Luke XXXVIII: Lk. 10:25-42
Christian community is hard. It’s hard because of sin. It’s hard because of different personalities and gifts. It’s hard because the stakes are high. Christian community aims to be and claims to be a sharing in the fellowship of God Himself (1 Jn. 1:3). So the choices we make in community are necessarily claims about our God and what eternal life looks like.
Jesus has just announced something very much like this about His community (Lk. 10:21-22) when a lawyer stands up and puts Jesus to the test (Lk. 10:25), just as Jesus had been tested by the devil at the beginning of His ministry (Lk. 4:2). The question is ‘What shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ (Lk. 10:25). While the question is intended as a setup, it’s important to understand this passage as Jesus answering that question. Jesus points to the law and turns the question back on the lawyer (a student of the Jewish law) (Lk. 10:26). The lawyer summarizes the law as love of God and love of neighbor (Lk. 10:27), and Jesus agrees with his answer: do this and you will live (Lk. 10:28). Here it’s worth noting that the notion of “eternal life” should not be understood as merely “going to heaven when you die.” Eternal life should be understood as the life lived under God’s blessing and prepared to endure God’s judgment (e.g. Ps. 1) – which would include heaven and the resurrection. But this is why many of the Jews had come to see this blessed life primarily in sectarian categories: not walking, standing, or sitting with sinners (Ps. 1:1). It had been syncretism with the foreign nations that caused God’s great wrath that drove Israel into exile (2 Chron. 36:15-16), and when the people came back into the land, they were so concerned not to repeat their past sins, they divorced their foreign wives (Ezra 10). In fact, the Samaritans were those who remained in the northern kingdom of Israel in Samaria after the Assyrians conquered the land and resettled it with other nations (2 Kgs. 17:24). While a very compromised Israelite religion continued, it was practiced alongside the worship of various pagan gods (2 Kgs. 17:29-33). So when the lawyer wants to justify himself and asks, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ – the question is all about how a faithful Israelite should live before God given the long-standing problems of Israelite compromise.
It’s in this context that Jesus tells one of His most famous stories. A “certain man” was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho (Lk. 10:30). Given all the particular identities of the other characters in the story, the generic identity of the man underlines the fact that it could be anyone. The man is ambushed by robbers who strip him, beat him, and leave him half-dead on the side of the road (Lk. 10:30). Jesus begins at the top of Jewish culture with a priest, proceeds to a well respected member of society, the Levite, and finally comes to one of the most despised members of Jewish society, the Samaritan (cf. Jn. 4:9). The priest may have been on his way to the temple, and may have been concerned about ceremonial purity. Priests were explicitly prohibited from becoming unclean by touching anyone who had died outside of his immediate family (Dt. 21:1-11). The Levite may have been concerned for the same sort of thing: contact with the dead required a period of isolation outside the camp of Israel (Num. 5:2) and could keep someone from celebrating Passover at the usual time (Num. 9:6-10). Jesus seems to imply that each passerby comes a little closer: the priests only “sees” the man and passes by, the Levite “comes to the place and sees him” and passes by, but the Samaritan comes to him, sees him, and has “compassion” on him (Lk. 10:31-33). And the compassion is further illustrated in the extravagant care the Samaritan has for the stranger: He binds up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them, sets him on his own animal, takes him to an inn and cares for the man himself for the night (Lk. 10:34). But that’s not all: the next day, he leaves money with the innkeeper to continue caring for the man and promises to come back soon to pay any remaining balance and presumably to make sure the man is continuing to recover (Lk. 10:35). It’s particularly intriguing that Jesus shifts the lawyer’s question. The lawyer asked, ‘who is my neighbor?’ but Jesus asks him, ‘which of these proved to be a neighbor?’ Whereas the lawyer wanted to define love of neighbor by particular people, Jesus defines love of neighbor by compassion and mercy.
On Their Way
The following episode with Mary and Martha fits with the Good Samaritan for a couple of reasons. First, notice that it is concerned with needs and priorities. Martha assumes that serving is more needful, more important than sitting at the feet of Jesus (Lk. 10:38-40). Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t rebuke Martha for serving; He corrects her for being anxious and troubled about many things (Lk. 10:41). One of those things may have been Martha’s concern that it was unseemly for a woman to be sitting at the feet of a Rabbi. Notice also that Jesus doesn’t say that Mary has chosen better than Martha, only that what Mary has chosen is good (Lk. 10:42). This story fits well here because Martha is in effect accusing Mary of being like the Priest and Levite in the previous story: so caught up with “serving God” that she doesn’t see her own sister in need. But Jesus says that what is needful and necessary is defined by God and not by our feelings. Second, it doesn’t seem like an accident that this episode with Mary and Martha occurs “as they went on their way” (Lk. 10:38). The natural question of course is: on their way where? Luke told us in the last chapter that Jesus has set his face to go to Jerusalem (Lk. 9:51). This is the road they have been going along (Lk. 9:57). And just before Jesus finally arrives in Jerusalem, He will pass through Jericho (Lk. 19:1). In other words, they are on the road that leads through Jericho and then up to Jerusalem, and on that road, Jesus has stopped to care for the needs of Mary and Martha. Jesus teaches and corrects, and by His words, He brings cleansing and healing (cf. Eph. 5:25-26). Jesus is the Good Samaritan.
Conclusions & Applications
Whatever the motivations of the lawyer, his question still stands: What must I do to inherit eternal life? The answer is to love God with all that you are; sit at His feet; see your need for His Word, His mercy, His compassion.
Christian community is not defined by people but by compassion. We love because God loves. And this love gladly suffers and dies and gives generously. But true compassion is defined by what God says we need and not by what beggars demand they be given. We live in a world that is increasingly hostile to Christian love because it is hostile to Jesus. It wants the right to define love for us, but this is to demand that they be our Savior, which they cannot be. But this must not discourage us. When we choose Christ that can never be taken away.