To keep our bodies healthy, we need nutrition. Most of the time we think of nutrition, we think of food. Food is actually the substance that fills us, but it is the nutrients within the food that are important.
What we cannot get in food, we can take as supplements. Many people take a host of vitamins every day for a variety of reasons. One such vitamin is B12. B12 is a key nutrient for ensuring our cells our healthy. B12 is also critical for keeping our nerves healthy. And it is the nervous system that is our focus this month.
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the nervous system identifies issues and reports them to the brain. The nerves do not cause a reaction, they only record a sense – sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch. That sense is passed to the brain for evaluation and response. If we touch something that is hot, we remove our hand not because of the nerve that senses the heat, but because the brain (a part of the central nervous system) tells the muscular system the affected body part needs to move. Thus, it is vital to keep the nervous system in good working order to know what is happening around us, but without the other systems working in harmony with one another, we would not be able to change the situation.
The same is true of the human body. And that fact is why we are focusing this series on equating the various systems of the human body to the need for various systems within the church – the body of Christ. For us, the nervous system is our sense of caring. Just as our five senses inform us about our own situation – what we are seeing, tasting, smelling, etc., our senses help us to know when others are in need as well. But just like our brain must then inform another system to do something about our own situation, our response to someone else’s need is not because of our observation, but because we make a choice to respond – or not to respond.
It is that choice that is our focus today as we review a familiar parable of Jesus – the parable of The Good Samaritan. Take a moment to read this story and the accompanying parable recorded in Luke 10.25-37.
Many of you have likely heard this story many times. But I want to approach it from the perspective of labels. Labels help us to identify items more easily. Labels help us to “define” something as better or worse. But it is those labels that keep us from love as well. And that is what we find clearly in the story – even in the title of the story. The story is not called Various Responses to the Hurt Man on the Road, although that would be a perfectly accurate title. It is not called The Teacher Answers the Lawyer’s Question, although, again, that title is very descriptive of the situation. The title is the Good (label=not bad) Samaritan (label=bad). Thus, the title given is seemingly an oxymoron. Because a Samaritan cannot be good – at least not in the eyes of most of the people who heard Jesus that day.
The Label Good:
This story begins with two who would be labeled as good.
We can assume that the lawyer is good – at least the people would say so. This man (v. 26 calls the lawyer a “him”) is learned. He knows Scripture because he answered with the greatest commandment, which is not yet recorded as Jesus stating it being the greatest commandment. Thus, he has some piety and he is well-educated. Therefore, the people would label him good.
We know WHO the teacher is? This lawyer really did not. He knew the Teacher to be someone who was knowledgeable and worthy of respect, but no one fully knew who Jesus really was – at least, not yet. But the lawyer knew the teacher was good enough to ask Him a question. And Jesus, as the Teacher, showed His goodness in His initial response, but also in the story He told.
And that brings us to the unexpected good person – the one who was like a true neighbor.
If you have heard this story before, you likely know that Samaritans and Jews did not get along. The reason is that the Jews considered themselves whole-blooded descendants of Abraham, but the Samaritans were half-breeds. Indeed, Samaritans were descendants of Abraham, and the area where they lived was inhabited by them when the Israelites came into the Promised Land led by Joshua. But over the centuries, this group intermarried with Assyrians who settled the land of the northern kingdom in the 8th Century BC.
Samaritans would harass Jews who went from Jerusalem to Galilee. And a “good Jew” would go around Samaria to get wherever s/he needed to go. But this fact is what makes the story of Jesus and the woman at the well so surprising in John 4. Jesus goes through Samaria so that he can have a moment with this woman. (John 4.4 says he “had” to go through Samaria.)
What is particularly interesting about the parable that Jesus tells in Luke 10 is that in the previous chapter, Jesus is rejected by the Samaritans. Why? Luke 9.53 gives the reason: His face was set towards Jerusalem. The problem is that the Samaritans did not accept Jerusalem as a holy place and thus despised it. (Samaritans only believed in the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Bible, Genesis through Deuteronomy, and Jerusalem is not mentioned there.) So, just a short time after being rejected, Jesus shows His goodness by telling a story where the Samaritan is the good neighbor in the story.
So, we have three characters in this passage who are notably good. The Lawyer, the Teacher, and the Samaritan.
Before I move to the “bad,” let me clarify that we can assume two others are good, but we do not really know. The man who is injured and the innkeeper are characters about which we know so little, and therefore we cannot infer anything. Many believe the man walking from Jerusalem to Jericho was a Jew, and he might have been (probably was), but the text does not say so. And the innkeeper is given the task to care for the injured man, but we are not told that the innkeeper did it – or that it was done well. We also do not know if any care was provided because payment would be made. Thus, we have to discount these two figures from the labels we are applying because we simply cannot know.
