A “Gotcha” Parable (Luke 10:30-37)

I have a ministry friend who is famous for telling stories to illustrate what he is talking about. They are really good. But sometimes it gets a bit old and everyone around sighs with a little bit of a “here we go again” feeling. Abraham Lincoln had a reputation like this as well, always quick with a folksy story to make his point.

That might likely be how the Pharisees felt about Jesus when he went into one of his parables. But truthfully – Jesus could put out about 10 zingers in the time it takes my buddy to get through the details of a single account.

In answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?” – a question the lawyer thought was a hit back over the net at Jesus that would be difficult to answer – Jesus tells this story:

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. 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.’

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

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

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

This story was really going downhill … no, really, it was. Jericho is about 800 feet below sea level, whereas Jerusalem is 2500 feet above it. The distance between the two places was 17 miles. So that is a drop of 200’ per mile. I need a bicycle path like that! Jericho Road

Beyond this, the road was notorious as one that was plagued with robbers and thieves. There were plenty of places for them to hide in the crooks and crannies and rocks, caves and valleys. So a story about a man being robbed, beaten and left “half dead” would have been very imaginable to these “locals.”

The first to pass him – a priest – clearly sees the man, as he actually “changes lanes” to get around him. The fact that Jerusalem was the center of worship and Jericho the home of as many as half of the priestly order suggests that this cleric was coming from the Temple. This was the equivalent of leaving the church parking lot and seeing someone on the side of the road in need, but passing by on the way to Sunday brunch at Panera Bread.

Offering no specific reason for the priest passing by, Jesus turns the focus now to a second Jewish religious leader. A Levite (family of Levi, but not through Aaron) was responsible for lesser tasks at the Temple. This means that while the same potential laws of defilement applied, his lesser duties made him slightly freer to offer aid if he felt compelled.

The text says that he too passed by on the other side. The wording in the original language would seem to say that he looked more closely – that he saw the man and checked him out before deciding to not get involved and help him.

The fact that both religious officials passed by is a clear indictment of religiosity without compassion – and could not have been lost on this audience as a sort of poke in the eye.

Finally a third man approaches, this time not a religious leader or even a Jew – but a Samaritan – and certainly at this point the listeners thought, “Oh no, the guy is really in trouble now!” We have often shared the centuries-old antagonism that existed between these “dirty half-breeds” and the Jews.

But instead, the Samaritan has mercy on the poor man, caring for him on the spot and making provision for his long-term recovery.

  1. He had compassion – the Greek word for compassion speaks of an inner emotion of being deeply stirred and moved. This is how Christ is spoken of as he looked at the unsaved masses of people. It is how God sees us; and in that he first loved us, we are commanded to likewise love others.
  1. He made contact – He did not excuse himself with fears that the robbers might be in the area. He did not worry about uncleanness. He did not assume the man was too far gone and beyond ability to be helped. Love sees opportunity and is not undone by the obstacles.
  1. He demonstrated care – It is nice to be compassionate and make contact, but the third step is to get involved with demonstrated care that meets real needs.
  1. He accepted the cost – There was nothing for him to personally gain from this; he risked much, but was willing to pay the cost. Love is costly; it was costly at the cross, and it costs us to be truly involved in mission and ministry.

In tomorrow’s final section on this passage we will speak of some specific applicational thoughts, but let’s ask some questions for discussion and pondering…

Obviously we cannot help with every need and situation we become aware of, so where should we look to have a practical role in helping human suffering?

When we encounter a person in need – say, a homeless individual – what are the concerns and obstacles that give us pause in terms of immediately helping?

How can we make an encounter with a person in physical/material need to be more than merely that, but to also address spiritual needs and issues?

How can we be a “Good Samaritan sort of neighbor” in an intentional and regular way?

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About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed multiple hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and have been a sportswriter for various publications and online venues. My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with the Antietam Battlefield Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

1 thought on “A “Gotcha” Parable (Luke 10:30-37)

  1. Hi again Randy. You asked — Obviously we cannot help with every need and situation we become aware of, so where should we look to have a practical role in helping human suffering?

