(A) Introduction. Read: Luke10v25to37

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is a wonderful story and has been the inspiration of many charities and individual acts of extraordinary kindness.

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was notoriously dangerous. There is a TV series underway at the moment about the most perilous roads in the world. Two thousand years ago this would have been one of them. The road ran through a sparsely populated region - dropping through 3,600 feet in 20 miles.

The enmity that existed between the Samaritans and the Jews dated back to when the Temple was rebuilt in the time of Ezra. The Samaritans were a mixed race - the product of interbreeding between Gentiles resettled in the area by the Assyrians and a Jewish remnant. They offered to help the Jews rebuild the Temple but their offer was spurned. I think this was a bad mistake on the part of the Jews. It resulted in the Samaritans building their own temple on Mt Gerizim.

(B) The lawyer's question.

(1) The reason it was asked.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" v25. The lawyer asked his question to see what Jesus was made of. He probably wished to demonstrate that Jesus did not take the Law seriously.

We are sometimes asked questions like that. I can remember being asked as a 15-year-old, "What was the first thing you experienced before you became a Christian?" I gave the right answer! I replied, "My guilt." But it probably was not a truthful answer!! My claim to be a Christian was being tested. Far worse are those questions asked to discover if we are 'proper' Christians - questions like: "Do you believe the Bible is inerrant?" "Do you speak in tongues?" "Do you believe God created the earth in 6 days?" "Do you believe non-Christians go to hell when they die?" "Are you in favour of women priests?" Needless to say I do not approve of questions asked to discover whether a professing Christian is 'one of us'.

(2) The underlying assumption.

The lawyer was of the opinion that there was something he could do to inherit eternal life. He obviously considered it was within his capabilities to acquire eternal life by his own efforts. The scholar was confident that a grateful God would give him eternal life for services rendered.

(3) The challenge.

Jesus cleverly revealed by asking his own question that the lawyer knew what he must do: "'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 'love your neighbour as yourself.'" v27.

Jesus was aware that he had kept these two great commands. His love for God and for his neighbour was blameless. But it is clear, too, that Jesus realised that the lawyer hadn't obeyed, and could not obey, the two commandments. It may be that the Master said with a certain amount of irony: "You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live."

(4) The lawyer attempts to justify himself.

Luke records: But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?" v29.

What does this mean? The only thing the lawyer had to justify was his motivation for asking the question. He posed his question in the hope of showing Jesus up and undermining his credibility. So although Jesus has passed the lawyer's test with flying colours he decided to try again. He was not going to let Jesus off the hook so easily. The lawyer believed his second question was much harder - as it was one much debated by the religious experts.

The attitude of the lawyer is very similar to that of all enemies of Christianity. They ask questions hoping to stump the believer. They are not satisfied with good answers! No, they are disappointed and try to pose something even harder - to justify their antagonism.

It is also possible, but, perhaps, not so likely that the lawyer was trying to avoid facing up to what Jesus said to him: "Do this and you will live." I found as a schoolteacher that when I confronted a delinquent with the error of his ways, a common reaction was: "What about James - he is worse than me. Why don't you tell him off?" This is a classic means of avoiding the issue! It is also used by people who are challenged by the gospel and forced to accept that they are not saved. The response is often: "Well, what about all the Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists in the world? Will they all be lost? What about my Aunty Betty? - she was a good woman but not a Christian. Is she going to hell? What about my parents - do you really mean that there is no hope for them?" In this way a person under conviction avoids making a decision to believe in Jesus.

The amazing thing is that Jesus does answer the lawyer's second question. We are all glad that he did!

(C) Christ's answer.

In his answer Jesus emphasised the love that makes a man a good neighbour. The lawyer did not need to worry about who his neighbour was. He would stumble across many neighbours in life. The important question was: What sort of neighbour was he?

It is very instructive to examine the Good Samaritan's love.

(1) It showed pity. He took pity on him. v33.

Pity was the motivation for all the Samaritan did to help. The Samaritan empathised with the distress and need of the stricken traveller. He saw a person who desperately required assistance.

The priest who passed by on the other side had no pity. He was motivated by self-preservation. He neither knew nor cared about the wounded man. If he didn't hurry on he would end up in the same condition.

