters, Deuteronomy 6:5 is quoted about loving God with all your heart, soul and might. The legal expert adds “mind.” And in all encounters, Leviticus 19:18 is added as part of “the answer.”
In the present instance, we note there is no debate about the relationship to God. The issue, then and now, focuses on who is the neighbor we are to love as ourselves. Luke suggests an ulterior motive to the lawyer’s question. The lawyer, he states, “was seeking to justify himself” (NRSV) or “to prove that he was right.” (CEB) The reason for his probing was because in Jewish law the neighbor is simply another Jew. Every other human being was considered an outsider!
To answer this question Jesus tells the story. A man (nothing to define him – just a human being) was going down the dangerous road from Jerusalem to Jericho and was attacked by robbers who beat him, robbed him and left him for dead. Three other travelers on the Jericho road came by and saw the man lying there.
The first was a priest, perhaps on his way to the temple to officiate at a service. To touch a dead person or a non-Jew would make him unclean and unfit to enter the Temple and perform his duties. He passed by on the other side. Likewise, a Levite came that way. All priests were from the tribe of Levi, but many other Levites were servants of the priests. In other words, they also had to be obedient to the Law to function. He passed by, ignoring the man, not knowing if he was alive or dead.
Then the story takes an unexpected turn. A Samaritan comes that way and sees the man. Examining him, he discovers he’s alive. He gives first aid by pouring wine (alcohol) on his wounds, cleaning him with oil, bandaging him, transporting him to shelter and paying for his continuing care! WOW! No wonder he’s called “the Good Samaritan.” To a Jew like our inquisitive lawyer, there are no good Samaritans! They were a people of mix-blood. Following the conquering of the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C, they had inter-married with their conquerors and became enemies and outcasts of the “real” Jews of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin – called the Judeans by Jesus’ day.
After telling the story, Jesus asks the lawyer his own question: “Which one of the three was a neighbor to the one who fell among thieves?” The lawyer cannot bring himself to say “the Samaritan!” He simply responds, “The one who showed mercy.”
Then Jesus concludes with his final word: “Go and do likewise.” In modern parlance, “Just do it!” There is action required in our being obedient disciples of Jesus Christ. Right doctrines and correct beliefs are not enough. In Wesleyan theology, we move from justification to sanctification – from faith to discipleship.
There is a dilemma for all who seek to be a faithful disciple. Our neighbor can conveniently be someone of similar race, economic condition, living literally in the neighborhood, and members of our church. The Samaritan proved neighbor to a complete stranger with whom he had had no prior connection and with whom he may never again have contact.
Two kinds of ethics are at work here. For the priest and Levite, there is the ethics of law. They are living within the framework of a legal system that affirms their life style and decisions. Here is where the lawyer is “justifying himself.” According to his life’s values, he has done nothing wrong or even omitted doing something good.
The Samaritan, on the other hand, is operating out of an ethic of love. Not based on any system of value or standard of behavior, his response is simply seeing the need and doing what he can to meet the need. In acting out of the ethic of love, there seemed to be no limit to what he would do. Neither time nor cost entered into the decisions he made.
In fact, the Samaritan gives a blank check to the inn keeper to cover future expense of room and board. For the inn keeper to accept such a deal meant he knew the Samaritan and knew he could be trusted to make good his promise.
This dimension of the story always impressed us in our study. Not only compassion and mercy were visible, but honesty and trust were part of the nature of this Good Samaritan.
No wonder Luke, the Gentile, wanted to include such a story in his Gospel that would reach out to all whom were the last, the least, and the lost. In the Good Samaritan, we not only have an example of how we are to live with our neighbors, but how our living serves the God we love. Get the connection?