06-14-2020: Jesus’ Answer to Prejudice and Discrimination

Luke 10: 25-37

Summary: In this my adaption of a sermon by Eric Carey-Holt, I have focused on what I believe to have been the Lord’s original intent in His parable of the “Good Samaritan”, addressing the problem of racial discrimination, and socio-economic, gender, and religious prejudice.

I. Introduction.

One researcher found in a survey that 49% of the people interviewed said they would be able to tell the story of the “Good Samaritan” if asked to do so – 45% said they would not be able to – and 6% were unsure whether they could tell it or not. Among those who attend Christian religious services every week – the proportion of those who thought they could tell the story rose to 69% percent. But regardless of whether or not people can accurately retell this parable – the underlying concept of the “Good Samaritan” seems to be at least somewhat familiar to almost everyone – at least here in the U.S.A.

We name hospitals, churches, and charitable institutions in honor of the “Good Samaritan”. Most people know a “Good Samaritan” when they see one. There are so very many examples of Good Samaritans, Mother Teresa, for example, or Albert Schweitzer, or the fire brigade, or the anonymous person who simply stops to help change a flat tire or who helps a blind person cross the street. We have all met one – or have heard of one – even if we can’t relate the full details of the story.

II. The Question and the Story

In the story of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10:25-37, we are introduced to an expert in the law who poses a question to Jesus as a “test”. “Teacher”, he says, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answers this question with one of His own. “What is written in the law?” The expert in the law answers, “You shall 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, your neighbor as yourself.” Good answer. Jesus agrees with the man. But the expert in the law wishes to justify himself, so he asks another question, “And who is my neighbor?” In other words, “OK, Jesus, I understand that I am supposed to CARE, but surely there are the limits to that responsibility? Who can I exclude? When can I quit?” At this point Jesus tells His famous story.

A. The Unfortunate Traveler.

The first person to whom we are introduced in the story of the Good Samaritan is an unfortunate traveler. This man had taken the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, which was notoriously dangerous. It descended nearly 3,300 feet in 17 miles, running through narrow passes at several points. The terrain offered easy hiding for bandits who terrorized the travelers on this road. Incidentally – I’ve been there – seen the terrain – and wouldn’t have wanted to travel through that area on foot, horse, camel OR donkey. But this traveler made the journey – and – as he did so – was attacked – brutally beaten – stripped – and left for dead.

Jesus’ audience that day as He told this story knew how easily something like this could happen – and I suspect that we ourselves might understand how easily something like this might happen. People are still today mugged – beaten and robbed in our cities – on our streets. This problem isn’t unique to Jesus’ time – nor to the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.

B. The Priest.

Now back to the story: Suddenly who should come along but a clergyman! Wow, how fortunate! If anyone would help – surely it would be a religious person! But the priest does not come over to help – he simply looks the other way and passes by on the other side of the path. No reason is given. Perhaps he was afraid. Those who beat the man and left the poor man on the side of the road might be lying in wait to beat him as well. Or perhaps the priest simply didn’t want to get involved. What if the man were dead? In those days if a priest found a body while traveling – he was expected to bury it – and that would have been a lot work.

C. The Levite.

Next there came a “Levite”. A Levite is sort of an “assistant priest”. He too – saw the poor wretched man but simply passed by to the side of the path. He too – is not exactly the hero type!

D. The Samaritan.

Enter possible hero number three – a Samaritan – the “GOOD” Samaritan in fact! Now, surprisingly – nowhere in the Bible will we find the words “Good” and “Samaritan” next to each other. For the “expert in the law” and the other Judeans to whom Jesus was telling this story – the concept of a “good” Samaritan would have been a contradiction in terms. In Jesus’ time – Judean people were so prejudiced against Samaritans that it would have been out of the ordinary for them to have blurted out – “the only GOOD Samaritan is a DEAD Samaritan” – or whatever the equivalent sort of expression might have been in those days.

IV. Why Were Jews Hostile to Samaritans?

Why such depth of feeling? The hostility between Jews and Samaritans dated back hundreds of years. It went back to the time of the division of the nation into the northern and southern kingdoms – Samaria came to be identified with Israel in the north – while the people to whom Jesus was telling this parable traced their roots and heritage back to Judea – the Southern Kingdom. Following the northern kingdom’s defeat by Assyria in 722 BC – exiles from many nations settled in Samaria, creating something of a melting pot. No longer was Samaria purely Jewish. The many migrants coming to this land had created a “melting pot”.

