The parable is much more than a display of mindless meanness on one hand, and the milk of human kindness on the other. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, where he will not only call into question the whole religious institution, but he will then become the supreme example of service, leadership, obedience, and love for others.
The deepest meaning of the story tells us that Jesus is the Good Samaritan for all humankind. We are all in the ditch, overcome by sin and evil, assaulted constantly by the devil, victimized by forces beyond our control.
When the messengers came back from their mission they reported only that people were healed. But Jesus put a new spin on their work. He told them that something more is involved. In their acts of healing, Jesus saw the overthrow of evil. That overthrow is the certain sign that the kingdom is already here.
It is in this setting, then, of discussing the coming of God’s kingdom, that a listener asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life.”
Jesus turns the tables on the lawyer by asking, “But what is written in the law?” He answered, you must love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, with your whole strength, and with your whole mind.
“Also, your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus replied, “That’s right. Do that and you will live.” But the lawyer wants to limit his responsibility and involvement with a stranger.
He looks for a short way out, to excuse himself for not doing his obvious duty. He quickly asks Jesus, “But who is my neighbor?” Surely, there would be some restriction, some limit for his generosity, some parameter for his involvement.
Jesus told this story at least partly to teach his followers that our whole being – belief and actions –must be in tune with the kingdom. Jesus answers the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” But he moves the question of eternal life into the worldly, ordinary consequence of God’s love and God’s call upon all of us in everyday living.
The story describes the meaning of loving the Lord with heart, soul, strength, and mind in terms of what is expected in the daily living of those who are called into the kingdom. What we do for others must come naturally from who we are, not from a suddenly painted-on smile that says oh yes, God, here we are.
The kingdom must have priority in the way we live, priority in our time and money, priority for the use of our energy and our hopes for the future.
We cannot be specialists in the kingdom of God so as to deny God’s all upon us because we are busy somewhere else in some other activity.
If we look to ourselves and ask whether we are truly prepared for the kingdom, we should ask ourselves whether we are imitating the spirit of Jesus Christ. The story is about how faith in God must turn into right living.
In helping the man in the ditch, the good neighbor did the unexpected thing. Samaritans were disreputable people in the eyes of good Jews. In the Jews’ version of history, the Samaritans built their shrine to God in the wrong place and then put the wrong people in charge. The story overcomes such divisions by showing God’s mercy upon us all in the ditch. He comes unexpected and unpredicted to help us out of the worst predicament of all. In Jesus Christ, Almighty God has taken us to the nearest shelter and guaranteed the payment of our bill.
The point of the story is not so much what the priest and Levite did or did not do. It’s always easy to confess somebody else’s sin.
How often do we consider ourselves reasonable, responsible, law-abiding, normal, average people?
But as a prime minister of England said over 200 years ago, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.” Responsible and appropriate behavior for members of the kingdom is not that we merely refrain from doing evil.
God has already done for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Our only appropriate response is to thank God that when we are in the ditch, the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ finds us, ministers to us, and saves us by his own self-sacrifice.
Jesus, the ultimate Good Samaritan, has laid down his life for all of God’s children, and especially those who are thrown down, wounded by life.
Now it is our turn to soften the blows of this cruel and broken world for those around us. Now it is our turn to do good, to uphold righteousness, and to help not only decent people like ourselves, but also those who are far removed from the abundant life that Jesus Christ came to give.
We are called to help others find that abundant life and to become the people God had in mind when we were created.
Because we are people of faith, then we respond to the tragedies, the heartbreaks, and the human needs before us. In so doing, we put into action our thanks that God is the Good Samaritan for each one of us.