    When we encounter a person in need – say, a homeless individual – what are the concerns and obstacles that give us pause in terms of immediately helping?

    How can we make an encounter with a person in physical/material need to be more than merely that, but to also address spiritual needs and issues?

    How can we be a “Good Samaritan sort of neighbor” in an intentional and regular way? —

    Great questions. “where should we look to have a practical role in helping human suffering?”
    One place obviously (and I twisting the intent of your question here) is to look to God for guidance and help. And (just be even more difficult I’ll twist the intent or scope of your question again) we can also look at the future and how to alleviate future problems. On a practical level the apostle Paul wrote the Galations that when he met the other leaders of the church “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.” (Gal. 2:10 NIV)

    So there is a very deliberate effort to help the poor in the Bible. Jesus gave some instructions to people to remember the poor. The New Testament doesn’t though show how this is to be played out. Ironically the only time that I am aware of Jesus helping the poor … is when Jesus told Judas, “What you do … do quickly.” The other disciples thought Jesus was telling Judas to take some surplus funds from the money bag and distribute it to the poor. Judas apparently led the charge against the woman who annointed Jesus with expensive ointment/perfume that the funds she used could have been given to the poor. Judas called what she did, “wicked waste”. In reality though John pointed out that Judas was actually helping himself to the funds. Jesus said when people give to the poor that they should do it quietly and not even let his left hand know what his right hand is doing. So we can see that Jesus supported the poor quietly, The church apparently also followed this precept about being discreet about giving.

    I also though (here is the being difficult part) recognize that preparing for the future is also a way to help people. Paul helped save the lives of the passengers on a ship that was being tossed and driven by a storm in the Mediterranean ocean. He told the soldiers that unless the sailors stay with the ship that “you can not be saved.”. The Centurian apparently repayed the favor and later saved Paul’s life when the soldiers hatched a plan to kill all the prisoners lest any would escape.

    Jesus warned people about the coming destruction of Jerusalem and gave them advice on how to get out of the city at the first sign of it being encircled by armies. A prophet warned the Church about a famine that was to come upon the Roman world.

    Today the Mormon church teaches its members that they should have a year supply of food on hand. This is bad advice in terms of day to day efficiency … but great advice when one considers that (and few consider this because our media is corrupt and negligent) we are becoming more and more reliant on unresilient technologies. Our very way of life is so dependent on many “critical infrastructures” that are interdependent on each other.

    So your question deals with how to help people NOW and while it is a worthy goal and very Biblical, being concerned about the future is also a worthy goal, especially since the pain that will be inflicted on the general population will be immense if any of the financial, electric and other vital infrastructures are destroyed.

    So I will commend you on wanting to be deliberate about helping others. The early church and Jesus also practiced that … though it was not a huge focus of their ministry, though it was still a large part. (I realize my wording here sounds convoluted, but that is the best I understand the topic.)

    The main point is to dedicate ourselves to God first. Jesus at one point ignored the crowds pressing around him, and other times he was ignoring a woman who wanted her daughter healed. The disciples got tired of the woman screaming and asked Jesus to send her away. Jesus realized his physical limitations and wasn’t afraid of leaving the crowds behind to go pray or just to get some rest. He ignored the screaming woman for a while because he had a deliberate mission to the “lost sheep of the tribe of Israel”. (Matthew 15:24)

    Jesus recognized that we will always have the poor with us.

    Another story that has some practical merit is the story of the one or two demon possessed men who were violent. Jesus drove the demons out of the men and acquiessed to the request of the demons to go into the pigs. The men or man later wanted to follow Jesus, but Jesus instead sent him to witness independently. Jesus may have realized the man would have been disruptive to the group that was following him. (Or maybe I’m reading too much into this … ).

    The following passage from the book of James is very powerfull.
    13Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”
    14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
    15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
    16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.
    17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (James 4:13-17 NIV)

    Connecting the “If it is the Lord’s will” part and the “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” part … makes me consider and reflect that our plans to make money may sometimes conflict with God’s plan for us to do something else with our money or our time. Notice the word “then” in verse 17 above. The verses are connected. Not only is there that connection, but the entire passage is sandwiched between a section on how it is wrong to judge others and the other slice of the bread is the section that deals with woe’s on the rich for acquiring so much wealth that they can’t even use it properly.

