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Bible Articles and Lessons: G

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Good Samaritan (Luk 10)

Out of the crowds that followed Jesus , a lawyer stepped forth one day with a question to test the new rabbi: "Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luk 10:25). Was this a sincere question or another attempt to catch him at his words? Whichever it was, Jesus treated the question and the questioner respectfully. His first answer, however, was not really an answer at all, but rather another question, which turned the testing back upon the lawyer. It would lead him, if he had an open mind, to a searching self-examination of belief and practice: "What is written in the law? How readest thou?" (Luk 10:26).

"And he answering said, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind: and thy neighbour as thyself' " (Luk 10:27).
It was an excellent answer, showing an insight into the law born of deep and prayerful study. He had thus linked together two commandments from separate parts of the Torah (Deu 6:5; Lev 19:18). On a later occasion Jesus himself did the very same thing in response to the query as to what was the greatest commandment (Mat 22:39).

"And Jesus said unto him, 'Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live' " (Luk 10:28).
There is a great gulf between reason and response, between theory and practice, between hearing and doing. To so answer was relatively easy; to do was another matter altogether. And so it is for all of us: Love as a Biblical concept, and the mystical expression of love for God, are often on the lips of His children. But the practical expression of that love is a difficult business.

The lawyer now sought "to justify himself" (Luk 10:29): "Who is my neighbour?" Evidently he thought the first part of the great commandment was no problem for him; after all, what right-thinking, religious person did not love God with all his being? But the penetrating gaze of this rabbi and the finality of his admonition -- "This DO!" -- left even this confident lawyer a trifle uneasy at his position in regard to the second half. In so asking he betrayed the weakness of those who concentrated upon the meticulous observance of the law; he was anxious to know the exact limits of his obligations. Who were those who in his particular situation had claims upon him? Was it not possible that he was already obeying the law -- even in this matter?

As he so often did, Jesus answered a question with a parable that at first glance was not an answer at all. It was a story, however, which would be very familiar to his listeners.

A certain man was descending the dreaded "Way of Blood" that led from Jerusalem to Jericho. Though it was a dangerous journey -- for the twists and turns of the rocky path offered numerous places for brigands to hide -- he traveled alone. And, sure enough, he fell among cruel thieves and was left to die.

It so happened that a priest came down by that way, and passed by on "the other side"; likewise, a Levite. These paragons of sacrifice and ritual would not be detoured from the fulfillment of their duties; with averted eyes they hastened on. One can imagine the many possible ways by which they would have sought to justify themselves in such neglect. Perhaps they were even so close together that each was aware of the other's failure as well as his own.

The priest might have thought: 'My work is most important; I will let this lesser Levite behind me tend to this rather unpleasant business.' And the Levite might well have said to himself: 'The priest did not bother; and his calling to keep the Law is higher than mine; why should I?' None of us are such strangers to the act of self-justification that these excuses or a dozen like them would seem totally unreasonable. No doubt we can all recall "reasons" for failing to do our duty that were just as flimsy when later held up to the clear light of Scripture.

And looking upon him, they both passed by on the other side! The lesson is obvious: this man was a "stranger" to them; why should they be inconvenienced by someone who might be a grievous sinner? Indeed, perhaps they feared defilement! 'We might be partakers of this man's sins.' In Christ's analogy they plainly loved self more than they loved any "neighbor". This was a fault no less to be rebuked simply because it was induced by a rigid doctrinal view of "holiness". Their special Bible interpretations added to their legalistic duties ("Touch not, handle not the unclean thing"), but those same interpretations sadly detracted from what they should have readily recognized as practical duties. The lesson must not be lost on us. (A few years ago an ecclesia planned a special lecture, with considerable advertising. A large number of visitors attended, but of them all only one finally accepted the Truth and was baptized. And she did not attend because of any media advertising, but solely because -- on the very day of the lecture -- a brother played the part of "Good Samaritan" to a motorist in distress.)

But a certain Samaritan -- one of the race despised by the "elite" Pharisaic Jews -- happened also to come that way. Having compassion upon the fallen Jew, whom he might have left to his fate with more justification than did the other two, he went to him. Binding up his wounds, setting him on his own beast, he brought him safely to the inn. In so doing, the Samaritan brought upon himself grave personal danger -- the thieves might have still been around. Furthermore, it was a messy and troublesome job to bind up the man's wounds. And also, he experienced a real material loss; two pence was not a small sum (by Mat 20:2 it would represent two days' wages).

Christ himself is to be seen in the parable. Surely it is worth noting that his enemies at least once denounced him as a Samaritan (Joh 8:48), perhaps in reference to the peculiar circumstances of the marriage of Joseph and Mary, or perhaps because of his fearless association with that hated nation (Joh 4:40). Christ is our neighbor, coming near to us in our fallen condition, showing mercy to those who do not deserve it. We have all descended the road of blood toward the city of the curse (Jos 6:26); we have all been wounded by sin and we have all lain near death. At great personal risk and inconvenience and loss, even at the expense of legal defilement, Christ has stopped, and stooped, to help us. He has reinforced that lesson: "Go, and do thou likewise!"

The Samaritan in the parable is pictured as telling the innkeeper, into whose hands he committed the wounded man: "Whatsoever you spend in his care, even if it be more than I have given you, I will repay you" (Luk 10:35). Those who follow his example, even at risk to themselves, who go the extra mile to bear with and help a fallen brother, to bind up wounds in the ecclesia, pouring in the oil of kindness and love... those who do such things will never lose anything. There is no danger in such a policy of self-sacrifice. "I will repay thee", are the words of Christ.

"And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you" (Eph 4:32).
"Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps" (1Pe 2:21).
And now the lawyer's question is put to him: "Which of these three was neighbour to the man who fell among thieves?" The answer was inescapable, but even then the fastidious Jew could not bring himself to name the man by race. So instead: "He that shewed mercy on him." A neighbor is one who shows mercy, who offers help and love to those who do not deserve it. Even the most blatant self-interest leads us to love those who love us; there is no special sacrifice in this. True love that emulates the Master must stretch out to include those who may be separated from us. Ceremonial purity may pass by on the other side, holding its garments aloof, that it be not touched by the fallen condition of others. But true love looks upon misfortune, stops to help, binds up wounds, pouring in wine and oil, and walks step by step with those who have fallen, until they all come safely to the inn.

Before we go too far afield to find the neighbors we should love, let us look around us, at a divided, problem-riddled Christadelphia. Let us consider the brethren who hold the Truth just as we do, but who need a helping hand to be bound again to the brotherhood. Let us consider our attitudes toward those "other groups" who may be so close to us in beliefs but whom we put so far away in practice; are they our "Samaritans"?

"The Samaritans were neighbours in the most literal sense, but as for loving them, that seemed impossible. Christ loved them and caused his disciples to marvel at the manner in which he spake to the woman at Jacob's well and afterwards to others who came out to hear him. The Jews as a whole almost made it a part of their religion to hate the Samaritans, and if they were able to analyze their own feelings they would probably have to admit that the hatred was directly traceable to the fact of their being such near neighbours. This is a common weakness of poor human nature. Those who are near but not quite with us arouse more bitterness of feelings than complete strangers. Then when such an evil feeling has been once started, the deceitful heart begins to build up fancies to justify the hatred, thus further traducing those who have already been wronged" (GL 66).
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