Familiar parable, hidden secret
The story is told of an American Marine in Iraq getting separated from his team. While searching for them, he was ambushed & beaten by locals and left for dead. An ISIS commander happened by shortly after. Upon seeing this soldier with the fight taken out of him, the ISIS commander surprisingly took pity on him. He hoisted the barely conscious soldier into the bed of his pickup truck, covering him with a tarp, and transported him to a nearby safe house. The commander patched the solider up the best he could, then gave enough money to the safe house owner to cover a couple of weeks’ room and meals, promising to return to secret the soldier away to safety.
That’s a contemporary retelling of the parable we come to today in our series Secrets of the Kingdom: Unpacking the parables of Jesus. This week’s parable is clearly the best known of all Jesus’ parables. Its hero has made it into popular parlance: most everyone understands the basic idea of what it means to be a Good Samaritan.
Hamilton County is particularly blessed by the existence of a county-wide charity clearinghouse located right here in Fishers. Its name is Good Samaritan Network of Hamilton County. So helpful: when people contact us asking what assistance is available, we know the best resource to direct them to is a place aptly named Good Samaritan Network.
However: despite this parable being so well known, most people miss the Kingdom secret within it. The secret is uncovered only when you consider the setting into which Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.
The single most important guiding principle for understanding any literature, including any passage in the Bible, is that…
Context is King!
If someone says, “Jump!” in the context of teaching a child how to jump rope double dutch style, that’s a timed hop. It’s a totally different ballgame to hear the call “Jump!” when you’re wearing a parachute standing at the open door of an airplane a few thousand feet up. Context is King!
The reason most people miss the Kingdom secret within the parable of the Good Samaritan is that no attention is given to the context into which Jesus speaks it. Let’s see the context, why Jesus told this parable, to this man, at this point in Jesus’ ministry.
To do that, open your Bible to Luke chapter 10. The parable begins in verse 25. Don’t start there. Start with the beginning of the chapter. There we read that Jesus appointed seventy-two of his followers and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. Before Jesus would show up, they would go and prepare the way spiritually.
Verse 17, the seventy-two return back after this short-term assignment filled with joy, telling Jesus that even demons submitted to them in Jesus’ name. They were struck by the authority found in Jesus’ name.
Spiritual hide and seek
Now look with me at verse 21.
Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do…” Luke 10:21
Religious experts have long sought out the deep secrets of God but failed, while God sovereignly chose twelve ordinary guys and to them revealed his Kingdom secrets. God was pleased to reveal himself and his ways to ordinary people hungry for truth, and yet hide that same truth from those who would use it for ungodly ends. This is the context which sets up the parable of the Good Samaritan.
And if that doesn’t make sense yet, it will in a moment, as we read the introduction to the parable with this in mind—that Jesus’ parables
- Conceal from the self-satisfied
- Reveal to the spiritually hungry
To those who, like the seventy-two we just read about, follow Jesus eager to learn and grow and change, God reveals deep truths about who he is and how he operates.
But to those who come with no intention of changing, minds closed, intending only to reinforce what they already believe or don’t believe—for those who come to God like that—God conceals the truth. They’re not going to honor it anyway, so he hides it from them. Again, this is the context for the parable we’re about to unpack. Now we read the immediate context, which begins in verse 25.
Great question, terrible motive
“On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.”
Not to learn from Jesus.
Not to grow and change personally.
A religious expert came to test Jesus, to make himself look good and make Jesus look bad. Good luck with that.
“Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
If God’s way is to reveal truth to those who come honest, open and eager, but conceal truth from those who come stubborn and closed-minded, how then do you imagine Jesus will respond here? The disingenuous question is, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ answer…is to come back with a question of his own. Verse 26:
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
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’[Deut. 6:5]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[Lev. 19:18]”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
What question could be more important than the one this man asks? But his intention is off, and so is his understanding. Eternal life—an open, right relationship with God now that continues after death for all time—isn’t earned. There is no to do list that tallies up enough to deserve eternal life. This man, along with the vast majority of people today, imagines that salvation comes by human works. “I’m a good person. I never killed anybody. I’m better than a lot of other people. So when I die, I go to heaven.”
