5 Lessons from the Story of the Good Samaritan

It’s funny how after over 2,000 years we are still asking the same questions. Should we help the refugees? What about the Irish homeless? Does charity begin at home? If it does, maybe we shouldn’t help anyone else until we have sorted out our own house. Who is my neighbour?

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii[e] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

So what 5 things can we learn today from this ancient story.

 

  1. Time

 

Wherever the Samaritan was going that day he didn’t make it. His plans were severely altered from the moment he set eyes on the helpless, beaten, naked man on the side of the road. Not only did he stop and administer first aid to this stranger, but also then travelled with him to an inn and made sure he was looked after and comfortable. The Priest and the Levite did not have the time to… eh…waste on this half-dead stranger.

 

I think it is probably fair to the say that the Priest and the Levite would have been respected and ‘busy’ people; a large part of their job was distributing resources to the poor and needy. The major problem for them, apart from the inconvenience, was that the wounded man could have been dead, they didn’t know for sure. If the priest had approached and touched a dead man, he would have become ‘ceremonially defiled’ and therefore unable to work for at least a week until the completion of a ‘ceremonial purification’ process. This would have had a major effect on his time, work and on his wage.

 

  1. Money

 

Look at the expense the Samaritan takes on himself to help the wounded man. He uses his own oil and his own wine to help administer first aid, he pays for the inn. Notice the Samaritan doesn’t loan or lend the money to help the man out. He gives it. Heck, the Samaritan doesn’t even limit the money. ‘When I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ Whatever expenses it takes to get the man well again he will pay. It seems crazy today, in a world that advises you to save and get insurance and pay into your pension, that he would be so frivolous with his finances.

 

John Wesley spent many years of his life travelling and preaching the gospel. His work became much desired and due to the sales of his sermons and books he had a healthy amount of money coming into his account, estimated around £1,400 per year. When he died he left behind one coat and two silver teaspoons. That was it! One coat and two silver teaspoons. You see, John Wesley decided early on that he could live off just £30 per year. So that is what he did. Even when his bank balance grew he still lived off just £30 per year. The rest of it…well he just gave that away. To anyone who had need. He is quoted as saying ‘If [when I die] I leave behind £10 you and all of mankind can bear witness against me that I have died a thief and a robber.’ Incredible.

 

  1. Safety

 

A few years back I did a security course for travellers. Basically it gives you tips and advice on how to look after yourself and others when travelling in an area that may not have the same safety that we generally have in Ireland. As part of the course we were told that if you ever come across an incident (think car crash or perhaps a beaten, naked half dead man) the first thing you have to do is assess the risk. In other words, you need to figure out if you are in danger yourself. You can’t help anyone if you are in trouble yourself. Had I been on that road, my security instructor would have told me to pass by quickly.

 

The Samaritan risks his own safety by stopping, the thieves could be watching just around the corner. He risks his own safety by looking after beaten man. How would he explain himself when he got to the town and the inn? How would he explain that he was actually looking after this man? Surely, the Jews in the town and the Jews in the inn would assume that the Samaritan had beaten, robbed and stripped this, assumed, Jewish man in revenge. A Samaritan would not be safe in a Jewish town with a wounded Jew over the back of his donkey. Community vengeance would not be considered a step too far for the townspeople. The Jews and Samaritan’s hated each other.

 

  1. Prejudice

 

Jesus original listeners would have been blown away that hero of the story was a Samaritan. Notice even the reaction of the man who Jesus is talking to!

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

He can’t even bring himself to say ‘Samaritan’, instead referring to him as ‘yer one’. The story highlights how the Samaritan didn’t let prejudice stop his act of compassion. He recognised that the beaten man needed help regardless of his age, language, ethnicity or religion.

 

Jesus could easily have placed this story in Samaria, and had a good Jew helping a wounded Samaritan. And maybe he would have, if he had been talking to Samaritans. Whoever we have prejudice against Jesus wants us to realise, not only that he loves them but, that we should love them too.

 

“Tolerance isn’t about not having beliefs. It’s about how your beliefs lead you to treat people who disagree with you” – Tim Keller

 

  1. Control

 

Just take a minute and reflect on what this Samaritan does again. I think the thing I find most…disturbing… is the way the Samaritan gives up his control of the situation. He stops, he helps to heal the wounds and travels with the Jew to a Jewish town and a Jewish inn where he, himself, could have been accused, beaten and killed. He makes sure the man is settled, comfortable and pays his own money for his ongoing care. He promises to return with more money – whatever it takes to make this man better and meet his needs. He doesn’t require the innkeeper to get a message to him if he needs more money – he’ll pay it. Whatever it is. He trusts the innkeeper. He trusts the injured man.

 

That whole thing scares me. Because sometimes I think I’m happy to meet need and help the poor, but on my terms. As long as I have control and can back out when it gets to dangerous or too expensive or whenever I don’t have a good feeling.  I’ll give a bit but not too much.

 

And when I’m thinking that I hear the words of Jesus “Go and do likewise.” Hey…who said Jesus doesn’t challenge us today?

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