Reading: Luke 10: 25-37
Nearly 20 years ago – on a Saturday night – a car crashed in a tunnel in Paris. The occupants were severely injured. But the photographers who recorded the scene for the world press did nothing to help. Three out of four people died, including Princess Diana.
Ironically, France is one of the few countries which had a law – a Good Samarian Law – that makes it a crime not to help people in need.
Since that accident, the law has been revisited around the world. One state in Australia – the Northern Territory – has such a law. Very few people have been prosecuted under it – so it seems. Some US states have a similar law – but the argument against it, amongst many arguments is that it infringes on individual liberties. And of course people don’t want to be sued if their help harms people inadvertently.
Although in one survey it was found that more people would help someone in need because they were legally obligated than for moral or ethical reasons.
The issue has become much more prominent since then. It turns up in interesting places. For example – have a look at this scene from the final in the series of the American series Seinfeld – which I hasten to add I never did watch. The humour is unpalatable – and as you will see the background knowledge of the writers dodgy. I think it makes the point though.
Have a look.
If you think that’s bad, you should read some of the comments made about this. One person wrote this:
MegaSoldier64 1 month ago – The good Samaritan law is modeled after great Britain’s good Samaritan law, it became law when the queen of England had a heart attack and all those paparazzi just stood there and took pictures instead of helping her…
This lawyer in Luke’s gospel is also an interesting character. “What must I do?” is a great question about obligations. In this case its “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” that gets Jesus into “teaching by story” mode. Jesus’ response is straightforward – it’s one of those “haven’t you read your Bible” kind of responses:
Luk 10:26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
Luk 10:27 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 neighbour as yourself.'”
Luk 10:28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
The legal eagle is not satisfied. Maybe he wanted controversy – more of a debate – maybe he was trying to trick Jesus.
He certainly opened up a new can of worms for those of us who like to be passive observers along the road of life.
Luke says he wanted to justify himself. I’m glad he did – as we get one of the two greatest stories of the bible – as a result of his probing. The other more famous one they say is the prodigal son. You can decide which is the top one.
It’s not unusual for stories to have three characters. Dig deep into your literary knowledge and you will find some – Goldilocks and the three bears, the three little pigs. I am sure you know what I mean. It’s all about story technique.
Jesus’ listeners would be listening out for the third character in the tale.
They would have wanted the hero to be one of them. Not a fancy Levite or indifferent priest. They are the bad guys in the tale.
They would have been waiting for the third person – a good guy who shows up the others – one of them – ordinary folk with some moral backbone.
They listen carefully – here it comes. “a Samaritan…”
- “no way Jesus! One of the enemy???”
He’s not mentioned as a “good” Samaritan. That has become a title added on by us.
- He’s more than good though.
- He’s extravagant! Remarkably generous.
- It’s an absurd story.
- It’s not about who is our neighbour.
- It’s about who we are neighbours to. It’s about action.
It’s another variant of “love your enemies.” The wounded man is bound to be Jewish. And the hatred was mutual.
LET’S DO THE PLAY NOW
Let’s choose characters to play based on who you identify with the most.
When you ask kids to do this – and probably adults – not many people want to be the half dead guy.
The boys love being the robbers!
Perhaps we don’t want to think about what it’s like to be needy.
I don’t think we can get into those shoes very easily. Unless you’ve been attacked and beaten up perhaps.
How would you do as the lawyer?
Note that he can’t even say the word “Samaritan”. Jesus asks him this question at the end: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
He can only say this: “The one who had mercy on him.”
“Go and do likewise” says Jesus.
WHAT IS THE IMPORTANT THING TO TAKE HOME?
This is not a moral or legal story primarily. It’s not that we are to decide to be “good Samaritans” either because it’s the right thing to do or because we might be prosecuted.
It’s really about what motivated the Samaritan in the tale.
What did he have? Pity – is the word in the NIV in verse 33. Most better translations use the word “compassion” – that word we talked about a couple of weeks ago – that involves the inner parts, heart, stomach, the lot. It was the feeling Jesus had in Luke 7 towards the widow of Nain that caused him to stop the funeral procession – and raise the woman’s only son.
It’s the word in Luke 15:20 we are still to get to, that the Father has for the Prodigal son.
Its appears in passages referring to Jesus and God the Father.
And there is a strong argument that the Samaritan here is functioning as God’s agent.
After all, the lawyer identifies the man as showing “mercy” – another word which throughout Luke is associated either with an act of God or God’s agent (Luke 1:47-50, 54, 72, 78; 17:13; 18:38-39; the only exception is when Father Abraham refuses to show the rich man “mercy” [16:24], an exception which ultimately proves the rule that in Luke’s Gospel only God and Jesus show mercy).
That makes the story more startling.
Jesus is seen in the Samaritan. The Samaritan is a Christ figure.
Who is it that stops to help – that binds up our wounds and anoints us with the oil of gladness – that pays for our safe haven – if not Jesus?
This is not an “example” story that we are to be Good Samaritans.
We are younger siblings of our elder brother Jesus in God’s family.
We are the body of Christ – we are Jesus in the world – stopping to help out of compassion and because of his mercy.
MUCH OF THE WORLD MAY WELL BE HALF DEAD AND IN A DITCH
We can relish our own security and purity if we like – or take the chance – the risk – of showing mercy at a cost of our time and money – to reach the broken ones of this generation.
And if we don’t have compassion – then we need some loving ourselves to soften our hearts.
In any case – it was the Samaritans that did not welcome Jesus, that James and John wanted to turn into toast by calling fire down from heaven.
It was one of them who got it right – the enemy models love. Must have been a son of peace – I would say.