    Again though, I think you “hit the nail on the head” even if you didn’t fully intend to express this point … those we think of as poor and in need in America today – the homeless, for example have largely, with their severe emotional or mental problems, burned a hole for themselves in this country’s figurative “safety net”.

    This net though is doomed to disintegrate in the future as this country has neglected the advice of the apostle Paul “If a man will not work, he will not eat.” I believe that most of the people on disability in this country could do some sort of work. Maybe someone has lost their legs … they should still be able to answer phone calls or maybe even watch a security camera console. Most disability recipients have far less severe problems and many still function quite well, though not as well as most people.

    Some elderly people still can work and yet feel obligated to quit at retirement age because they feel they will lose out on the money they could collect.

    What this is country is doing – is something so immoral and yet so predictable (in a democracy) that Thomas Jefferson predicted it would happen. Massive generational theft is taking place. The adult generation is stealing trillions of dollars from our children and grandchildren, with only a microscopic possibility that the younger generation will pay it back. The money isn’t being borrowed to help children and their future, it is being wasted on adult wants, or adult dreams..

    We (the people of this country) have chosen to use the government as the instrument to help the needy. So there are few people left in this country whose greatest need is just some bread to survive. [But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. (1 Tim. 6:8 NIV)]

    Perhaps this (generational theft) is a moral crises that deserves to be addressed by politicians. The financial crises that will come will likely create an unbelievable surge in immorality.

    Is it the position or role of the church to address the collective immorality of our nation in stealing from our children? Should we address the tendency of individual church members to participate in chasing after government handouts “Get what is yours?” Should we lay out a moral guideline, in which each person should consider that whether to take government money is for the greater good, or they are just doing it to make things easier for ourselves?

    In a direct answer to your question “How can we be a “Good Samaritan sort of neighbor” in an intentional and regular way?” — I think you are already doing that in terms of helping international missionaries and helping some with the Reach shelter as other churches in the area are doing.

    And as for how “to also address spiritual needs and issues?” consider what the needs truly are once we get beyond the basics of life according to scripture truly is … [But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. (1 Tim. 6:8 NIV)] So, since there is little of this severe need in this country that isn’t being addressed, what are the spiritual needs? Maybe that is the main question we can address? Or if we have extra money, should we invest it in such a way that we can provide seed money for the future? Helping someone with job training funds or what not?

    Are we content being ignorant of the beliefs of the Moslems all around us? Are we content being ignorant of the beliefs of Mormons and Jehovah witnesses and Seventh Day adventists?

    These people train with their flawed arguments and we run into them. I am not even recommending that we think about going around trying to challenge them … but maybe as friends and neighbors we can peacefully address their problems … if the time and moment warrants it. As it is we probably neglect them… and even neglect praying for them.

    How do reach unbelievers, and people who have no background with organized religion? The spiritual needs in this country are greater than the physcial needs. Rich Americans may be similar to rich Laodecians. I’ll include myself in this category. We might at times be more concerned about money and our income than the spiritual lives of others. The apostle Paul on the other hand was in prison and related his prayer while in those circumstances, Paul replied, “Short time or long– I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.” (Acts 26:29 NIV) On top of praying about evangelism, Paul constantly prayed for the spiritual health of the church. (Read any of Paul’s letters and you will likely find examples of that.)

    This topic Randy is soo huge that I fear that I haven’t scratched the surface, and certainly I have not laid out an adequate blueprint or road map for the church to follow. Like you, perhaps I am just laying out some thoughts that run through my head.

    I know I am laying out some challenging material and I along with all Christians “stumble in many ways”.

    Perhaps I will end this and pray. Maybe some fraction of what I wrote, God will allow to have a positive influence on my life. It is mostly his words and principles that I’ve wrote, nothing really original to me.

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