Luke 10:25-37 … July 10, 2016, Pastor Phil Fenton
Let’s talk for a minute about metaphors. A metaphor is literary device in which a comparison is made between two things that are unrelated. A metaphor is used to make an even stronger and lasting image in the reader’s head.
“It was raining cats and dogs.” “He was boiling mad.” “The plot thickens.” “She is my rock and anchor.” “We are standing on the shoulders of giants.” “The news was a hard pill to swallow.”
A great many of our commonly used metaphors come from the Bible. Now, it wouldn’t be any fun if I just listed a few for you. Instead, let’s test your Biblical literacy. I’ll say a metaphor and you decide if it’s from the Bible or not. Here goes: (People “vote” – “Bible” or “Not Bible” on each.)
… There’s a fly in the ointment. (Bible: Ecclesiastes 10:1)
… You’re the apple of my eye. (Bible: Deuteronomy 2:10 and more.)
… He’s three sheets to the wind. (Not Bible)
… By the skin of your teeth. (Bible Job 19:20)
… All pooped out. (Not Bible)
… Down the hatch. (Not Bible)
… The blind leading the blind. (Bible Matthew 15:14)
… He lowered the boom on them. (Not Bible)
… We see eye to eye. (Bible Isaiah 52:8)
… The handwriting is on the wall. (Bible Daniel 5:5)
… He was armed to the teeth. (Not Bible)
By the way, all of those not from the Bible come from an era when people had regular contact with ocean-going ships. They are all seafaring phrases.
It’s great fun to trace metaphors to their origin. Sometimes it happens that over time a metaphor will break loose from its beginnings and its original meaning is lost – which brings me to the metaphor “He’s a Good Samaritan.”
In the two millennia since Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, the metaphor has become detached from its original moorings. It gets used countless times every day by millions of people. There are thousands of hospitals named “Good Samaritan Hospital”. There are hundreds of “Good Samaritan” service awards, dozens of “Good Samaritan” charitable trust funds, and scores of newspaper articles about how this or that “Good Samaritan” went out of his way
to perform an unsolicited kindness. A Good Samaritan is someone who goes about doing good deeds, and we get all warm and fuzzy inside when we hear of such, and that’s just about the extent of our understanding and usage of the metaphor.
And if that’s all it is to us, if we stop there, we have no contact with the meaning of the metaphor as Jesus used it. If you were among the first who heard his story, you would not have felt all warm and fuzzy. You would have been “boiling mad”. To you it would have been a story of how a hated outsider (the Samaritan) extended unlimited compassion and generosity to his enemy (the Jew). It’s a story meant to disturb you. It attacks you at that point where you harbor ill will against another. It hits you where have allowed relationships to go unreconciled. Everyone believes in forgiveness, until it’s time to forgive. Everyone believes in reconciliation until there is someone to reconcile with. Everyone thinks that “love your enemies” is a noble idea, until they have an honest to goodness enemy. If the parable of the Good Samaritan doesn’t sting, doesn’t singe your sensitivities, then Jesus’ intent is lost on you.
Jew and Samaritan – mortal enemies – do we understand that? In (roughly) 723 BC, Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. In time some Jews began to go along to get along with their captors, and some even married Assyrians. Those marriages created the race of the Samaritans. To the Jew concerned with ethnic and religious purity, an Assyrian was bad enough, but one of their own who married an Assyrian was the worst kind of vermin. The animosity and violence between the Jew and Samaritan is well documented. There is a tradition that 300 priests and 300 rabbis once gathered in the temple court in Jerusalem to curse the Samaritans with all the curses in the Law of Moses. When the Jews wanted to curse Jesus, they called him demon-possessed and a Samaritan in one breath. (John 8:48).
It is obvious that Jesus wanted a reconciliation between these historic enemies, in order to show the expansiveness of God’s love. The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of right relationships. And if you are allowing relationships to go unreconciled, you don’t understand the first thing about God’s kingdom. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself ,” Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “and has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:19. Reconciliation: it literally means turning enemies into friends.
A student of the Law asks, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus uses an old rabbinical trick: he answers the question with a question, “What is written in the law? How do you understand it?” The lawyer answers his own question with the most basic understanding one gains from reading God’s word and trying to live in God’s way, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus responds, “You have answered right; do this, and you shall live.”
Love your neighbor. The expert in the law believes in it, in theory at least. But now he begins to sense that Jesus is about to push the boundaries about neighborliness, so he adds a “comma-but”. “Love your neighbor as yourself. Yep, I believe it … comma, but – just how would you define neighbor?” He is now looking for a loophole, wants to know if there is anyone who it would be OK for him not to love: someone who has done him wrong perhaps? An enemy, maybe?
And Jesus tells a story. The first masterful thing Jesus does with the story is to say, “a certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and was beaten and left for dead.” The Jewish man would be frustrated by “A certain man…” What kind of man?” he’d want to know. “What’s his nationality? What’s his social standing? What’s his religion?”
It’s like one of us saying, “Not so fast, Jesus – he’s not an undocumented immigrant is he? He’s not on welfare, is he? Is he a druggie? Could this be a drug deal gone bad? The answer to these is going to have an impact on how I respond – on whether I help or not.”
By the way the story unfolds it can be assumed that the fellow in the ditch is Jewish. And then the biggest surprise: a Samaritan becomes the unlikely hero. An enemy. And more than that – someone outside of Jewish religion demonstrates the very heart of “love God with all your heart, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Who are your Samaritans? We all have them along the way. And when we do, our first instinct is to assume that our case is the exception. We go looking for our “comma but”. “I know Jesus said to forgive as we have been forgiven, COMMA BUT…. I know a Christian’s greatest work is reconciliation, COMMA BUT … I know Jesus said to love your enemy, COMMA BUT ,.. Jesus never met ________!
The exception is found in Matthew 18. If after a rigorous and exhaustive attempt to reconcile, the other refuses to be reconciled, then you have done all you can do for now. You continue to treat the other with respect, with kindness. You don’t let their refusing to be reconciled shape your response. In Romans, Paul says, “As far as it is up to you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:8 ) NO COMMA BUTS!
Our Christian duty is to overcome evil with good. It’s not easy. You can’t help but feel the way you feel. But the difference between humans and animals is that we can control how we express the feelings. What distinguishes Christians from all others, or what should distinguish us, is that we can put our need for revenge and for staying in un-reconciliation in obedience to our higher calling.
Mahatma Gandhi greatly admired Jesus and adopted Jesus’ way of non-violence as his own lifestyle. He considered converting to Christianity, but did not, giving as his reason that he saw that not many Christians practiced the way of Jesus, especially in regard to loving the enemy, forgiving as they had been forgiven, and not returning hurt for hurt. “How do you do it?” They asked him. And they asked him, “How do I do it? How do I become a reconciling person as my consistent pattern when inside I am boiling with anger and resentment?”
His answer, in essence, was, “You practice being reconciling until it is who you are. You work at it until we are good at it.” Only he said it more eloquently:
Your beliefs become your thoughts.
Your thoughts become your words.
Your words become your actions.
Your actions become your habits.
Your habits become your values.
Your values become your destiny.
Have I managed to completely trounce on your warm, fuzzy feelings? Good. The story has had its desired impact. We gather in church to be closer to God. But how do we like proximity to a God who loves us enough to judge us, to hold a higher standard of judgment against us than that by which we measure ourselves? God is no limp projection of ourselves and our felt needs. Today God has slammed a disgusting Samaritan up against our positive self-image and our self-justifying.
Will you ever use the term “Good Samaritan” is the same way again?