Scripture: Luke 10:25-42
Today we heard one of the most famous Bible stories again. It is the “Good Samaritan” story. All of Jesus’ parables are very interesting and have deep meanings whenever we read them again and again. We can learn a good lesson from this story, that we should be nice to strangers. Nowadays, however, it is not easy to be nice to strangers because we read so many terrible stories in the newspaper or see them on TV. We should be nice to strangers, but we should also be wise about how we help them.
In the story when the good Samaritan found the wounded man, he poured oil and wine on the man’s wounds. He brought the man to an inn. The next day the Samaritan goes on with his business, but he leaves two denari to pay for the wounded man’s care at the inn. Two denarri is equivalent to two days’ wages at that time. It is not a lavish amount, but perhaps enough to provide for him through his recovery. If more is needed, the Samaritan promises to pay it on his return. By his care for the wounded man, we can see that the Samaritan was very wise and faithful.
We can read this parable from another perspective, focusing more on Jesus’ intention in telling this story to a Jewish lawyer. In the story the man was robbed and was half dead. We are not told if the man was a Jew or a gentile. By chance a priest passed by him. The priest saw him but he passed by on the other side. We are not told why the priest didn’t help him. Next, a Levite came and saw him, but he also passed by on the other side. And then the third person came. I think the Jewish lawyer who heard this story from Jesus expected the third person to be an Israelite because the priest and Levite were Israelites. But Jesus challenged his expectation. As we know the third person was not an Israelite but a Samaritan. Jesus challenged the lawyer’s stereotype that Samaritans could not do any good things to Israelites because they were dirty and inferior. Samaritans were regarded as unclean people because they were descendants of the mixed marriages that followed from the Assyrian settlements after the Northern Kingdom of Israel was defeated by Assyria. In Jesus’ time Israelites didn’t talk to Samaritans or even pass by Samaritan villages. By depicting a Samaritan as the hero of the story, however, Jesus challenged all kinds of human prejudice and stereotypes. Jesus teaches us that Christian love does not have boundaries.
Now, I want to try another interpretation of this story from a different perspective, focusing on geographical images. This story happened on a road between two cities, Jerusalem and Jericho. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was notoriously dangerous. I went to Israel about two years ago on a mission trip with a group of senior high students. We spent one week painting several schools in Palestinian villages and spent another week on a tour. One day the tour guide brought us from Jerusalem to Jericho using the old road of Jesus’ time. The road crossed the middle of a dessert and descended nearly 3,300 feet in 17 miles. The road ran through narrow mountain passes at points. In the tour bus I felt like I was on a roller coaster.
Biblically, Jerusalem was a holy city that had the holy temple. Jericho was a beautiful oasis in the middle of the Judean dessert. The meaning of Jericho is “sweet smell” because it had flowers and fruits. I think these two cities could serve as metaphors of two worlds we live in. One is the metaphor of the Kingdom of God symbolized by the holy temple and the other is the metaphor of the secular world symbolized by material abundance. We, Christians, live between these two worlds. We anticipate the Kingdom of God but we don’t get there yet. We live in this world but we don’t belong to this world solely. We are on the journey between the two worlds hoping we will get to God’s kingdom someday but we still carry the duties of this world. People who live in only one world, this secular world, don’t know about the journey to the Kingdom of God, and they don’t have any interest in how to get there.
The lawyer in today’s story asked Jesus how he could inherit eternal life. He was interested in the life in God’s kingdom. I think he struggled with what most Christians are still struggling with today, how to live as a Christian in this world and how to inherit God’s kingdom finally. Whoever has this kind of spiritual question in their mind is already on the journey between the two cities. But the road is rough and narrow. The road of our spiritual journey is as rough and narrow as the geographical road between Jerusalem and Jericho.
Jesus taught, “Go in through the narrow gate, because the gate to hell is wide and the road that leads to it is easy, and there are many who travel it. But the gate to life is narrow and the way that leads to it is hard, and there are few people who find it.
Why is the road rough and narrow? And what kind of guidelines do we have to travel on this road? When the lawyer asked Jesus how he could inherit eternal life, Jesus asked him about what is written in the Law. That means God already gave them the guidelines to receive eternal life through the Law even before Jesus came to this world. Because he knew well the Jewish Law, 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.” Not only this lawyer but also all of us know this commandment very well because we learn it from childhood. Jesus seems to indicate this is the point of the whole Bible. It sounds very simple, but it is not easy to practice this simple commandment.
During Disciple Bible study one member said, “It is so hard to live as a Christian in this world because the rule of this world and the rule of God’s world are so different.” And he wondered what kind of guidelines we have to live by between these two worlds. I couldn’t answer him sufficiently that night, but now I want to say that we should love our Lord God and love our neighbors as ourselves. Some people may think this love is too emotional or difficult and they feel uncomfortable trying to practice this kind of love because they don’t want to look vulnerable.
For those people the Law gives very detailed guidelines about how to love God and our neighbor. First, we need to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. It is not mere emotion. It is our will to love God and our strength to devote our energy and resources. It also is from our soul not to be ambitious for material abundance or worldly glory but to worship only God. Second, we need to love our neighbor as ourselves. We don’t need any other explanation about how to love others. We just need to love others as we love and care after ourselves.
But we have the same question the lawyer had, “Who are our neighbors?” Are Catholics our neighbors? How about Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists? Who are your neighbors and who are not your neighbors? Some people have a difficult time with their own parents and children to accept them as their friends. Some students have a difficult time to accept their teachers as their neighbors. Some people have a difficult time to accept their friends as who they are. To all of us it is not easy to treat and accept people who are different from us. But Jesus wants us to love people who even seem most impossible to love. Also, Jesus teaches us to love people beyond our social and religious boundaries. Eternal life or life in God’s kingdom is that quality of life characterized by showing mercy for those in need, regardless of their race, religion, or social background.
On the Christian faith journey to the Kingdom of God I recommend you to remember these Bible verses from the Prophet Micah. In Micah chapter 6 he said, “What shall I bring to the Lord, the God of heaven, when I come to worship him? Shall I bring the best calves to burn as offerings to him? Will the Lord be pleased if I bring him thousands of sheep or endless streams of olive oil? Shall I offer him my first-born child to pay for my sins? No, the Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show mercy, and to live in humble fellowship with your God.”