We all know the expression, "I don't want your pity." But there are times that we need it! I have enjoyed the series on BBC TV, 'Lark Rise to Candleford.' In the latest episode the rather prickly Lark Rise stonemason had all his tools stolen. The village postmistress organised a collection for him. Without his tools the mason was helpless. However, the mason had his pride and didn't want anyone's pity. In the end he realised he, and his family, needed it!

I remember well the night my mother died. My father called out to me and by the time I had climbed the stairs my mother was dead from a massive heart attack. I felt such pity for my father. His life hadn't been easy. He had worked on the land to supplement his poor income as a Grace Baptist minister. He never had any leisure! Then he got Parkinson's Disease that gradually and inevitably ruined his health. Now he was faced with the loss of his wife. I said to my father, "Father, don't worry - I will look after you." I did - although not always as well as I should. My motivation was undoubtedly pity.

(2) It was without fatalism.

The Levite had a quick look at the victim. He may have said to himself: "He took his chance - like me. It just wasn't his day. You win some and lose some - that's life." This was the attitude of some of the soldiers in the First World War. They would say things like: "If a bullets got your name on it there's nothing you can do about it."

Fatalism produces an unsympathetic attitude. Some would say of a tipsy women travelling home on the tube late at night who receives unwelcome attention - "Well, she asked for it."

Fatalism is a characteristic of Hinduism. It may explain why the well-to-do in India remain relatively unmoved by the chronic poverty that exists.

The Good Samaritan was not fatalistic. He believed a desperate situation could be remedied by positive action - and he took it.

(3) It took responsibility.

Jesus taught in this parable that we cannot choose our neighbour. Our neighbour is anyone we come across in need of help. It is so easy to say when we encounter a person in trouble: "It's not my responsibility. It's someone else's problem. Let them see to it."

Perhaps the priest justified his inaction by thinking: 'A travelling caravan is sure to pass soon. It will stop and the victim will be picked up.' The Levite salved his conscience by muttering: "It is the job of the Roman patrols to maintain law and order."

There was a report in the Daily Telegraph this week of a man going to the rescue of a woman whose car skidded on black ice, turned over and ended up in a pond. He contacted the rescue services who instructed him to under no circumstances wade into the pond. However, the car was filling with water so the man ignored advice - went into the pond with a hammer, knocked out a car window and dragged the woman to safety. He took responsibility for saving his neighbour - even though urged not to do so!

(4) It was unprejudiced.

The Samaritan did not ignore the victim because he was a Jew - the member of a race who hated his people. He was prepared to help someone who might even be half ashamed of being rescued by a Samaritan.

Not so long ago I walked through an alley in Bury St Edmunds and saw a man sprawling on the pavement. I passed him by because I thought he was drunk. I find drunkeness in public places very distasteful. When I went back through the alley paramedics were attending the man I dismissed as a drunk but who had in reality been taken ill. This week I read of a woman who collapsed in the street from a heart attack and was ignored by innumerable passers by because they thought she was drunk. Prejudice and distaste can take many forms.

I was pleased to read an article in the Daily Telegraph about the practice of treating wounded British soldiers in the same hospital wards as their wounded Taliban enemies. Some oppose this practice but I am glad that the Taliban are cared for without prejudice.

In his book, 'Through the Jungle of Death,' Stephen Brookes describes his families' wartime journey from Mandalay to the Indian border. The families escape from the advancing Japanese was not helped by lawless Chinese deserters. One band robbed the Brookes' family of much needed food and valuables. So when later the party came across a dying Chinese who pointed to his mouth in an abject appeal for water he did not receive much sympathy. But after they had gone on a hundred yards or so Major Brookes said: "That Chinese soldier is about to die. We cannot go past without giving him some water. We must go back." The rest of the family were very reluctant to retrace their steps but eventually did so. The Chinese was given water to drink and Major Brookes knelt beside him and prayed: "The Lord's my shepherd - I shall not want ..... ." Somehow the words in a foreign tongue brought peace to the Chinese and prepared him for death. This is a fine example of love without prejudice - the kind of love the Good Samaritan exhibited.

(5) It was practical.

The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds.

It is possible the priest and the Levite were upset by the bloody body by the roadside. Maybe, they offered a prayer for the wounded man as they continued on their way. Perhaps, the priest even wrote to Pilate asking him to step up his patrols along dangerous routes. The Levite expressed his righteous indignation by organising a symposium in Jericho about the rising crime rate. None of which helped the man who fell foul of the thieves. He needed practical assistance.

