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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Go And Do Likewise

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

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’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

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

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 traveled, 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 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 neighbor 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.”

Luke 10:25-37

One day a city lawyer decided to test a country preacher with a tough question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Instead of squirming, Jesus took the offensive and asked the lawyer for his view first. For his answer, the expert in the law repeated an old Jewish recipe from Deuteronomy and Leviticus: “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 love your neighbor as yourself.” (Deut. 6:5, Lev. 19:18) Jesus took him by surprise when He replied, “You’ve answered correctly. Do this and you’ll live.”

That was so simple that the lawyer was looking a little silly, so he came back with another question: “And who is my neighbor?” He was probably thinking, “Okay, country preacher – you’re so smart, let’s see you answer that one!” So Jesus told the story about the most famous of all good deeds – except the one He did Himself. He told a story to teach all mankind how to be a good neighbor.

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. It was a notoriously thief-infested stretch of rocky mountain road – a long, lonely twenty miles filled with danger. Jesus and His audience had made the trip many times. The route was perfect for robberies and mugging, and had been nicknamed “The Bloody Pass.” And this traveler was ambushed, stripped of everything he owned, beaten to a bloody pulp, and left to die on the side of the road.

Now, the first man to come by happened to be a priest. He saw the pitiful sight but he didn’t stop. The next man was a Levite, a fulltime worker in the temple. He saw the poor guy lying there, but he too hurried on. Both men were men of God, busy minding their own business with no time nor training to meddle in the lives of men they’d never even seen before. Besides, this was a bloody mess, no telling what disease he might have had, and anyway, he was too far gone. And what could one man do, anyway – out there on that dangerous road with darkness coming on?

A little later the third man arrived. He was a Samaritan. The word was a curse. Samaritans were segregated from Jews as an inferior caste of half-breeds. The worst thing a Jew could think of to call someone was: “Samaritan.” The only good Samaritan was a dead Samaritan! Jesus’ audience was sitting on the edge of their seats now, with their teeth on edge, as the Samaritan stepped up to view the remains. It took guts just to mention him – but to make him the hero? Then, unbelievably, before Jesus’ audience, the Samaritan stooped down to see what he could do to save the dying man!

Now – who is my neighbor? The Samaritan story says, “I don’t care who he is!” It’s the wrong question to ask! The point is not, ‘Who is our neighbor?’ the point is that we make sure we are one! And a neighbor to whom? Not the person next door necessarily, but the next person that you notice that needs you. The word “neighbor” has nothing to do with nearness geographically – it has everything to do with need anywhere we find it.

The first thing that makes the Samaritan our model neighbor is good eyes. A person has to be looking for trouble to find it. He has to be paying attention to notice when someone stumbles, to have an idea what that person needs. And the Samaritan was able to see a person in need – in need of him as a neighbor. Too often we consider people to be hopeless: hopelessly poor, hopelessly alcoholic, hopelessly ignorant, hopelessly lost – all beyond our influence. We turn away from them as though they were already dead men, as the priest and the Levite did. But the Good Samaritan went right through all that hopeless thinking to a man who needed help.

The good neighbor’s next move was to get personal. Too often we delegate people’s problems to experts or agencies. But the Samaritan didn’t turn this man over to the police station in Jericho. He didn’t flag down the next person coming down the road, appoint a committee or even take his patient to a hospital. He relied completely on his own good will. How many casualties are sent to some humanistic, Freudian psychiatrist by irresponsible friends? The rest home may not really be a “kindness” but rather an “out”. One of the most precious things about the Samaritan was simply this: he got down on his knees in the dirt beside the bleeding man and dressed the wounds with his own hands. He poured on the oil and wine, put him on his own donkey and took him to the inn all by himself, and there he took care of him. The injured man needed mothering as well as medication, and he got it.

It takes sacrifice to be a neighbor. The Samaritan’s business in Jericho was probably just as pressing as the priest’s. But it had to wait. We can only guess what it cost him. His schedule was shot. Maybe he missed his caravan. Oil and wine weren’t cheap. And neither was a room in the inn. But the biggest expense was the giving of himself.

There was danger in it, too. Was the man diseased? Or violent? Was he put there as bait by men hiding behind those rocks? There is danger in every good deed. Sometimes the person you help or befriend turns on you. And there’s danger to your reputation “Who did I see you with the other night?” “Yes, I know her heart is breaking, but who would believe it, under all that paint?” Yet Jesus stood with the woman caught in adultery, and stayed with the multi-married woman at the well. Being kind makes you vulnerable. Trying to be understanding exposes you to all kinds of ridicule, misunderstanding, and even resentment. Goodness couldn’t exist without bravery.

The Samaritan didn’t try to play God – just to be a good man. Just because we help someone doesn’t mean we have to put them all the way through school. Not every cry for help we hear will become a permanent assignment. So the Samaritan didn’t take on the complete rehabilitation of this poor fellow – he left something for the innkeeper to do. But he didn’t just do the least he could do, either. He dressed the man’s wounds and got him to a bed, but then he also gave the innkeeper extra money and said he’d pay him whatever else the man cost the next time he came by. It wasn’t just a feeble start at goodness – the Samaritan carried through.

So what must we do to obtain eternal life? Nothing will work if we go at it that way. If we help because we have to, it won’t help. Goodness always goes above and beyond the call of duty. It’s always more than “my fair share.” And goodness lingers long after we’re gone. People will forget our failings, and even our profession. But they won’t soon forget their good neighbors. We don’t know what important errand took the Samaritan to Jericho that day, and Luke didn’t mention his professions, if Jesus ever gave him one. But after 2,000 years the world hasn’t forgotten the thing he did on the road that day.

When Jesus finished His story that day, He turned to the lawyer who was now a little different man and asked, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

And staring at his feet in shame the lawyer answered, “The one who had mercy on him.” And Jesus, who knew that long afterwards people like us would ask the same question the lawyer did, gave some practical advice, which still applies to us now: “Go and do likewise.”


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