Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it.” What are those things of which Jesus speaks? What did the prophets and kings, all of the faithful of the Old Testament long to see? They longed for the Messiah! And now Jesus tells them, You’re looking at Him! You are face-to-face with the One whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord, whom the voices of the Prophets promised in their faithful Word! And how does Jesus explain that to them? He reveals this to those who have ears to hear by way of a Parable to a lawyer who wanted to justify himself. To that lawyer and to all of us was explained that the only hope for salvation is not your own action, but the action of a merciful God in His promised Messiah.
The lawyer was well acquainted with the legal concept of justification, Do this and you are free from guilt and punishment. He wanted a checklist. This is lost in our English translations because the tenses of Greek verbs are hard to translate into English and maintain readability. Literally the lawyer asks Jesus “Teacher, what shall I do once to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asks him then what the Law says, to which he replies: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus answers, not “Do this once and you will live,” as the lawyer asked, but “do this as your constant action and you will live.” The Law is not a one-time deal or a checklist, “I got in a car accident, but instead of using God’s name in vain I prayed for the other person involved. Second Commandment, done!” The lawyer wanted a checklist, and Jesus gives a way of life. To inherit eternal life you must always love God with all you are, you must always do everything He has commanded, and you must always love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. Though not written by St. Luke, you can almost imagine the lawyer’s internal question, the same question the crowds will ask later in the Gospel when Jesus gives a similar unattainable command: “Who then can be saved?” (Lk. 18:26)
As deterred as he may be, the lawyer tries again to make the Law attainable: “Who is my neighbor?” He hopes Jesus will give a first century Jewish answer of “Your relatives and your friends,” an answer which permitted—and in some groups even demanded—ignoring those who you didn’t know, no matter what kind of need they might be experiencing. Then the man could say “I have fully loved these,” and go away with Jesus’s praise for fully keeping the Law. Except Jesus doesn’t do that. Instead He shows that the lawyer has asked the wrong question. The question shouldn’t be “who is my neighbor,” but “to whom should you become a neighbor?” The person in need may not be a neighbor as you would like it defined, but in his time of need he should become one! To inherit eternal life, the lawyer, and each of us, should show perfect love to all of humanity all of the time.
To show us to what extent this love should go, Jesus tells the well-known, but completely misunderstood, Parable of the Good Samaritan. We hear it as a something to do, part of loving your neighbor as yourself. While this is true, it’s not all there is to it. Yes, we as Christians are called to do good to our fellowman. We are to help our neighbor in their need, sharing freely of the gifts, physical and spiritual, which God has given us. Not doing that, or even refusing to do it, as Jesus illustrated in the Priest and the Levite, is a sin. In fact, the Priest and the Levite think they are justifying themselves by refusing to help the victim, because doing so would make them ceremonially unclean, therefore unfit in God’s eyes. But in attempting to justify themselves they only make the situation worse by breaking another law, that of loving your neighbor as yourself. And that is why Jesus tells the Parable. All of our efforts to justify ourselves only lead to more sin. It’s only God who can love everyone perfectly without letting the cost change His mind. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus reveals the extent to which God’s love goes to rescue His children left for dead by sin.
As you examine the Good Samaritan in light of the societal norms of first century Jews, it becomes clear that the Good Samaritan is not just a helpful man, but he represents Jesus Christ. All of his actions demonstrate the kind of perfect love and voluntary lowering of Himself that Jesus did in His earthly life. First, the Samaritan is obviously wealthy. He has at least two day’s wages with him to leave as a deposit at the inn. Second, he has an animal which he was riding, a sign that he was of the upper echelons of society. This wealth makes him a target. The 17-mile path from Jerusalem to Jericho was notoriously unsafe. It was the home of various gangs and individuals who liked to rob the faithful people making the journey to Jerusalem. So by stopping to see if the man was even alive, let alone what help he may need, the wealthy Samaritan has made himself a target for any opportunists who may be lying in wait. Second, he risked making himself ceremonially unclean. Coming in contact with a corpse is one of the most defiling things in Old Testament ceremonial law, which is why the Priest and Levite don’t approach. If anyone came within six feet of a corpse, he was unclean and needed to undergo an expensive and time-consuming cleansing process. The Samaritan risks it, and knows it is worth it if he is able to help this man on the side of the road.
Once he has approached the man and finds that he is clinging to life, he administers first aid and gets medical attention. He does all the things Hosea said the Lord would do for His people: he heals, he binds up the wounds, he revives the man by putting him on his donkey, he raises him up by ensuring he receives the medical attention necessary to return to full health, and all of this is essentially a resurrection from the dead. The man was left for dead, and likely would have died had the Samaritan not intervened. Continually the Samaritan went over and above what he had to do. He could have simply stabilized the man and left him in someone else’s care. But he didn’t! He stabilized him, dressed his wounds, took him to receive medical care, took care of him through the night, and then promised to pay whatever debt the man incurred and to come back to retrieve him.
All of this was done by a Samaritan, a hated outsider. Who else was rejected by the very people He came to save? Jesus, whose own received Him not! Jesus is the Good Samaritan, and you are the victim. You are the one left for dead by sin and the devil. Like the lawyer, you tried to save yourself, but the holy Law of God robbed you of any righteousness you could have had and left you dead in God’s eyes. But Jesus came and had mercy on you, He was moved to His very core, and did everything necessary to save you and preserve your life, even giving His own for yours. He has bound your wounds, He has poured on the soothing oil of His grace in Holy Baptism, He has washed away the filth of your sin by the Blood-carrying wine of Holy Communion. He has borne your sin to the cross like a beast of burden carries a load. He has left you in the care of the holy, Christian, and apostolic Church, and has promised to return for you.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan isn’t a checklist. It’s not a starting point for laws protecting people who aid the injured. It’s a revelation of God’s love for you, shown in Jesus Christ. It’s a revelation of just how self-sacrificing Jesus’ love is, even though our love is so often self-serving. Blessed are your eyes which have seen these things in the cross of Jesus Christ. Blessed are your ears which have heard this unbelievable love of God given in His Son, spoken by the Holy Spirit to apostles and evangelists. You have seen and heard that for which the prophets and kings longed, but what they enjoy today as they stand around the throne of the Lamb. And by God’s grace, you will join not only prophets and kings, but angels and archangels and everyone who has died in the faith, a recipient of the aid of the true Good Samaritan, Jesus Christ. You will join them at the Altar, and in God’s timing, when He returns for you, your soul and body will be reunited in a perfected body, ready to worship for all eternity. May Jesus, the Good Samaritan, keep you in soul and body until that day.