The Insult that Became a Compliment

It was a time where the Jewish religious leaders were opposed to Jesus Christ. They had not listened to anything that He had to say, and they were pushing towards the time when they would murder Him through the hands of the Romans. One such religious leader—a lawyer—came to put Jesus to the test. His motive was to tempt or trap Jesus through His words, and specifically, through His knowledge of the Law of Moses—something that the lawyers (at this time, those who were “experts” in the Law of Moses) supposedly knew quite well. One of the amazing things about this occasion is that it completely changed our conception of a word. Before the unfolding of this event, the word “Samaritan” was an insult that might have had none uglier. As a matter of fact, on one occasion when Jesus backed the Pharisees into a corner through His argumentation, they exclaimed in exasperation, “…thou art a Samaritan…” (cf. John 8:48). Nevertheless, should one refer to us today with the words, “He or she is a good Samaritan,” we would count it as one of the highest compliments that we could receive. What has made the difference? It was the story that Jesus told “a certain lawyer” on a fateful day (Luke 10:25-37).

In response to the question from the lawyer, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus tested the ability of this lawyer in two ways. First, He questioned his knowledge — “You have been reading the Law of Moses; so you ought to know what is written.” Second, Jesus questioned him, “How have you been reading it?” These are two important questions for all students of the Bible. It is very important to be good readers of the word of God, but it is equally important how we read (and interpret) it.

Evidently, he was good at what he did, because he gave the correct answer (Luke 10:27-28) by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. On another separate occasion, another lawyer comes to Jesus (Matt. 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34) with the question, “Which is the first and great commandment?” In this instance, Jesus quoted the very same passages that this aforementioned lawyer gave. Thus, the lawyer in Luke 10 had evidently learned some things from his studies.

Yet, the problem arose with its execution—the lawyer asked, “And who is my neighbor?” Thus, Jesus provides an infamous parable to teach the lesson that love serves. The problem with this religious leader is not what he knew, but in its execution—an important lesson for many of us today. Far too often, the problem we have is not in our knowledge of the Bible, but it is in our execution of what it says. Rather than asking ourselves, “Am I as the Samaritan, or am I as the priest or Levite?” maybe we should rather ask ourselves, “Am I as the Samaritan, or am I as the lawyer?”

Do not forget that this account began with a theological question—“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus took the question (and subsequent answer) out of the temple (where the Levite and priest would work and associate) and put it down on the rugged road from Jerusalem to Jericho. I have seen many congregations post a sign in their buildings above their doors, “Enter to worship; exit to serve.” This is the practical answer that Jesus gave. If we truly have love for God and our neighbor, then we will practice such outside of our assemblies wherever people have need. We should never limit redemption to our place of worship—this is what the priest and Levite did—but we should practice the principles of redemption on the roadside. Sorrow, need, sympathy and mercy know no racial boundaries or nationalities.

Jesus epitomized completely everything stated about this unnamed Samaritan. His mission was to spend His life doing good for others while accomplishing the will of the Father. Through His influence, He intends to make Good Samaritans out of us all—Jesus will accomplish this when we love God and love our neighbors as He taught in this parable. How much more may I accomplish in service to my God? There are always people in need, and there is room for growth in my life. I need this in my life! If the church at Southwest (or anywhere else for that matter) wants to grow, things will change as we strive to become Good Samaritans—no longer an ugly insult, but a glorious compliment, especially by the Son of God!

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