The Parable of the Good Samaritan
The Parable of the Good Samaritan might be the most well known of Jesus' parables, partly because it is so simple to understand and also because churchgoers learn it in Sunday School at an early age. But how well do we really know it? In order to really understand it we must put on our sinner's ears and our repentant heart and look deeply inside.
This parable is written to the "expert in the law" inside of us. Lawyers who are representing a guilty party are quite adept at false-justification. And that is precisely what the lawyer outside the parable and the priest and Levite inside the parable are doing by Luke's account. In the lawyer's case: "But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?'" The priest and the Levite did the same thing, "My heart tells me to stop, but I don't want to bother, I don't have time, and I don't want to be seen with him."
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.”
How often does the Holy Spirit tell us to do something that our sin nature does not want to do, so we use falsely justify ourselves to support our selfish cause? The problem is compounded because we institutionalize these habits into our families, groups and churches. And then, we look like the hypocrites that we are—for we are sinners after all.
Someone comes up to me on the street and asks me for $5. I say, "No," and I justify my action by saying to myself, "He just wanted to use it for a beer." And I might be right, but doesn't Jesus tell us to "give to anyone who asks of us." I didn't really want to part with the $5, because I love money more than I want to listen to the Holy Spirit.
I read in the scriptures that I am not to charge usury for money I loan others. But I justify my money-lending practices by saying, "Oh, usury only means excessive usury. Or I might argue, there is no other option than to use Banks?" I'm okay in the Lord's eyes, right?
I say it's okay to look at the girl in the magazine, because she not a real person. But I know in my heart that my wife or my future wife is a real person. My heart tells me the difference if I would only listen and not harden my heart like the Scriptures warn.
I talk about someone behind their back because I want to be included within a particular group. I self-justify myself and use the convincing argument, "It won't hurt the person, because he'll never know." But doesn't Jesus tell us that everything that is hidden will be revealed. But I keep going when I say to myself, "He didn't really mean everything."
Our false-justification becomes institutionalized because we develop programs and group-habits that perpetuate our idolatry. Ultimately this sin-justification boils down to idolatry. We idolize our man-made structures more than listening to the small, quiet voice of the Holy Spirit. We surround ourselves with bustle and noise, so we can't hear the voice of God. Like the priest and Levite, we habitually substitute duty for mercy.
How do our liturgical habits substitute duty for mercy? I recall a pastor explaining to a group of us that worship should be beautiful, so those who couldn't sing well shouldn't sing. Since that day, one of my favorite tone-deaf lovers of Jesus has stood quietly in the pews. Tradition and duty trumped mercy. How sad.
But usually it's money that trumps mercy, which is why we see in this parable that the Samaritan is extravagant with his money. He poured expensive wine and oil on the man's wounds. He gave the innkeeper money to take care of him. We must be extravagant with our mercy. "Go and do likewise," our teacher tells us sinners in this parable.
Can we remove the false-justification from our lives? (Sin-justification might be a better term.) If so, where do we start? It's overwhelming. We look with sinner's eyes and a repentant heart. I expect that you will find that every last one of the our society's and church's programs have some degree of false-justification at work. But don't start looking at the programs external to you. First, clear away the dross from your own heart. Look closely at your habits in particular. It is in our habits that we first develop these patterns of self-justification which support our sin. Then we group together with people of similar habits and reinforce those habits, while mercy suffers.
But be wary when you bring to light the patterns of sin-justification in your group's programs. You will find the same extreme resistance you'll find in your own heart. Expect resistance and pray that you are not swayed. This is the suffering cross of us Christians.
As it is pointed out to me again and again, Christ did it for us first. We cannot have mercy without the mercy and grace that he pours on us each and every day. It's only through Christ that we can display the mercy of the good Samaritan.