Not a question you want to be wrong on. Earlier this week we offered a prayer outreach for members of the community who were affected by the murder-suicide that happened on Monday. While we were there, a man came along who in an earlier conversation was the most intense I’ve ever experienced, trying to convince me that Islam is in full what the Christian faith is in part. He was very intense. He dominated the conversation. When he asked why I believe Jesus is the way, he would not look at the Bible passage I opened before him, Isaiah chapter 53. When I invited him to study the Bible with me, he would not give an answer. We ended the conversation with a hug. But right before that came a particularly intense moment, when he said, “There is only paradise or hell. No other option!” To which I agreed, “Yes! Only heaven or hell. So you’d better be right!”
What I see in this man, sadly, is fervent closed-mindedness, like the New Testament’s Saul before he became Paul. All we can do for someone that hardened is pray.
Prayer is to hardened hearts what rain is to parched farmland. [repeat]
But to continue trying to plainly state the truth to someone that stubborn is not what Jesus did. Look back at verses 10-12 and you’ll see that it’s not what Jesus told his followers to do. To the stubborn, God conceals further truth. That describes the man standing before Jesus in this encounter: not open and honest, but closed-
minded and hard-hearted.
The effect God’s commands have on an honest person
So for someone like this, Jesus directs him to God’s Law. Here’s why: if you honestly consider the two commandments this man cites, if you honestly compare your own actions and thoughts up against the standard of perfectly and fully loving God and people, the honest person ends up…on their knees. Desperately aware of how far short we fall, of loving God and loving people fully—with our whole heart, soul, strength and mind. We can barely make it through a day without despising a fellow Christian who voted for the other side, no less love any actual enemies!
The honest person, then, upon hearing God’s Law, falls to our knees and admits, as the Book of Common Prayer pens it…
Almighty and most merciful Father;
We have erred, and strayed from your ways like lost sheep.
We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.
We have offended against your holy laws.
We have left undone those things which we ought to have done;
And we have done those things which we ought not to have done;
And there is no health in us.
The effect God’s commands have on a dishonest person
So what do we see in this religious expert? Verse 29. Having heard Jesus challenge him to try loving God and neighbor fully, verse 29 says of this man…
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
He wanted to justify himself. Feeling the power of the commands, he looked for a loophole. So he tried to narrow the definition of neighbor. Where can I draw the line? Surely not everyone deserves my love.
Jewish religious teachers in those days—this man being one—taught that neighbor was synonymous with brother, meaning your fellow Jew. One rabbinical saying ruled that ‘heretics, informers, and renegades should be pushed into the ditch and not pulled out.”
Source: J. Jeremias, Rediscovering the Parables, p. 159
This man’s question then is essentially, “Who isn’t my neighbor? Who do I not have to love?”
A Kingdom parable for a closed-minded questioner
Now comes the parable. Verse 30:
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.
31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
So two of the most committed religious people possible go out of their way to not help someone in need. And then the big plot twist:
33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 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. 35 The next day he took out two denarii 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.’
We call this the parable of the Good Samaritan. But there was never any such thing when Jesus told this parable. This is like telling a story about the good pipe bomber. The good neo-Nazi. The good Antifa anarchist. The good ISIS commander. It just didn’t fit. On purpose.
Jesus makes the case that actually loving God and loving your neighbor, not just claiming to, involves:
There’s no way around it. It is costly to love.
- It messes with your schedule.
- It lightens your wallet.
- It’s inconvenient
Loving our neighbors in the YMCA
Here at yChurch, we are spending more on outreach than before, with a prayer outreach in the Fishers YMCA twice a month. The church checking account is a little lower recently for good reason, because of where we are focusing. Let me tell you a story from just this week.
We met a man who is brand new to Indiana, and learned that he is Persian—a non-political way of saying he is Iranian. I asked and learned that he is a Muslim. 99.4% of Iranians self-identify as Muslims, mostly Shi’a.
So I asked if he would like to hear the story of Jesus in his heart language of Farsi. He was interested, and asked us to show it. So we took out a phone and typed in the url and free download code, selected Farsi and hit play. He held the phone up to his ear and began to hear the good news of Jesus in his language.
