Today our country celebrates its 245th birthday. It is my opinion that this is the greatest country in the world. I thank God for it. Right now our Country is going through some very turbulent times. The political and moral climate in America is in turmoil. Our way of life is under attack and it’s hard to not be angry. It’s hard not to hate those who seem bent on destroying this great nation. So, I thought it would be appropriate to look at Yeshua’s parable of the good Samaritan this morning.
During Yeshua’s life, representatives of various Jewish groups would come to Him asking Him questions. He had answered trick questions from the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and even the Herodians. He had answered them in a way that showed His authority. He had put them all to silence. In our text for this morning a lawyer comes forward and asks Him a question.
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Luke 10:25 ESV
The lawyer here wasn't a lawyer in the sense we think of it like "Joynes and Bieber." This lawyer one of a group of professional students and defenders of the Mosaic law. They taught the law and enforced the Law and also judged. The CJB says, "An expert in the Torah stood up to try to trap Him by asking…"
These men actually had three titles. First of all, they were known as "scribes" because they preserved the law by writing out copies of the rulings of the ancient Rabbis. Second, they were called "teachers of the law" because they gathered around them boys and young men in Rabbinical schools and instructed them in the law. They also lectured in the courts of the Temple. Third, they were called "lawyers" because they were the men who passed judgment on disputes in the nation.
Matthew tells us that this Lawyer was a Pharisee.
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" Matthew 22:34-36 ESV
In Luke’s Gospel, the lawyer asks, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And in Matthew he asks, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" I think they are asking the same question.
This lawyer and his colleagues often debated which commandment was the greatest. They identified 613 laws in the Torah, 365 being negative—"you shall not" and 24 being positive— "you shall." Many hours were spent debating which were the heavy commandments and which were light, which were great and which were small.
In Yeshua’s day, there were seven schools of Pharisees. We tend to think of the Pharisees in a negative light, but they were righteous people. The Bible teaches this.
For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20 ESV
This would not make any sense if they were not righteous people. It would be no big deal to surpass their righteousness if they were not righteous.
These seven schools of Pharisees all took the Bible literally, but they ranged from the most progressive school, which was the school of Hillel, to the most conservative, the very traditional school of Shammai. There were five other schools whose views fell in between these two. These rabbinic schools were always arguing about how to interpret the Torah or determining what is the proper yoke. A yoke was how they interpreted the Torah. The debate always revolved around which is the greatest commandment. The Jews said that the commandments contradict each other by God's design, so they had to know which was greater. For example:
You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Exodus 31:14-15 ESV
That's clear enough, isn't it? They were not to work on the Sabbath. The Torah also taught:
You shall not see your brother's donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again. Deuteronomy 22:4 ESV
They were not to let animals suffer. If they saw an animal in trouble, they were to help raise it up. That is clear enough also. But what were they to do if they saw their neighbor's animal fallen down on the Sabbath? How could they keep one command without breaking the other? This is why they were always asking which commandment was the greatest? The greater one they must keep.
Look at Yeshua’s response to the lawyer.
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 10:26-28 ESV
This lawyer came to test the yoke of Yeshua. How did Yeshua interpret the Torah? Yeshua agrees with this man's interpretation of the law to love God and to love your neighbor.
With 613 individual statutes of the Torah from which to choose, all of the schools of the Pharisees agreed on the greatest commandment—love God! When asked, "What is the greatest commandment?" Shammai's school would answer, "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." Hillel's answer would be the same, and so was Yeshua’s answer. Where did this answer come from?
"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 ESV
What did the Jews call this passage? The Shema, the daily prayer of the Jews commanded by Torah, was based on the verbal imperative at the beginning of Deuteronomy 6:4—"Hear." A careful investigation of early sources suggests that this verse must have been the first portion from the Torah that Yeshua committed to memory. According to the Babylonian Talmud (Sukkah 42a), Jewish boys were taught this biblical passage as soon as they could speak. So, all the Rabbinic schools of Yeshua’s day agreed on the greatest commandment.
When asked what the second commandment was, Shammai's school would answer: "Keep the Sabbath." They put the Sabbath law above loving your neighbor because they said the Sabbath was about God. It was simply too bad if a neighbor was in trouble on the Sabbath. One must keep the Sabbath. When Hillel’s school was asked what the second commandment was, it would answer, "Love your neighbor." Yeshua’s answer was also, "Love your neighbor." Love your neighbor came seventh in order in Shammai's school even though biblically it is second.