Move forward a hundred years or so to 586 BC. Now it is the turn of the Southern Kingdom to fall. This time the conqueror was Babylon – and – as was the custom of the day – the people were carried off into exile to prevent any uprisings in the occupied territory. The few Jews left in Samaria were considered no threat in that regard – so they were allowed to stay. Seventy years passed – after which the Judean exiles were allowed to return. The Samaritans were ready to welcome them back – but the returnees would have none of it. The Samaritans had intermarried with gentiles. In the eyes of the returning Jews – these Samaritans had perverted the race.

To the Judeans’ way of thinking – Samaritans had also perverted the Jewish religion. Samaritans looked to Mt. Gerizim in their homeland as the place to worship God – not Jerusalem. They interpreted the Torah differently than the southern Jews. By the time of Jesus – the animosity toward Samaritans was so great that some Jews would go miles out of their way to avoid even walking on Samaritan soil. The hatred between Jew and Samaritan in Jesus’ day was not unlike the animosity many Jews and Arabs have toward each other today.

V. Why Did Jesus Choose a Samaritan as the Hero?

So why did Jesus illustrate this story by choosing a Samaritan as the hero? After all, if He were just trying to make the point that we should help the helpless and minister to the needs of persons needing help, he could have told the story in such a what that the Priest or Levite stopped to care for the half-dead victim. Why introduce the character of the Samaritan? Or, if Jesus wanted to take a jab against the religious establishment – why not we would expect the third man coming by to be an ordinary Jewish layperson – in contrast to the other two who were professional clergy. If Jesus were illustrating the need to love our enemies – then the man in the injured man might well have been the Samaritan rather than a Jew. But no – Jesus tells the story with the clear intention of giving praise to a heretic – a person of another race – a person looked down upon and despised by the Judeans to whom Jesus was telling the story.

The Samaritan sees the injured man lying at the side of the road wounded – but instead of distancing himself as the priest and the Levite had done – he does the right thing. He comes closer – and – when he sees the extent of the injured man’s wounds – he is moved with pity. He goes to him and cleans his wounds with oil and wine – oil to keep the wounds soft – and wine to clean the wounds. He then bandages the wounds and puts the injured man on his own animal – brings him to an inn – and cares for him. The next day he arranges for the innkeeper to continue caring for the man – paying him two silver coins – equivalent to two days wages, saying, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” The amount left by the Samaritan was not a lavish amount but not insignificant.

VI. After His Response, Jesus Turns the Question Back to the Lawyer.

Jesus has responded to the legal expert’s question about the limits of neighborliness – and now turns the question back to the lawyer: “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” And the lawyer answers, “The one who showed him mercy.” Amazing, isn’t it? The concept of a “good” Samaritan is so distasteful that the man cannot even bring himself to say “the Samaritan”.

A. The Hero of the Story – the Samaritan.

The Samaritan is obviously the “good guy” in the story – and most of us, when hearing the story – would like to be able to see ourselves in that roll – the roll of the “good guy”. When we hear this story today – most of us assume that the point of the story is that Jesus is challenging the listener to be a “good Samaritans”. But it would have been so very difficult for the Judean expert in the law in Jesus’ day to have identified with a Samaritan – no matter how admirable the Samaritan’s actions might be. If he were honest – he would probably be far more likely – though perhaps with a twinge of guilt – to identify with the hypocritical Priest or the unconcerned Levite. But who would want to think of oneself as being like the hypocritical Priest or Levite in this story? That being so distasteful – the only character left with whom the listener might identify would have been the injured man lying on the side of the road.

B. Identify as the Victim.

Think how it might have been for the injured man to have been in desperate need – to have several persons pass by without helping – and then – finally – have someone stop to help. Forget – for a bit – about being “good Samaritans” – and identify instead with the victim.

We never hear if this poor victim recovers, but I think that he probably does. If he recovers – what would the effect have been on him knowing that a Samaritan had stopped to help while persons of his own nationality – his own religion – had passed him by? One might well assume that such an experience would forever change his view of Samaritans. If Jesus had continued the story – I suspect he would have commented on how from that day forward the man who had been helped by the Samaritan displayed a kinder – gentler attitude toward Samaritans in general because of having been helped by a Samaritan. Jesus – of course – never finishes the story. He leaves the ending for the expert in the law to ponder. “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” And he leaves that question for us to answer as well.

