This past Sunday we studied the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and discussed our fifth core value of Sacrificial Generosity. As a church, we cherish the process of leveraging our lives to care for the urgent needs of our neighbors both near and far. In so doing, we are not driven by guilt but by grace. Therefore, we said that we must first see the love God requires so we can then savor the love God provides in the gospel. Only to the degree that this happens are we able to show the love God desires. We then noticed the comprehensive nature of the Samaritan’s sacrificial generosity. After seeing the half-dead man, the Samaritan’s compassion compelled him to take tangible action. He sacrificed his convenience by being generous with his time and skills. He sacrificed his comfort by being generous with his possessions. He sacrificed his security by being generous with his money.
I want to provide a series of follow-up thoughts and answers to questions that may have arisen as a result of the message. If you were unable to join us, you can access the audio via our church’s podcast. We apologize for the poor audio quality of the first 16 minutes, but know that the recording does improve.
Today, I want to look at how the lawyer should have responded to Jesus but didn’t.
The context of the parable is important. We render the parable powerless by reducing it to a mere moral lesson on kindness. This happens when we abstract the parable from its context. The context of the parable is a conversation between Jesus and an expert in Old Testament law about eternal life and justification.
Just before Jesus tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke points out that the foundation of the lawyer’s world is beginning to crumble. Jesus successfully unsettles the Old Testament expert by affirming the lofty love God requires. In response, the lawyer feels the need to “justify himself” (v. 29). It seems that in his heart of hearts, he begins to realize he does not fulfill the law.
The theme of justification appears again in Luke 18 when Jesus tells the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector:
“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his housejustified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (18:9-14).
Here we have another picture of an attempt at self-justificiation. The Pharisee lists out all his credentials assuming that they provide the basis for his justification before God. The tax collector, on the other hand, does not try and justify himself, but rather he appeals to God’s mercy. He illustrates the first beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:2).
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is not a mere morality tale on being kind to people. Jesus designed the parable in order to expose the futility of self-justification. If Jesus wanted to make the point–be kind to people–he could have made anyone the protagonist of the story. However, Jesus chose the lawyer’s greatest enemy, a Samaritan, and challenged the lawyer to imitate him. In so doing, Jesus pricked and exposed the man’s racism and religious bigotry. He revealed the lawyer’s inability to love his neighbor as himself. Everyone is a neighbor, even enemies.
The lawyer could not go and do likewise and, as a result, he could not justify himself by claiming to fulfill God’s law. Like the tax collector, the lawyer needed to humble himself and be justified by another. This is exactly what the gospel is intended to do. Romans 3:26 states that God is “the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
In order to be justified, the lawyer needed to recognize the love God requires and confess his impoverished spirit. He should have confessed, “I do not love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. If I did, then I would love my neighbor–even those I consider my enemies, as my self.” Upon confession, the lawyer should have have then savored the love God provides in the gospel by humbling himself and asking for mercy. He should have prayed a prayer similar to the tax collector: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Rest assured–God always answers that prayer! Finally, the lawyer would have experienced a supernatural change of heart that would enable him to show the love God desires in living a life of sacrificial generosity.