By J.R. Miller
This is one of the great parables which only Luke has preserved for us. If Luke's gospel had not been written, we never would have had this beautiful story. This suggests one reason why we have four Gospels instead of one. No one of the four, tells us all about Christ or records all of His sayings. Each one gives facts and incidents and teachings which the others do not give. It takes all four--to tell us all that we need to know of our Lord.
The question which this lawyer asked was a very important one--yet it was not asked by one who really wanted to know. He was only a quibbler. Jesus referred this lawyer to the law. "What is written in the law?" The lawyer answered Him, quoting the first and great commandment. The man was glad to show his intelligence and, no doubt, was well pleased with himself. Then came the quiet word, "You have answered right: do this and you shall live." There are a great many people who can answer right--and do no more. They can repeat with glib and fluent tongue, text after text of Scripture. They can recite catechism, creed, and confession, without missing a word. But that is not enough. They know the law--but do not obey it. If doing were as easy as knowing, how godly we should all be!
Evidently the lawyer was confused by the home-thrust which Jesus gave. He wished desperately to justify himself, and so he asked, "Who is my neighbor?" Under the eye of Jesus, he became conscious that he had not been fulfilling this law of love. No doubt he had made the commandment rather easy for himself, by convenient trimming. For example, he defined the word "neighbor" to mean only such good, pleasant people as belonged to his own group, those who were congenial, thoroughly respectable, and those who could be loved without any distasteful association. No doubt also he had been defining love to mean an easy-going sort of sentiment, which did not require any sacrifice.
Jesus told a beautiful story to make plain the meaning of the commandment. The "certain man" who was gong down to Jericho was a Jew. This road was proverbially dangerous. It has kept its bad reputation through the centuries. Robbers frequently lay in wait for passers-by, hoping to get plunder. That old road is a type of many paths in this world. That poor man, stripped, wounded, almost dead--is a picture of the thousands of people who every day are left hurt, bruised, robbed, ruined, and dying along life's wayside.
Last night a body was found in the river--and it proved to be that of a woman--young, with fine hair, beautiful face and graceful form. While the city was quiet--she sneaked down to the river, and plunged into the cold water, which closed over her with a gurgle--and then rolled on quietly as before. A few people dropped a tear of pity as they read of the tragedy in the papers. In one home there was bitter sorrow when the form was recognized. The woman had fallen among robbers, who had destroyed her and left her to die.
God had to send three men along that dangerous road, before He got the poor man help. First, a certain priest went down that way. "When he saw him, he passed by on the other side." One would think that a priest would have a compassionate heart, as his work was all about the temple. People who belong to God in this special way, we would think, would be gentle and compassionate. We are surprised, therefore, to see this priest paying no heed to the sufferer he found by the wayside. He seems to have kept away as far as possible from the poor man. Perhaps he was nervous and afraid, lest he might be set upon by a robber himself, and hurt or killed.
This feature of the story, however, has its meaning for us. WE are the "certain priest." We are journeying along life's highways. We are continually coming up to people who are hurt in some way--wronged, sick, in trouble, in peril. Love is the Christian law of life, and we are told distinctly that love works no ill to its neighbor. Yet there are people going about who are continually doing ill to others, working injury to neighbors. We are always coming upon people who have been hurt--not wounded in body, perhaps--but harmed in life, in soul. What do we do when we come upon these unfortunate ones? Do we do anything better than this priest did?
Another man was sent that way when the first one had not helped the hurt man. This time it was a Levite. He also was one of God's ministers, engaged in the service of the Church. The men who naturally would be inclined to help, were chosen. The Levite seems to have gone a little farther than the priest, to have shown a little more sympathy. He paused and looked at the sufferer, then went on. He may have uttered a sigh, saying, "Poor fellow, how I pity you!" But that was all. He really did not do anything for him.
There are plenty of people of this sort in the world all the while. Pity is cheap! There is no end of comforters of the kind who say, "I am sorry for you." But this only mocks men's grief or suffering. It is practical help men need, not empty words of compassion.
