The Biblical Witness

The words of Jesus are meant to shock us, one of the most shocking things Jesus did was tell stories that seem harmless but under the surface they snare us in a loving trap which is meant to show how we as people fall far short of the mark when it comes to living as God would have us live.

One of the most loved stories of Jesus is the Parable of the Good Samaritan which is found in Luke 10:25-37. The story is preceded by an interchange between Jesus and an expert in the law. The   expert in the law tries to test Jesus by asking him “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). The expert is trying to trap Jesus by minimizing the role of the law in salvation. So Jesus replies by pointing him to the law and asking him how he reads it. He replies by quoting a mash up of Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18”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.” (Luke 10:27) Jesus replies “Do this and you will live (Luke 10:28). Now we have to realise what Jesus is doing. He is not saying that you can do the law and be saved; no he is trying to show the impossibility of doing the law. Because neither you nor I nor this man could possibly love God with everything we have and love our neighbours with the care and the passion for their dignity that we show ourselves. This is a trap that Jesus has set to show the expert that he has no inherent righteousness of his own. The expert should have replied in the same way that Nathan Cole a farmer from Connecticut replied when he was converted in the 1740 after hearing George Whitefield preach ‘And my hearing him preach gave me a heart wound; by God’s blessing my old foundation was broken up, and I saw that my righteousness would not save me’[1] As Christians we need to see that we have “all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), only once we see that we can see that Jesus death bring us forgiveness (Ephesians 1:7) and his righteousness ( 2 Corinthians 5:21).

But the expert in the law didn’t see his own righteousness wouldn’t save but he sought to justify himself (Luke 10:29). He asked the question “who is my Neighbour?” (Luke 10:29)The demand to love neighbours as yourself was a huge command and demanded a lot so in asking this question “he wished to soften the demand and not feel the obligation to respond.”[2] “He wished to define the second commandment in such a way to make its requirements reachable”[3] Then Jesus tells us a story most people know. But we need to be careful, Jesus is not telling us that we can saved by imitating the good Samaritan but he is trying to humble us by showing the love and action that God requires with the result that we see the impossibility of living this way and then accept the forgiveness that God offers.

The story describes a man who has been beaten and robbed he has been stripped naked and left for dead. (Luke 10:30) Which means that, as a Jew, this man shouldn’t be touched. You shouldn’t touch a man who was dead because you would become ceremonially unclean. But more than that you couldn’t see whether this man was Jewish because just like today clothing showed who you were so if you were a Jew or a Samaritan it would show by the clothes you wore so him being naked it wouldn’t have been clear where is he was from and if a Jew came into contact with a foreigner they were ritually unclean. The other thing is to note the road, on this 27 kilometre long road you went from Jerusalem which is 2700 feet above sea level to Jericho which is 800 feet below sea level the road was well known as a place where robbers and thieves abounded[4] and so to stop and help this man would leave you open to be beaten and robbed yourself! So in every way this man was, at best, a major risk to help because, as a Jew you’re standing in the community if not your life was at risk. But the thing that shocks is the characters especially the hero.  The hero of the story is not a Jewish man as you would expect but a Samaritan. Samaritans were the most hated people by Jews. So Jesus takes the most hated and he makes him the hero of the story who helps the man physically and materially. But the significant thing is the way Jesus inverts the expert’s question. Jesus was asked “Who is my neighbour?” and Jesus ends the parable with a question who was his neighbour? The expert doesn’t even mention the word Samaritan he says the one who helped him. Jesus command is to go and do likewise. Jesus is saying that a person who follows him loves those around him by seeking “justice for, and offer assistance to, those in need, regardless of the group to which they belong.”[5]

As we have seen there is a strong command from Jesus to care for those who are suffering and this is a common teaching in the rest of the Bible. In Leviticus 25:35 we read: “If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you.” We see the priority of caring for the people of God first but what is implied is that when a foreigner came into the land that the Israelites would take care of their needs.

In the book of Galatians, Paul is commissioned to preach to the gentiles and then is commanded to that they “should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” (Galatians 2:10). It is striking that in a book which is so concerned about the gospel and getting it right that there would be a commission from the Jerusalem church to Paul to care for the poor. So as Paul was to be a missionary he was also to care for the poor.

We could go to many other places in the bible to show that the God intends us to show concern for the poor[6] but this brief survey is enough to show us that God wants us to care for the poor. But you may ask “How does the gospel fit into social Justice?” Is the Gospel Separate to social justice or does social Justice Spring from the Gospel? We will turn to these questions tomorrow.

[1] As quoted in Keller, Timothy. Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road (P&R Publishing, 1997), 37

[2] Bock, Darrell L. Luke. (Downers Grove, Illinois : Intervarsity, 1994)

[3] Keller, Ministries, 38

[4] Snodgrass, Kyle, Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus (Eerdmans, 2008), 345

[5] Snodgrass, Stories, 361.

[6] E.g., Deuteronomy 27:19, Proverbs 14:31, Isaiah 3:14-15, Ezekiel 22:29, Amos 2:6-7, Malachi 3:5, 1 John 3:17-18


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