The debate in Yeshua’s day was how to interpret the Torah by deciding the greater and lesser commandments. We see this idea of greater and lesser commands in the following words of Yeshua:
Therefore, whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:19 ESV
When asked which is the greatest commandment Yeshua said:
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Matthew 22:37-39 ESV
This "expert in the Torah" agreed with Yeshua on the first two commandments.
And he said to him, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live." Luke 10:28 ESV
Yeshua is quoting here from Leviticus 18:5.
You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD. Leviticus 18:5 ESV
The words of the law, cited by Yeshua, not only require that one keep the law. They require that one keep the whole law perfectly. You must love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind. You must not only love your neighbor; you must love him as yourself. The law must be kept, all of it, without any omissions or failures. In other words, in order to be justified under the law, one must be perfect. Listen to what the apostle Paul writes on this point.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." Galatians 3:10 ESV
Can we love God? Is it possible for man to love God? No! Well then, why does the Law tell me to? What was the purpose of the Law?
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. Romans 3:20 ESV
The Law shows us that we are sinners and under the condemnation of God.
This lawyer went on to ask Yeshua another question.
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Yeshua, "And who is my neighbor?" Luke 10:29 ESV
This question is a genuine inquiry. Jewish learning involved asking questions and answering questions with more questions. This was an important question.
The term "neighbor" is used in the Tanakh in a twofold manner: wider and more general, and narrower and more specific. In its common usage, it includes anyone with whom we may come into contact; having respect unto our fellow men. In its specific sense, it signifies one who is near to us by ties of blood or habitation. By comparing Scripture with Scripture, we get a good idea of what neighbor means.
Speak now in the hearing of the people, that they ask, every man of his neighbor and every woman of her neighbor, for silver and gold jewelry." Exodus 11:2 ESV
The reference here is to the Egyptians among whom Israel then lived. "Strangers," along with "neighbors," were those they were to love. In the same chapter, where we find the command to love one’s neighbor, we find the following description.
"When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. Leviticus 19:33-34 ESV
So "neighbor" is not restricted to those who are friends or even those whom they know.
Some of the Rabbinic schools taught that fellow students of the law were neighbors, so it was limited to scribes and Pharisees. Some of the Rabbinic schools taught that it was wider than that. They taught that a neighbor was every blood relative, every friend or person living in your locality, i.e., in their community. Other schools taught that it was even much broader still. They taught that every Jew was a neighbor, but Jews only! No person could be a neighbor who was not a Jew. Some schools were much more liberal. They taught that pagans and Romans were neighbors.
When asked, "Who is my neighbor?" Shammai would answer: The religious Jew! What about the non-religious Jew, the pagan, the Roman? No! What about the Samaritan? No way.
When asked, "Who is my neighbor?" Hillel would say, " The religious Jew, and even the non-religious Jew. Also included were the pagan and the Roman because they were created in the image of God. What about the Samaritan? No way. Hillel did not consider the Samaritan as being in the image of God. In his view, they were subhuman.
When asked, "Who is my neighbor?" Yeshua answered this lawyer's question with the parable about the good Samaritan. Let's look at the parable, and see if we can understand who it is that we are to love.
Yeshua replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Luke 10:30 ESV
A man is stripped and left half dead. Without his clothing, we cannot tell which cultural community he belongs to. Is he a Pharisee? Is he a priest? Is he a Roman? We don't know. All we know is that he is a dying man in great need. We must note here that the text says he was "half dead." This is significant.
Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Luke 10:31 ESV
Culturally, this is hysterical! We think of a four-lane road with the priest walking way around him. This road was mostly a single lane path on the side of a mountain, it would be hard to avoid this man.
The priest and Levite were full-time servants of God on their way home from serving in the temple. This priest was of the party of the Sadducees. Here is a religious Jew going out of his way to walk by this dying man. Why? Why didn't he help this man in need? Was he just some religious hypocrite? How could he claim to be a servant of God and ignore Gods Law?
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:18 ESV
Why didn't he help this man? He was keeping the Torah.
And the LORD said to Moses, "Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them, No one shall make himself unclean for the dead among his people, Leviticus 21:1 ESV
As a priest, he could not touch a dead body. It would make him unclean. He didn't know whether this man was dead, but he was unwilling to risk incurring corpse impurity simply on the chance that he may be able to help. In the eyes of this Sadducee, this prohibition in the Torah superseded all humanitarian concerns. To him, the commandment of not touching a dead body was a greater commandment than loving his neighbor.
So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. Luke 10:32 ESV
This Levite was also of the party of the Sadducees. He avoided this man also because the Torah taught that he was not to defile himself. He was obeying Torah.