Church members must learn to identify the needs of others and take positive action to meet them. When Dorothy and Edward, who attend my fellowship, got crippled with arthritis Roger went in and fitted a stair rail. When Jesse's husband Henry was in hospital her Christian friends made sure she was able to visit him each day. Pat ensures Gerald is able to stay to communion by driving him home afterwards.

We need to show some initiative. The Good Samaritan had plenty but it is not something that comes easily to me. If I am in my car, insulated from reality, and see an accident I am unlikely to stop. Our disposition and temperament can inhibit loving action.

(6) It was resourceful.

The Good Samaritan had bandages, oil and wine, a donkey and two silver pennies to give to the innkeeper. Two denarii would pay for a three-week stay in an inn. Maggie Thatcher once said that the Samaritan had to earn those two silver coins.

Sometimes we feel helpless, a situation defeats us, because we haven't the resources to cope. This is particularly the case when confronted with the seriously ill, mentally disturbed and violent. I can imagine the Levite saying to himself: "I can't do anything for him - he's beyond my ability to help."

It is certainly true that a resourceful man is able to provide far more help than the person with little to offer. If I have an electrical problem my friend Dennis Fisher never fails to help. His little van is crammed full of every tool and part under the sun. Nothing defeats him. I have spent this week trying to get EON to mend the electric meter in Brockley Baptist Chapel. They have sent out three engineers to do the work and none of them has been able to finish the job - they either lack the parts or the expertise. It is a sore trial to the love that suffereth long!!

One glorious day I went for a walk around the Shotley peninsula. When I got back my car battery was flat. I knocked on several doors to see if I could get some assistance. Unfortunately the only people who seemed to be in were mature ladies who couldn't tell jump leads from a clutch cable! Eventually one of them said, "There are some builders working on a house by the church - try them." They had the resources to help - a lorry and a length of rope - nor would they accept any payment for their pains.

The Samaritan was resourceful and we require such folk in church. We don't want to be like the obnoxious, poisonous Mr Skimpole in Charles Dickens' novel, 'Bleak House.' He would explain his total inability to help anyone - except himself - by saying, "You know what I am; I am a child." Perhaps we should thank God more often for those who have the skills, experience and courage to rescue men and women in perilous situations - the lifeboat men, mountain rescue volunteers and Red Cross workers.

(7) It was not without risk.

The Good Samaritan was not averse to taking risks. He took a risk stopping at all. He might have been ambushed if the wounded man was a decoy. He made slow progress with the victim barely able to ride on his donkey. The longer the Samaritan was on the road the likelier an attack became. Finally, his offer to reimburse the innkeeper for any extra expense incurred left the Good Samaritan open to exploitation.

There can be little doubt that the priest and Levite hurried on their way because this was the safer option.

Britain's safety-first culture means people are encouraged to put their own well being before the needs of others. Old people are left lying on the ground until someone fetches a hoist. When my father fell over I used to pick him up! Teachers are instructed not to apply a plaster to a cut until a parent gives permission. Even the police hold back from a violent crime scene until they have done a safety check! This happened not so long ago after a woman had been shot and was bleeding to death. A neighbour went to her rescue - but it took the police an hour to pluck up enough courage to go to her notwithstanding receiving information that the perpetrator of the crime had long since departed.

I wonder how I would react if I was on a train and a man was harassing a woman who was in obvious distress. I hope that I would at least stop the train at the next station and get the man ejected.

(8) It was inconvenient

I expect both the priest and Levite passed by on the other side because it was inconvenient to stop. The priest didn't want a corpse on his hands. It would render him ceremonially unclean for 7 days and necessitate ritual washing before he was clean again. In all likelihood the Levite was hurrying back to his wife and children. They would be worried if he was late getting home. There were no mobile phones in those days!

I don't suppose it was convenient for the Samaritan to love his neighbour! He had to stop at the first inn he came to and may have lost half a days travelling time. It could have made him late for a business appointment and cost him an important contract.