The Label Bad:
The individuals who stripped, beat, and left the man for half dead are obviously meant to be the bad guys in this story. Interestingly, they may be the only characters in this story whose label is accurate.
Fortunately for the injured man, a priest came by soon afterward. Verse 31, says “by chance.” In other words, it was not expected. But this moment was an opportunity for a servant of God, specifically one who served in the temple, to provide some necessary help. The Bible does not give a specific reason for the priest passing by on the other side. It is true that priests were not to defile themselves by touching the dead except if the person was a closer relative (and the man was left half dead (v. 30). Others have speculated that the priest feared an attack by the same robbers or that he was going home. But this is a fictitious priest. It is a parable, so we have no reason to speculate on the reasons – only that he did not stop to help.
Levites were one of the 12 tribes and their task was to assist the priests. Certainly, the priests were servants, but the Levites knew what it meant to serve other people because they served (that is, helped) the priests. So, if the priest wouldn’t stop, maybe the Levite would. But no. Again, this is a fictitious story so speculation as to why is irrelevant.
Thus, the religious leaders of Israel passed on the opportunity to help a fellow Jew. Thus, even though priests and Levites were usually considered good, in this case, they would be labeled – bad!
If we look closely, most of the main characters are actually different than others perceive them to be. Let’s take a closer look at the lawyer.
The lawyer was thought to be good because of his education. But Luke 10.25 says that the lawyer came to put Jesus to the test. Now some might suggest that the lawyer was simply asking a question (and perhaps he was), but these words seem loaded! We know that the religious leaders would later try to trap Jesus with their questions, and Jesus, Himself, was asked about the greatest commandment near the end of His life as part of a trap. Furthermore, the lawyer wanted to “justify himself” (v. 29). So, it is easy to see the possibility of the lawyer having impure motives, at the least.
I started this post talking about nutrients, specifically B12. The label on a bottle tells me what should be in the bottle. If I get enough B12 then my nerves may be healthy and I can recognize the challenges around me. And those challenges may not be mine, they may be the challenges of others. And thus, I need to make certain my nervous system is ready to respond to the needs as He would have me respond. And that is where labels cause a problem.
But that’s the problem. Because most people, self-included, are not who they seem (or claim) to be, at least not always. We just saw that with the lawyer and the priest, and the Levite, and the Samaritan. And sometimes the people are worse, and sometimes, they are better. And sometimes, people change. For instance, I can assure you that during my time in college, no one thought I would be a pastor. I was not a hellion, but I was not even remotely who I am today. Then, I wore the label – sinner. (AB – shirt) Today, here is the label I wear – sinner, saved by grace. (AB – new shirt)
So labeling items such as food and medicines is good and is meant to be helpful. But just like a mislabeled bottle of medicine (say oxycodone in a bottle labeled aspirin) can be lethal, so too can a labeling of people.
So, before I give you the JOURNEY letter, let me show you the power of labels. What is your reaction when you think of lawyers? Teachers? Robbers? Priests? Levites? Hotel managers? Business people? CEOs? Professional Athletes? Grocery store clerks? Amusement park workers? Farmers? Men? Women? People who live in the city? People who live in rural areas? Government officials? Democrats? Republicans? Asians? Hispanics? Blacks? Whites? Millennials? Teenagers? Senior Adults? Homosexuals? Cross-dressers? Etc. Etc. Etc.
Our JOURNEY letter for today is: N – NURTURE.
I wonder what the lawyer did. I wonder how he responded to the story. In a different story, we are told that the rich young ruler went away sad when Jesus gave him a command. But in this story, Jesus simply says, “You go, and do likewise.” Specifically, I wonder if this story made him conscientious. How did he respond the next time he saw someone in need. It likely was not someone who had been beaten and injured, but it could have been. Perhaps, it was someone who simply needed a drink of water? Or maybe it was someone who needed someone to help them with a task? Or someone to listen to them? We are not told what happened to the lawyer.
But the command Jesus gave was not just to the lawyer…it was to us as well. Like the lawyer, we have a choice of how we will respond.
PRINCIPLE: It is hard to love people whom we label. It is hard to label people whom we love.
QUESTION: Whom have you labeled that you instead need to love?
OPPORTUNITY: When you are tempted to label this week, ask God for forgiveness and to help you love the person instead.
NEXT STEP(S): LOVE: Choose to love one person this week whom you would normally label with a specific act of caring to fill a need. In other words, “Go and be a good neighbor.”