This parable that Yeshua is giving is a common Jewish parable style. The Rabbis would use a priest, a Levite, and then the third party was always a Pharisee. This "expert of the Torah" was a Pharisee, so he was expecting Yeshua to say: "Then along came a Pharisee." All the Pharisee schools said that the commandment to love your neighbor is greater than the cleanliness code. Every Pharisee who was serious about what he believed would have helped the guy. Then Yeshua blew this man's mind when he said the following:
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Luke 10:33-35 ESV
Who were the Samaritans? Let’s get a little history here. After Solomon’s death, the house of Israel was split into two kingdoms. The Northern tribes were known as the House of Israel, and the two Southern tribes were known as the Southern Kingdom or Judah. The capital city of Judah was Jerusalem, and the capital of Israel was Samaria. The name "Samaria" eventually came to describe the district in which the city stood, and later even the whole Northern Kingdom.
In 722 B.C., the Assyrians captured Samaria and terminated the kingdom of Israel. They deported the substantial citizens and imported five different groups of people from the East who intermarried with the remaining Israelites so that Israel became a nation of half-breeds, an evil thing for a devout Jew. Worse yet, the true religion of Israel became intermingled with heathen idolatry.
After the Babylonian Exile in the 6th century B.C. when the Southern Kingdom of Judah was allowed to return to the land and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, the Samaritans offered to help rebuild the Temple. When their offer was rejected, the Samaritans, out of spite, sought in every way to keep the Jews from rebuilding the Temple (Ezra 4:1-5). The same thing happened later when Nehemiah was rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (Neh. 4:1-3).
The Samaritans built a rival temple on Mt. Gerizim opposite Shechem about 400 B.C., which they dedicated to Zeus Xenios. John Hyrcanus, the Hasmonean ruler of Judea, destroyed both it and Shechem about 128 B.C. These actions all resulted in continued hostility between the two groups. The Samaritans continued to worship on Mt. Gerizim and considered only the first five books of Moses as inspired. They had what is called the Samaritan Pentateuch which has a slightly different textual history from the five books of Moses as found in the Masoretic text that we have translated in most of our editions of the Bible.
The Jews viewed the Samaritans as biological and religious half-breeds. All of these events and factors had led to intense hostility between the Samaritans and the Jews by Yeshua's day. Centuries of enmity left deep-seeded hatred between Jews and Samaritans.
So, we have ethnic, racial, and religious issues here that made Jews feel disdain for Samaritans. They were ceremonially unclean. They were racially impure. They were religiously heretical and were, therefore, to be avoided.
The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?" (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) John 4:9 ESV
She was shocked. She couldn't understand why the Lord Yeshua was talking to her in a friendly way. We see this hostility in Luke 9.
And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village. Luke 9:52-56 ESV
This gives us a clear picture of the hostile relations between the Samaritans and Jews. The Samaritans would not allow Yeshua to spend the night in their village. James and John are ready to call down fire from heaven to burn the Samaritans alive.
There was no Rabbinic school that interpreted the term neighbor liberal enough to include those hated, detested Samaritans. The scribes and Pharisees considered the Samaritans as the most hated people on earth.
Our text tells us that this Samaritan felt compassion for this hurt man.
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. Luke 10:33 ESV
The word "compassion" literally conveys the idea of a heart contracting convulsively. We might say that his heart was squeezed by what He saw, or He was overwhelmed by the consciousness of human need. The Greek word used here for compassion is "splagchnizomai." Splagchnizomai is found only in the Gospels, and in every usage, it is always related to need. This same word is used three times in Mark of Yeshua’s compassion for human need and suffering.
Now, remember the Samaritan bible is the Torah. What did the Samaritan decide about loving one’s neighbor? For him, it was greater than the cleanliness laws. This Samaritan risked much more than ritual defilement. He could have been implicated in the crime. If a despised Samaritan had been found with a man who had been brutally murdered, it is likely that he would have been charged with the crime. This good Samaritan was willing to risk any danger in order to preserve life.
K.E. Bailey, in his book Peasant Eyes, wrote this:
"An American cultural equivalent would be a Plains Indian in 1875 walking into Dodge City with a scalped cowboy on his horse, checking into a room over the local saloon, and staying the night to take care of him. Any Indian so brave would be fortunate to get out of the city alive even if he had saved the cowboy's life."
So, at great risk to himself, the Samaritan acted on his compassion and helped this man in need. Yeshua then asks the "expert in the Torah":
Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" Luke 10:36 ESV
Yeshua asks, Who is the neighbor? Most commentators and Bible teachers say that your neighbor is anyone with a need. Is that right? According to the text, who is the neighbor?
