by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
I’d like to begin by clearing up a misconception about last month’s Person-2-Person. Some folks apparently thought I was criticizing or critiquing my wife, Charlotte’s sermon. Nothing could be further from the truth. I was simply showing how I would have handled the same sermon. No two people are going to get the same thing out of a text and no two preachers are going to approach a topic in the same way. I have mine and Charlotte has hers. They’re different but neither is better than the other. No one approach or point of view is “right” and a different approach isn’t “wrong” just because it’s different. Now, on to the topic for this month.
One evening not long ago, my boss, Rich, called with an unusual request. One of our employees, Josh, had run out of gas. Rich was too far away to do anything about it. Could I help? I retrieved a gas can, filled it at the nearest gas station, and then called Josh by cell phone to find out exactly where he was. “Thanks,” he said, “but a complete stranger stopped and helped me out. I’ll be on my way in a few minutes.” I called Rich and told him what had happened. He replied, “Oh, a Good Samaritan. What do you know?”
The expression “Good Samaritan” has become a part of the English language. The parable of the Good Samaritan appears only once, in the Gospel of Luke (10:25-37) but everyone seems to know about it. We church folk, though, ought to know that it’s about more than simply being a nice guy or a good person.
A man, a lawyer, had asked Jesus, “‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’” (vs. 25b ESV). Jesus answered, “‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’” (vs. 26). The man replied, “‘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.’” (vs. 27). Jesus said, “‘You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.’” (vs. 28). But the man wasn’t satisfied. Instead, Luke says, he wanted to justify himself (vs. 29a). So he asked Jesus, “‘And who is my neighbor?’” (vs. 29b).
Jesus answered by telling what we know as the parable of the Good Samaritan. You know the story: A man was robbed, beaten up, and left for dead. A supposedly righteous man passed by and kept going. Then another. Then, finally, a Samaritan stopped and helped the man, at considerable personal expense. Samaritans weren’t supposed to be righteous. They were supposed to be despicable. Making a Samaritan the hero of the story—and more righteous than two Jews—was unheard of.
The Good Samaritan wasn’t simply a nice guy: he was a slap in the face to the “righteous” Jews in Jesus’ audience. And he was the embodiment of the commandment “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18b ESV). Like the phrase “Good Samaritan,” most people—even children—know this commandment. Usually it’s called “the Golden Rule.” But they forget the other commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut. 6:5 ESV).
Given the season, you might be wondering what the Good Samaritan has to do with Christmas. The episode in which Jesus told the parable begins with the question,
The main reason I’m writing about the Good Samaritan in connection with Christmas is that the incident with Josh was on my mind and it is a parable of Jesus. Jesus is the heart, soul, essence and reason for Christmas. If we want to celebrate his birth, we can best do it by honoring him and obeying his words, by loving God and being good neighbors. And just maybe, if we do it consistently, with God’s help, others will see that we are different.
“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’ And he answered, ‘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.’ And he said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.’” (Luke 10:25-28 ESV.)