Image: “Portrait of YOU as the Good Samaritan” by James Janknegt, 2007
by Rev. Dr. krista S. Givens
During this month which begins with a celebration of our country’s Independence, we are examining the gift of FREEDOM. What does it mean to be free? How do we use the freedoms we’ve been given? How do we encourage others in their own freedoms?Is there a responsibility that comes with our freedom.
These were some of the questions the early Christian churches were asking the Apostle Paul in his ministry. As he was traveling and advising these early Christian communities, they were questioning this new way of being, thinking, believing and practicing their new faith. What does it mean for us new Christians that Christ freed us from sin? Maybe they thought that because they were now “free” they could go on their way and do whatever they wanted because “Christ died for me… I’m good.”
But Paul tries to explain to these new Christians…. Wait wait… there is a second part to the contract Christ made with us: Christ freed us, and thus we need to respond. But how?
And that is what the story of the Good Samaritan is about…. If we can something to help, that is what we should do… to help our neighbor and to worship the God who compels us to mercy.
As we begin the scripture from Luke 10:25-37 we find Jesus being TESTED by a lawyer: a keeper of the law. He asks Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
And Jesus provides him with the Law – the Torah law that this man knows so well – 26 He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ 27 He answered, ‘You shall 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 your neighbour as yourself.’
(Now, this quote is a melding of two lessons from the Torah; “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind” from Deuteronomy 6:5 and “Love your neighbour as yourself” from Leviticus 19:18)
28 And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
But, not satisfied, in verse 29, he asks Jesus that most vital of questions: ‘And who is my neighbour?’
* And Jesus answers him with a parable:
30 Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.
* The first person who encounters this man is a priest – one whose JOB it is to care for the poor and hurting… and he passes on the other side.
* The second to encounter this poor man – beaten and near death – is a Levite, one who is from the tribe of Levi. Why is this significant? Well, the Tribe of Levi served particular religious duties for the Israelites and had political responsibilities as well. In return, the other tribes were expected to give tithe to the Levites and the Levites had Torah-reading privileges in the synagogue. (1)
These were people who – from their birth rite, from their privilege, from their good-favor with God, were EXPECTED to observe the Torah, they were EXPECTED to do the right thing… it was in their very being… and even he, passed this dying man on the other side.
* But it was a Samaritan who helped. A SAMARITAN! (Can you believe it?) It doesn’t have the same impact on us as it did on the first hearers of this story.
As author Brian Stoffregen explains, “During an ancient Israeli war, most of the Jews living up north in Samaria were killed or taken into exile. However, a few Jews, who were so unimportant that nobody wanted them, were left in Samaria. Since that time, these Jews had intermarried with other races. They were considered half-breeds by the “true” Jews. They had perverted the race. They had also perverted the religion. They looked to Mt. Gerizim as the place to worship God, not Jerusalem. They interpreted the Torah differently than the southern Jews. The animosity between the Jews and Samaritans were so great that some Jews would go miles out of their way to avoid walking on Samaritan territory”
But it was this man, a foreigner, an outsider, one that was considered degenerate, this man did the right thing! Not because it was his JOB (as the Priest), not because it was his birth rite (as a Levite)… but because he was moved to compassion and was compelled to help.
We all have this impulse, this desire to help, this capacity for compassion and mercy and action. But in some it seems to drive them to be Good Samaritans in our world. And Good Samaritans are out there: people who take tremendous risks to help others.
For example, in 2007, Wesley Autrey earned unwanted publicity in New York City by jumping onto the train tracks to save a man who had fallen into the path of a subway car. While waiting for a downtown Manhattan train, Autrey saw 19-year-old student suffering from some kind of medical episode. After stumbling down the platform, the young man fell onto the tracks.
“If I let him stay there by himself,” Autrey said, “he’s going to be dismembered,” so he jumped down to the tracks, a few feet below platform level, and rolled with the young man into a drainage trough, and some train cars passed over the two men with only a couple of inches to spare, but neither man suffered any harm from the incident. (3)
But the Good Samaritan in our story didn’t stop with the saving act: Listen to all he did for the wounded man:
33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”
This is as if Wesley Autrey, having saved the young man from the oncoming train, took him and bandaged his wounds – pouring the best and most expensive medicines upon his wounds. Then he put him in his own car, as Autrey pushed it along the highway and brought him to the New York Marriot Hotel. And when the student was feeling well-enough, Autrey went on his way and instructed the hotel manager to continue his quality care, and left enough money to do just so…. And if it costs more, he would pay that too!
That is not to diminish the amazing act of Wesley Autrey in jumping onto the tracks to save a stranger! That is amazing! But Jesus asks us to go even further:
- 1.to give of our attention: How many others passed by on the other side, not wanting to be involved? How many of us ignore those in need because we have “too much to deal with..”
- 2.Jesus asks us to give of our compassion: to give the care and heart-felt mercy to our brothers and sisters in need.
- 3.Jesus asks us to give of our treasure: how much are we willing to give of what WE have to provide for the care of others? Are we willing to pour out our oil and wine (those things that we value) upon someone who is perhaps not deserving?
- 4.And finally, Jesus asks us to give of our time: the Good Samaritan was on a journey – he had places to go and things to accomplish and suddenly faced with a stranger in need, he curtailed his plans to help.
36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ 37 He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
Jesus wants us to do something. We may not be able to do everything – but we can do something. If we are to Love God with heart, soul, mind and strength, then we also LOVE our neighbors as ourselves. (not tolerate our neighbors, not think indifferently of our neighbors, not even LIKE our neighbors… but LOVE – with our whole beings, those we share this planet with. This is the consequence of our freedom. The responsibilities that come with our freedoms. Once we are made free, we are not finished.
Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid activist and former president of South Africa, put it this way:
I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.
Today, Let us do what we can, for those in God’s family. Now and forever. Amen.
- Found on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levite
- Brian Stoffregen found on http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/luke10x25.htm
3. “Subway savior shrugs off praise for his quick action” by DEEPTI HAJELA ,THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, Posted Jan 5, 2007 found on
4. Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom found on https://legacy.scu.edu/ethics/architects-of-peace/Mandela/essay.html