He said, "The one who showed him mercy." And Yeshua said to him, "You go, and do likewise." Luke 10:37 ESV
Who is the neighbor? The one who showed mercy. Who was that? The guy that was beaten up? No! It was the Samaritan! So, what is the answer to the man's original question: Who is my neighbor? The Samaritan! Who is it that you have to love? The Samaritans! Yeshua was forcing this man to say: Even my enemy is my neighbor. Yeshua says to the man: You go, love your enemy!
This is exactly what Yeshua taught in the Sermon on the mount:
"You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, Matthew 5:43-44 ESV
Yeshua said that they had heard they were to "hate your enemy." As far as we know, this expression does not occur in the Tanakh or in Rabbinic Judaism, but the idea is found in Qumran. The people of Qumran had withdrawn to the wilderness to await the end of the age. They were the "sons of light," equipping themselves through intense discipline, rituals of purity, and scriptural study to overcome their enemy, the "sons of darkness." The Manual of Discipline (1:9-11), which was part of the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls, reads: "To love all the sons of light, each according to his lot in the Council of God, and to hate all the sons of darkness, each according to his guilt in the vengeance of God."
Yeshua is teaching that we are to love our enemies. This is completely radical teaching! This is powerful teaching about the inclusiveness of love. The kind of love that Yeshua advocates even embraces our enemies.
To those listening to Yeshua that day, this must have seemed like an impossibility. How could anyone love his or her enemy? Enemies don't evoke love in anyone. Yeshua, however, wanted to make a point that He considered our neighbor to include our enemies. In other words, no one is outside the scope of our love, or no one should be. We then are called to manifest love to all people.
What Is Love? Our culture uses the word "love" to mean just about everything except what the Bible means by it. Modern society portrays love as emotional feelings, while the Bible portrays love primarily as one's actions, that is, the labor of love in how we treat God and other people.
1 Corinthians 13 is known as the love chapter, the chapter that most succinctly sums up godly love. What does a godly love look like? Paul tells us:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV
Godly love covers the faults of others and believes what otherwise is unbelievable. It hopes in what otherwise is hopeless, and it endures when anything less than love would give up. To live like this is to live a sanctified life. It is to be set apart for Yahweh. This is holiness. And when we live lives like this, the world will know that we are disciples of Yeshua.
The word love, as used by our Savior in our text, could be seen as synonymous with the word mercy. When Yeshua said, "Love your enemies," He was talking about a merciful spirit, tenderness of heart which disposes a person to overlook injuries or to treat an offender better than he deserves; while they are cursing, you are blessing. When they come with spite to persecute, you do not respond as they do. You pray for them, do good unto them. This is the love of which Yeshua is speaking.
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, Matthew 5:44 ESV
In this verse, we find the meaning of "enemy." Clearly, by "enemy," He means people who oppose you and try to hurt you. "Persecute" means: "to pursue with harmful intentions." It might include very severe hostility. The same Greek word for persecute is connected with murder in Acts 7.
Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, Acts 7:52 ESV
In Matthew 5:44, Yeshua said, "pray for those who persecute you." Prayer for your enemies is one of the deepest forms of love, because it means that you have to really want that something good happen to them. You might do nice things for your enemy without any genuine desire that things go well with them. But prayer for them is in the presence of God who knows your heart, and prayer is interceding with God on their behalf. He is not saying that we should pray for them to be struck by lightning or that a house should fall on them. Rather, He is saying that we should pray on their behalf to God. It may be prayer for their conversion. It may be for their repentance. But the prayer Yeshua has in mind here is always for their good.
When is the last time you prayed for an enemy? When is the last time that you prayed for someone who mistreated you and persecuted you? This is what Christ did.
And Yeshua said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." And they cast lots to divide his garments. Luke 23:34 ESV
He was praying for those who had hung Him on the cross, after He was unjustly condemned, and them tortured Him to death. And He prayed for those who did it. This is Christ's example!
Stephen followed the example of His Lord in praying for those who despitefully used him and persecuted him:
And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, "Lord Yeshua, receive my spirit." And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:59-60 ESV
When we pray for our enemies, we are engaging in a God-like act. We are interceding for them as Christ intercedes for us. We are beginning to see them through Christ's eyes. Prayer changes us.
All right, now we know who our neighbor is and how we are supposed to treat him. What does this parable of the good Samaritan say to us 21st century-American Christians? I don't know any Samaritans, so how does it apply to me? Who are our Samaritans? I think it is different for each of us. Yeshua is saying: I want you to love the person that you think is the most disgusting, the person you despise the most. That person that you don't even view as human. Love them.
Maybe it is those of a different race than you, maybe it’s those of a different religion, maybe those of a different political party than you. If we are to be Christlike, we will love them.