Then came "a certain Samaritan." The Jews hated the Samaritans. Nothing good was ever expected of them. Therefore the sufferer would have little hope of help, from this traveler. He would not have even spoken to the man in ordinary conditions. But a strange thing happened. This Samaritan proved to be his friend. He was moved with compassion. Jesus is now answering the lawyer's question, telling him who a neighbor is. It is a beautiful picture that He draws.
A godly man in a prayer meeting made this prayer, "O Lord, advertise Your love through us." A young Christian, when asked if she loved Jesus--was moved to tears, saying in her heart, "What a dim light mine must be--if others are not sure, without asking me, that I love Jesus!" A Christian writer has recently said that the deadliest heresy--is to be unloving.
God certainly advertised His love, through the Good Samaritan. The man's love was not so dim--that others needed to ask him if he loved God. Certainly he was not guilty of the deadly heresy of unlovingness. He had true compassion. He was not content merely to say a few pitying words--his sympathy took the practical form of doing something, something, too, which cost him seriously. He risked the danger, not asking if the robbers might still be lurking in the neighborhood to set upon him. He bound up the man's wounds--that was practical help of the right kind. He stopped the bleeding away of the sufferer's life. He then "set him on his own donkey"--he would not leave him there by the roadside. He rested not until he had him safe in a warm shelter, away from danger. He gave up his own comfort--in making the unfortunate man comfortable. He loved his neighbor as himself.
He was not even content to get the man into an inn, and then throw off further responsibility. He might have said, "I have done my share in helping this poor man--let some other one look after him now." But he was in no hurry to get the case off his hands. He took care of the man for a time, and then, when he had to go on his way, he provided for a continuance of the care so long as it would be needed.
The Good Samaritan is our Lord's own picture of what Christian love should be, in every one of His disciples. We ought to study it with loving interest, getting its spirit into our own hearts. It adds force also to the teaching, to remember that it was an enemy whom the Samaritan helped. Christian love is to exercise itself not only in being kind to friends, to those who are gracious and good--but its distinguishing characteristic is kindness to enemies.
In a sense, this Good Samaritan is a picture of Christ Himself. The wounded man represents humanity, robbed and beaten by sin, ready to die. The priest and the Levite represent human religions which, at the best, give only a glance of pity and then pass on. But Jesus comes full of compassion, serving and nursing back into life, healing, and wholeness, dying souls.
A Chinese man thus described the relative merits of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Christianity. A man had fallen into a deep, dark pit, and lay in its miry bottom, groaning and unable to move. Confucius came by, approached the edge of the pit, and said: "Poor fellow, I am very sorry for you. Why were you such a fool as to get in there? Let me give you a piece of advice--if you ever get out, don't get in again." "I cannot get out," groaned the man.
Then the Buddhist priest next came by, and said: "Poor fellow, I am very much pained to see you here. I think if you could scramble up two-thirds of the way, or even half, I could reach you and lift you up the rest." But the man in the pit was entirely helpless, unable to climb up even the smallest part of the way. He could do nothing to help himself.
Then Jesus Christ came by, and, hearing the man's cries, he went to the very brink of the pit, stretched down, and laid hold of the poor fellow, and said, "Go, sin no more." That is what Christianity does.
"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" That was the Master's question. The lawyer could not help answering, "The one who showed mercy to him." Then came the application, "Go--and DO likewise." It is not enough to hear good lessons or look on good examples. When we have heard and seen--we must go out and DO the good things which are so beautiful, which our judgment commends.
It is not enough for the artist to have lovely visions in his mind--he must get his visions on the canvas, where they will be blessings to the world.
It is a precious privilege to look at noble lives and to read heavenly counsels. But we must reproduce in disposition, in act, in character, in our own lives--the excellent things we read. Now we have read and understand the story of the Good Samaritan. Is that all we need to do? No! We must "Go--and DO likewise!"