He was so very grateful, repeatedly thanking us, hand to heart and shaking hands all around. Very gracious.
The cost to us there is actually quite small. Some money for fruit and candy, for the Jesus film download cards, for the pocket New Testaments we make available, a few other things. It costs us some time. It costs us some minor rejection from those who don’t want to engage on anything like this.
But this is what love does. Love risks. Love spends, invests, for the sake of other people.
Jesus tells the whole parable, then comes back to the tester with a test, verse 36:
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
To which this religious expert cannot even bring himself to say the name Samaritan. All Luke tells us is…
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
The Kingdom secret within this parable
If your mind has wandered, here’s where you want to come back. Most people hear this parable and conclude that the point is that we should love everybody. That’s the implication, but it’s not the reason Jesus told this man this parable. It’s not the point, not the Kingdom secret.
The point of the parable is that eternal life is not based on what you do. No one will stand before God on judgment day and say, “I did it! I loved you with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my strength and with all my mind; and I loved my neighbor as myself. Now let me in.” Not gonna happen.
We’re getting close to the Kingdom secret within the parable of the Good Samaritan. It’s not about helping people in need. That’s the clear implication, but it’s not the intention of Jesus telling this parable, to this man, who came with false motives, merely wanting to justify himself.
Jesus never taught that eternal life is based on what you do. Eternal life is based on believing what Jesus has done through his death and resurrection.
So why does he say what he does to this man? He says “Do this and you will live.” (love God fully), he says “Go and do likewise.” (love even your sworn enemies sacrificially and personally), because Jesus is trying to help this man come to the end of himself, to admit his dishonest attempt to justify himself.
The law never justifies anyone. Quite the opposite. Romans 3:20 is crystal clear in stating…
“No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” Romans 3:20
No one is ever made right with God by trying to obey rules. Instead, God’s commandments show us how far we fall short, how sinful we are. The effect of facing the two greatest commandments honestly is that you realize you don’t love God with all your heart, and you don’t love people with all your heart.
The point of the parable
That’s the point of the parable! The Kingdom secret in the parable of the Good Samaritan is that we need new hearts. We desperately need new hearts. That’s why Jesus tells this parable, to this man, who comes to him dishonestly. He desperately needs to see that what he needs is a new heart, so that he can love like that unexpected hero of the parable. The parable is meant to serve as a spiritual AED device, a spiritual Automatic External Defibrillator to shock this guy into seeing and feeling how he has completely missed the point.
Long before Jesus spoke this parable to this man, the Lord gave a prophecy found in the Old Testament book of Ezekiel. Addressing our greatest need, the only true answer to the question “How can I inherit eternal life?”, the Lord prophesied this:
“I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Ezekiel 36:26-27
How can sinful hearts love God wholeheartedly? Answer: we can’t. And if we don’t love God wholeheartedly, we’re certainly not going to love our neighbor wholeheartedly, especially when the definition of neighbor in this parable goes way into the realm of people you hate. What we need most…is new hearts.
You can receive a new heart
The good news is that through the sacrifice of Christ, God offers a new heart to anyone who comes to him. You don’t have to try to justify yourself. You can let Jesus justify you. Jesus is the only one ever who fully, completely, perfectly loved God with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength and with all his mind. Jesus is the only person ever to truly love his neighbor as himself. He was tempted in all the ways we are, but with the one huge difference that never once did he give in. He lived the perfect life. That’s who went to the cross—so that trusting in him rather than trusting in yourself, your sins can be counted to him (his death on the cross), while his righteousness can be counted to you.
That’s what Jesus was trying to get this man away from—self-righteousness—so that he could ultimately receive the only actual source of righteousness—the gift of eternal life, which is received, inherited, only through trusting in Jesus.
We need new hearts. Everyone does. Because a new heart is what it makes possible to love God—and then from that received love, to extend love to your neighbor as yourself, even your enemy.
This whole encounter was prompted by a question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” So that’s where we conclude: the only way to inherit eternal life is to receive it from the One who can give it—Jesus, who perfectly loved God and neighbor, and now offers the new heart, to start you on that same journey.