Helping Those in Need: Luke 10:25-37

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As we continue our journey through Jesus’ life as told through Luke’s gospel, we come to an event that includes one of Jesus’ most famous illustrations. However, if this event didn’t include a follow-up question to the one Jesus answered, Jesus may never have shared the amazing example of what it means to be a neighbor that we will soon read.

While it seems strange to think, this entire discussion hinges around a very legalistic view of the law.

Let’s read our passage for this episode and discover what we can learn from this event. Our passage is found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 10, and we will read it from the Contemporary English Version. Starting in verse 25, Luke tells us that:

25 An expert in the Law of Moses stood up and asked Jesus a question to see what he would say. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to have eternal life?”

26 Jesus answered, “What is written in the Scriptures? How do you understand them?”

27 The man replied, “The Scriptures say, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.’ They also say, ‘Love your neighbors as much as you love yourself.’”

28 Jesus said, “You have given the right answer. If you do this, you will have eternal life.”

29 But the man wanted to show that he knew what he was talking about. So he asked Jesus, “Who are my neighbors?”

Pausing here before reading Jesus’ response, it is worth drawing our attention to the detail that this whole discussion is centered around a legalistic angle of observing the law. This expert in Moses’ law knew exactly the right answers, and he correctly summarized the essence of the Old Testament law as loving God wholeheartedly and loving our neighbors.

It is worth drawing attention onto Jesus’ first response, where He says the expert gave the right answer. Jesus tells Him and us that if we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind; and we love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves, we will have eternal life.

However, because this expert wanted to push his own agenda, perhaps even trying to trap Jesus sharing an idea that was contrary to God’s character in the Old Testament, he asked a follow-up question wanting Jesus’ definition of neighbor. From the way Jews treated those who were not Jews in that culture, it was very clear that the Jews viewed the concept of neighbor as being exclusive to nationality, and perhaps even more exclusive than that.

In response to the question asking for a definition of a neighbor, instead of sharing a simple response, Jesus shares a story to illustrate this truth. Continuing in verse 30:

30 Jesus replied:

As a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, robbers attacked him and grabbed everything he had. They beat him up and ran off, leaving him half dead.

Pausing briefly again, it is worth pointing out that we have no context for who this man is. The man who was attacked could have been Jewish or not, he could have been wealthy or not, and this might have been a premeditated attack on a specific person or an example of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I believe this ambiguity is intentional because if we knew anything more about this individual, we might begin to rationalize the responses others have to seeing him that Jesus is about ready to share. For the purposes of the rest of the parable, feel free to imagine this man was exactly like the people who pass by, exactly opposite, or that each person who passed by could not tell whether this man was like them or not. It is actually an interesting exercise thinking about this parable from all three angles.

With this unknown man lying half-dead on the side of the road, Jesus continues His story in verse 31 saying:

31 A priest happened to be going down the same road. But when he saw the man, he walked by on the other side. 32 Later a temple helper came to the same place. But when he saw the man who had been beaten up, he also went by on the other side.

33 A man from Samaria then came traveling along that road. When he saw the man, he felt sorry for him 34 and went over to him. He treated his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put him on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. 35 The next morning he gave the innkeeper two silver coins and said, “Please take care of the man. If you spend more than this on him, I will pay you when I return.”

36 Then Jesus asked, “Which one of these three people was a real neighbor to the man who was beaten up by robbers?”

37 The teacher answered, “The one who showed pity.”

Jesus said, “Go and do the same!”

In this illustration Jesus shares, three distinctly different people pass by this half-dead man. The first two people we would consider high social status individuals. Both the priest and the temple helper had strict rules and regulations on their lives making them fit verses unfit to serve in the temple. From the context of this story, we don’t know if these men were traveling to Jerusalem to serve in the temple, or if they had finished their service and were returning home. If we decide to legalistically look at the details in this event, then knowing the direction these men were traveling matters.

The brilliant way Jesus shares this illustration, and the context that Jesus shares, tells us a huge truth: Love God with all our hearts, minds, lives, and everything we are, and when we see someone in need, we should help them in whatever way we can – regardless of what others think or how it impacts our serving God. If the priest and temple helper were traveling to Jerusalem to serve in the temple, they likely wouldn’t have been able to begin right away if they stopped to help this man and they might have had to do a cleansing ceremony to become “clean” again to serve. Helping this almost dead man would have challenged their serving God.

However, the truth Jesus shares in this place as well as in other places is that when we help others, we are really helping God. I believe in this illustration and others, God is more than willing to forgive our sins when we happen to technically sin while helping someone else. God is more interested in us modeling His character of love than He is in us legalistically following His rules without love in our hearts.

The Samaritan man, the one described by the religious expert as the one who showed pity, demonstrated what it means to be a neighbor. The Samaritan helped because he could, he helped because there was a clear need, and he helped because that is what he would want someone to do for him if the roles were reversed. This Samaritan didn’t ask or think about what reasons he should not help. He simply saw an opportunity to help and then took advantage of this opportunity!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first in your life and choose to model His love towards others when you see a need in your life. When deciding the best way to help when help is needed, don’t worry about if you are crossing the line into sin because the line you are really aiming for is the line of serving and service. Helping someone in need is more important than legalistically following the rules!

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself. Don’t accept an idea or thought simply because a pastor, speaker, author, podcaster, or anyone says it – including me. Instead, take the ideas you hear, see, and read and test them against the truth you discover in God’s Word the Bible to determine if they have any validity. The Bible is the best guide we have to determining God’s truth; it is the only guide that teaches how to ultimately gain eternal life through Jesus and His sacrifice.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or talk yourself out of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Luke – Episode 20: In one of Jesus’ most famous illustrations, discover how a very legalistic question gets answered in a very unlegalistic way, and how this illustration is just as applicable for us living today as it was for those living in the first century!

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