VII. And Today?

Today, many persons hold prejudicial attitudes toward those of different faiths or migrants –  persons of different skin color – sexual orientation – gender – socio-economic status, and financial status. And yet – if you were the victim of an accident or the victim of a crime – would there not be persons outwardly different from you who would help? And would there not be persons outwardly like you who might not help?

How can we – as Christians – hold prejudice in our heart against others just because they are different from us? There are many “good Samaritans” who are quite different from us in many ways. We may have African ancestry and they White – or vice versa. We may be Anglo and they Latino – or vice versa. We may be Christian and they Muslim – or vice versa. We may be Muslim and they Jewish – or vice versa. Think about this from the perspective of the victim in Christ’s parable. Did it matter to him that the person helping him was a Samaritan? The skin color – religious creed – ancestral origin – socio-economic class – none of these things really matter when it comes to our most basic human relationships. What matters is how we think of and treat one another (see Matthew 25:31-46 and Matthew 7:12).

VIII. Conclusion.

Let us not push away, judge, exclude, hate, mistrust, despise or ignore those who are different from us. If we are black or Native American, let us remember that there are many whites who are “Good Samaritans”. If we are white – let us remember that there are many blacks and Latinos who are “Good Samaritans”. If we are Muslim – let us remember that there are many Christians and Hindus who are “Good Samaritans”. If we are Christian – let us remember that there are many Muslims and Buddhists who are “Good Samaritans”. And so on. Certainly – God does not see any difference between persons of different skin color and different socio-economic status. Perhaps God sees far less difference between his human creations than we might think (see Matthew 7:21).

It all evolves down to one simple emotion that is exercised in a display of one’s self – and we all have that emotion within us – LOVE! Love looks through the barriers – the differences – the distrust – the anger – the hate. When we exercise love – anything can happen.

Love is an attitude – love is a prayer, for a soul in sorrow – a heart in despair.

Love is good wishes for the gain of another – Love suffers long with the fault of a brother.

Love gives water to a cup that’s run dry – Love reaches low – as it can reach high.

Seeks not her own at the expense of another – Love reaches God when it reaches our brother.

Let[BW1]  us pray – We pray thee, O Master, to increase out faith in Thee as we start out on the duties of the coming day and, at the same time to increase our faith in our fellowman without suspicion, distrust, and anger. Make us realize that without faith it is impossible to please Thee, to please ourselves or to please anyone else. Since the man with the largest faith is the man who lives the fullest life by helping others, make out faith grow each day by day, whatever else may be denied to us.

          Prince of Peace, sharpen the ears of Thy people at this time, so that above the noise of war, strife, anger and hatred, and sin of every kind they may hear the words of the angels as they still say: “Peace on earth, good will to men!” Make us believe in peace – its supreme necessity, its eventual possibility, its surpassing value both for the hearts of men and the lives of nations. O Thou Christ of Peace and Good Will, speak to our hearts anew as we celebrate Thy life and make us realize and understand that all possessions and advantages that destroy or postpone peace can only be as wormwood and gall.

          O God, who hast provided eternal life for all who will accept Christ as their Savior, take fear out of our hearts and give us confidence and joy in our faith of Thee. May our lips, cleansed by Thy grace, tell the Gospel story to those who know it not. We pray in the name of Him whose perfect love casteth out fear – Amen.

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“Jesus’ Answer to Prejudice and Discrimination”

Luke 10:25-37

Summary: In this my adaption of a sermon by Eric Carey-Holt, I have focused on what I believe to have been the Lord’s original intent in His parable of the “Good Samaritan”, addressing the problem of racial discrimination, and socio-economic, gender, and religious prejudice.

I. Introduction.

II. The Question and the Story

A. The Unfortunate Traveler.

B. The Priest.

C. The Levite.

D. The Samaritan.

IV. Why Were Jews Hostile to Samaritans?

V. Why Did Jesus Choose a Samaritan as the Hero?

VI. After His Response, Jesus Turns the Question Back to the Lawyer.

A. The Hero of the Story – the Samaritan.

B. Identify as the Victim.

VII. And Today?

VIII. Conclusion.