One of the main reasons for not stopping to help is that we have other priorities. One evening as I was coming home from school I saw a clergyman by the side of his car waving a petrol can in the air. Now it was relatively easy for me to stop, pick him up, drive to a petrol station and bring him back to his car. He was clergyman after all! But let us suppose I was on my way to a Sunday preaching engagement and I was already running late; what would I do then? In all likelihood I would continue on my way and hope someone else would help a foolish clergyman who should know better than to drive on empty. What should I do? Perhaps the clergyman was also on his way to a preaching engagement!

(9) It was disinterested.

The Samaritan did not leave the wounded man a bill. There was nothing for him to pay. He had been robbed of what money he had anyway. No, the Samaritan bore the cost.

I am pleased to say that in England there are organisations that operate on the same principle as the Good Samaritan. The Lifeboat Association is a charity and it rescues those in peril on the sea without cost. It will even rescue those who have put their lives in danger through their own folly. The same can be said for mountain and pothole rescue teams. When you spend time in a hospice - there is no charge. These are all wonderful organisations.

In, 'Great Expectations,' by Charles Dickens the orphan Pip was brought up by his shrewish Sister and her husband, the blacksmith, dear Joe Gargery. Young Pip was educated as a gentleman and grew apart from, and half ashamed of, his friend and guardian, Joe. Little did he know that his sponsor was Magwitch, the convict, who had been deported to Australia! Pip behaved foolishly and was imprisoned for debt where he fell desperately ill. It was Joe who secured his release and nursed him back to health. However, when he considered Pip had recovered, not wishing to embarrass him further, Joe slipped away. I will let Pip take up the story:

I hurried then to the breakfast-table, and on it found a letter. These were its brief contents.

Not wishful to intrude I have departured fur you are well again dear Pip and will do better without.


P.S. Ever the best of friends.

Enclosed in the letter was a receipt for the debt and costs on which I had been arrested. Down to that moment I had vainly supposed that my creditor had withdrawn or suspended proceedings until I should be quite recovered. I had never dreamed of Joe's having paid the money; but Joe had paid it, and the receipt was in his name.

I love that story of disinterested love. It reminds me so much of someone else who paid the ultimate price to set me free from debt - and the receipt is in HIS name - the name above all names.

(10) It was unlimited.

"The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have'" v35.

The Good Samaritan's help was without limit - he would pay whatever it cost.

We know that Jesus' love is like this - without limit - he agreed to pay whatever it cost to redeem us. There have always been Christians who have followed in Christ's footsteps. The ten Boom family, for example, hid a group of Jews during the Nazis occupation of Holland in the Second World War. The penalty for harbouring Jews was to be sent to a concentration camp. The ten Booms were found out and arrested and taken to Haarlem for questioning. When the chief interrogator saw Mr Ten Boom he said: "That old man! Did he have to be arrested? I'd like to send you home, old fellow. I'll take your word for it you won't cause any more trouble." Mr ten Boom replied: "If I go home today, tomorrow I will open my door again to any man in need who knocks." For that a great-hearted Christian was held in the cells at Haarlam where he became ill. He died in the corridor of the municipal hospital of The Hague and was buried in a pauper's cemetery. (See also the story of Irena Sendler)

(11) In character.

The innkeeper didn't doubt that the Samaritan would reimburse him for any additional expense. He must have known the Samaritan for a man of proven worth.

It gets easier to love like the Good Samaritan when loving others becomes habitual.

(D) The challenge.

The lawyer wanted to choose his neighbour. His love was selective. Jesus taught that we cannot choose our neighbour and our love must be unselective. When Jesus asked the lawyer: "Which of these do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" - the implication is clear. The lawyer must stop asking, "Who is my neighbour?" and concern himself with acting like a loving neighbour whenever he encounters need.

God will provide us with neighbours to love. Whenever we stumble across need we have an opportunity to show mercy.

The lawyer did at least respond honestly, albeit reluctantly, to Jesus' question. He replied: "The one who had mercy on him." His prejudice was such that he couldn't use the hated word, 'Samaritan'. Jesus then issued the challenge - to the lawyer and to us: "Go and do likewise."

Jesus speaks with authority because we know that he exhibited all eleven of the characteristics of the Good Samaritan's love. The love that saves sinners is without blame, resourceful, costly, unconditional and without limit.

            Jesus, the Saviour, this gospel to tell,
            Joyfully came;
            Came with the helpless
            And hopeless to dwell,
            Sharing their sorrow and shame;
            Seeking the lost,
            Saving, redeeming at measureless cost.