On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
‘What is written in the Law?’ he replied, ‘How do you read it?’
He answered, ‘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.’
‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live.’
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’
In reply Jesus said: ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him, and went away, leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said, “and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.”
‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’
The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’
Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
Scriptures are a wonderful thing, and reveal their divine inspiration in the fact that when we return to them at different stages in our life, often the Holy Spirit can open them up in a new way to reveal something that we have not seen before.
Actually, I would add a word of caution about this. Often God can speak to us through the scriptures in a way that is His personal communication to us as an individual. We have to be aware of this fact. Not everything that God says to us as individuals through the scriptures is meant to be shared with the world as though it was ‘doctrine’. And be especially careful if you feel that there is a ‘new doctrine.’
On that last note, at least take the advice of the priest-king in Ecclesiastes who declared that there is nothing new. And God is still wanting to wake us up to the things he has said and taught from the very beginning.
At the centre of all of that is God himself, who is love. And that love, as of a Father for His children, was at the centre of Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. But of course, that is not the only occasion that he taught about love.
Jesus is known for the three love commandments (and two of them are in the new passage of scripture that is quoted above). By loving you can fulfil all the Law and the Prophets while making your life and those around you happier. It is really a win-win situation!
However, the world is so twisted that true love causes others to be suspicious, and some others even to hate and despise you. But never be discouraged. Always love!
So this is the first in the series of studies about the Parable of the Good Samaritan. That this parable is found in the gospel according to Luke is no surprise. This is a unique gospel for a number of reasons. Firstly because the two books of the New Testament written by Luke are the only books in the canon of scripture to have been written by a gentile. Second, because this book is not an eyewitness account.
Luke was a Greek convert to Christianity. He was also a scholar and a physician. He put all of his scholarly powers at work to diligently study and compile all that he could find out about his new faith. He wanted to know how it started, the story of the Saviour, and the history of the faith up to the point when he first knew about Jesus.
It is believed that he was not even alive at the time of Jesus and the gospel stories, and that he was compiling his information at the end of the first century, or even at the start of the second century. The earlier date is thought more likely, because it is believed that he interviewed those who were actual witnesses to the events of Jesus’ life. In fact, it is thought that he took every opportunity to interview as many as he could who travelled through his region and had come from Palestine, and especially if they were Jews. Some, indeed, could have been actual witnesses of the events in the gospels and the book of Acts. Others would have told Luke the stories that they themselves had been told.
What is certain is that there was already an early oral tradition that carried the stories of much that had happened, and Luke wanted to gather as much as possible of it before it was lost or died out. I am sure he was very diligent, not only with his questioning, but with compiling the knowledge.
He would have applied greater weight and faith to those stories and events that were confirmed by a number of witnesses and story carriers. He would have had less faith in those things he had heard only once. And, of course, there was the problem of chronology.
Other gospels had been written earlier, but distribution was not as it is today. You could not go to the local book store and purchase one of these (although it was possible, at very great expense, to occasionally find a copy of a scroll from one of the famous historians, playwrights or poets of that time) and it would be unlikely for you to find one on the shelves of the local library. So, it is thought, Luke did not have another gospel to give him help with chronology. And certainly some things happen in a different order than you have in, say, Matthew’s gospel. And, I am sure, while he was compiling the books, he must have had times when he had to ask himself where to put certain recorded parts of the words of Jesus, and so on.
What is easy to understand is that, if you collect an oral tradition and oral memories, then stories that stick in the mind are much more likely to be remembered by the ones who carried the information that Luke sought after. So, although a sermon may not be remembered, and even the subject of the sermon forgotten, yet a parable that was said during the preaching may have been remembered clearly.
Putting logical reasoning aside for a moment, it is simply a fact that the gospel according to Luke contains more parables and songs than any of the other gospels, whether they are contained in the canon of scripture or not.
When I hear preaching today, I very rarely hear parables as part of the sermon. The sermon may perhaps be based on a parable, or may quote a parable from the bible. But only very rarely do I hear a preacher tell a new parable to help to illustrate a point. I am not saying this to criticise modern preachers, it is just that times have changed greatly, and the culture is different.
In the modern world we have most people with a high level of literacy, only a few in our western culture are not able to read. We also have so much available to read! Not only public libraries, but books are really quite cheap, and not to forget all the magazines, newspapers and journals. And even more recently there has been the almost universal access to the Internet in the western world, with all the information and stories and so on that is available there.
But try to imagine only 200 years ago. Now the majority of people were not literate. So it made no difference that books were already widely available, and that there were newspapers and journals, people simply did not have the skills to read them. That is if they could even afford to buy them.
The poorest simply worked for the food that kept them alive, a roof over the head, and new clothes when the old ones were too ragged to be able to stay on the body. Others were paid maybe as little as a farthing per day (that is a quarter of an old English penny, when there used to be 240 pennies in every pound. So this is one 960th of a pound!). This meagre amount could nevertheless buy maybe a small loaf of bread every other day, and some milk maybe occasionally. Water was scavenged from wherever you could get it – the local well or street pump could have queues of people at it, especially in the morning.
News was spread in those days by the local town crier, who would ring his bell in the streets to gain attention and then, when enough were listening, shout the news for people to hear.
But if you lived in a village you did not have access to this news source, and so all visitors and travellers through the village became sources of news and interest. As a result, in such times, travelling bards and story tellers would have much more interest in their trade than is given in modern times. And such people had developed the skill of creating memorable stories or verses, so that people would be able to remember their visit and entertainment for a long time. Maybe that would bring them a bigger audience and so bigger income on the next occasion they came through a place.
I will be blunt: yes, it can be useful for a preacher or expositor of the scriptures to know Ancient Greek and Ancient Hebrew, to know the history and archaeology of the bible lands, the history of the church, the different creeds and apologetics, and so much more. But none of those things give the anointing of the Holy Spirit to any sermon. It can be like being back in school, or listening to a university lecture, when you listen to some preachers. They can think themselves to be very clever, and the congregation can feel proud to have such a learned and clever person in the pulpit. But God is not impressed by these things that impress people so much.
We should not forget the human tendency to do that which is called sin in the bible, but is completely ignored by religious Christians today: judging righteousness according to worldly success. So the preacher comes from a rich and ‘godly’ family, always dressed in the finest clothes… and the ragged homeless man begins to be seen as the ‘riff-raff’ that is unacceptable to see in a ‘respectable’ congregation.
God wants to be made known in plain words and in memorable ways to ordinary people and for all to understand. The uneducated pauper has no interest in the strange ways that the original languages of scripture give this or that colour to a certain word. This person needs Jesus, or if he has already found him for herself, needs to know how to grow in faith and to draw others to Jesus.
Wake up church! Plain language, and simple tales from everyday life to help people understand the basic message. And take this message to the whole population, not only those deemed ‘respectable’!
Again, to be blunt, if you have this crazy notion about ‘respectability’ then I think you will not be seen as ‘respectable’ by our Lord. In fact this is one of those things where the Lord will treat you in the same way you treat the ‘least’ other human in your life – pressed down, shaken together, and running over into your lap – the same measure as you measured to others.
I love the scriptures – and even to know how they have been written can quickly become a lesson for your own life! I hope that you found this interesting, and in the next article we begin the detailed study of the text itself. In plain English for all to understand.