In the story of the Good Samaritan, there comes a point where Jesus turns the religious man’s question on its head. The conversation started with a law expert asking Jesus what a person could do to inherit eternal life. Of course, if you know anything about the life and teaching of Jesus, you know the whole point of his coming was that we could not save ourselves, so he came to save us.
Which is why Jesus puts an interesting twist into the story.
An Unlikely Hero
Why have a Samaritan be the hero? Why not tell the story in a way where the lawyer can identify with the person who offered the help? Why not say, “The priest came by, then the Levite, then a really good, loving Jew came by. Be like the good Jew!”
Jesus used a character who could not have been more different from the guy asking the question, and here’s why:
What if the person we—and the lawyer asking the question—are most supposed to identify with in the story is not the priest or Levite or the Good Samaritan? What if, instead, we were primarily like the guy bleeding on the side of the road?
And what if the Good Samaritan is Jesus, who put himself into the path of danger and took upon himself the suffering we had caused ourselves and poured out his own resources to save us?
Jesus is asking the man, “What if you were bleeding to death on the side of the road, and your only hope was an act of free grace from an enemy who did not owe you anything?”
After you had been rescued like that, what would your life look like?
I think your life would be different. Fundamentally and eternally different. You see, Jesus is not giving the lawyer a new rule as much as he’s making him aware of a new reality.
We are the ones saved by radical grace from a God who had every right to regard himself our enemy. And when we embrace that truth, we too will become givers of radical grace.
From the Gut
The word that Jesus used for what the Samaritan felt toward the man on the side of the road is one of my favorite Greek words: splagma. We translate it as “compassion,” but in Greek it means “pity from your deepest soul.” Jesus is talking less about an action you choose and more about an emotion you can’t control. The word even sounds like what it means—a love so deep-seated that it comes from your gut.
God is not after rule-followers. He wants people who love like he loves, who respond like he responds. And that kind of change can’t be produced by the law. It can only be produced by a radical experience of grace.
It’s when I experienced the loving grace of The Good Samaritan toward me that I became a loving person toward others. How can you experience that kind of grace and not become filled with grace?
You’ve heard of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Jesus taught that. But Paul upgrades that to the Platinum Rule: Do unto others as Jesus has done for you: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32 ESV).
Those who have experienced the gospel develop an uncontrollable impulse to be generous and an insane ability to forgive.
Paul upgrades the Golden Rule to the Platinum Rule: Do unto others as Jesus has done for you.
We saw it displayed in the tragedy of the nine men and women who were murdered in a Charleston church in 2015. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the families of the victims appeared on TV and said to the man who killed their loved ones things like, “We’re praying for you. We’re praying for your family. We forgive you.” Even the cynical journalists were saying, “We’re not really sure what’s happening here. Why would they respond like that?”
They do it not in order to earn eternal life but because at the center of their faith is a man dying on a cross for people who had abused and mistreated him. Unlike the lawyer from Jesus’ story, we don’t love our neighbors because we have to do great things in order to be saved but because something great has been done to save us.
We love because he first loved us.
For more, be sure to listen to the entire message here.