What Jesus Really Said
The Mugged Man
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” 1
We’ve been looking at the parables Jesus uses to explain God’s one-way love. These are the Grace Parables, preached following the feeding of the 5,000 and before the Lord enters Jerusalem in the week leading up to his death and resurrection.
Jesus parables are about his left-handed kingdom, his left-handed mission. By “left-handed” we mean its upside-down nature, its indirectness. Jesus’ parables emphasize certain left-handed concepts: lastness, lostness, leastness, littleness, and death. In his upside-downess from sinful human values, Jesus continues to emphasize losing as winning and weakness as strength, ideas he will ultimately act out in his own death and resurrection.
Only Luke records this parable, commonly known as the parable of the Good Samaritan and most-often interpreted as Jesus’ advice that we be nice to people in order to be right with God. I hope to explain to you why neither the title nor the application is accurate.
In other words, all the parables that follow 9:30-31 in Luke’s gospel account are set in the context of Jesus’ deliberate journey to Jerusalem for death and resurrection. Many of the parables that follow have themes of death and resurrection.
Following Luke’s mention of Jesus’ coming death and resurrection, he writes in 9:52-56 that Jesus is rejected by a Samaritan village. The very people with whom Jesus identifies (the last, lost, least, little) rejected him because he was headed toward Jerusalem. The Samaritans hated anything associated with Jerusalem.
Even outsiders, like the Samaritans, need to have someone further outside than they are to feel better about themselves, to achieve relative morality. In his leastness, Jesus is rejected by a town full of losers still committed to winning by bookkeeping with relative morality. The Samaritans don’t get lostness and lastness any more than the disciples, the Pharisees, or you and I.
Come and Die
James and John in total bookkeeping mode, offer to call down heavenly fire on this Samaritan village to wipe out these Messiah-rejecting losers (9:54). Their reaction is a purely legal one, pure accounting, pure Mosaic Law – cleansing the Promised Land of infidels. But they fail to see the New Covenant, the gracious, upside-down relationship of God to men, Jesus is inaugurating.
The Kingdom of God comes only by following Jesus into his death and resurrection. Even in Lk. 10:1-12 when 70 disciples are sent out to preach and return with news of right-handed victory over demons, Jesus tells them it’s not about rejoicing over right-handed power. Rather, he says, they should rejoice their names are written in heaven (Lk. 10:20).
So, Luke sets up this parable with the themes of lastness, lostness, leastness, littleness, and death. He shows Jesus thankful for the hiddenness of the Kingdom. That ought to clue us in to the fact that the parable is NOT about doing nice things for people.
MUGGED BY THUGS
A Legal Question
In this Mugged Man parable, Jesus responds to an expert in the Mosaic Law who wants to know what he needs to do to inherit eternal life (10:26). Jesus, being a good rabbi, answers the question with a question (as rabbis are want to do): “What does the Law say?”
The lawyer’s question reveals the 1st-century Jewish theology of grace + faithful works or working faith. He understands eternal life as being something earned (“what should I do…”) AND something of a gift (“to inherit…”). Like Jesus’ story of the Pharisee and tax collector at prayer in the temple (Lk. 18:10-14), the lawyer doesn’t believe he has to be pure; he just has to be a little better and do a little more than his neighbor to be worthy of receiving/inheriting eternal life.
The problem with “grace + working faith = salvation” is that you cannot know if you have EVER performed enough to be worthy of the gift. The best you can hope is that you captain your soul and master your fate in such a way that you squeeze through the eye of the needle by winning out over the murderer or the adulterer or the tax collector next door.
Why would a lawyer ask Jesus about the Law? Maybe he heard Jesus’ prayer about the hiddenness of the Kingdom. But there’s nothing hidden about Jesus’ summary of the Law: love God; love your neighbor. The “hiddenness” arises in the parable that follows. Its primary character is NOT the “Good Samaritan,” but the man down-and-out, rejected by the religious establishment, and left for dead outside the city walls.
I have preached on this parable before from the perspective of seeing Christ as the Good Samaritan. That is still a valid interpretation in my opinion. The Samaritan’s actions are a picture of Jesus’ gracious performance for his people (not our performance for him).
But –since we are examining the parables in terms of the major Kingdom themes of lastness, lostness, leastness, littleness, and death – we can benefit from seeing Christ not only as the Good Samaritan but also as the man mugged by thugs.
What to Do?
Calling this the “Good Samaritan Parable” gives hearers the invitation to take this as a story whose hero offers them a good example to imitate. Yes, Jesus ends the parable with the command to go and do likewise. But the question is WHAT are we being commanded to imitate?
Remember, the lawyer has asked what does he need to DO to be right with God. How utterly destructive to this grace parable to end it with a call to imitate the Good Samaritan by doing nice, right-handed things for people to be worthy of God’s gift.
Paul plainly answered the lawyer’s question of “what must I do?” There is NO law that gives life. As one author notes:
He has been beaten so badly the thugs that he’s left for dead. He’s naked, penniless and powerless, seriously injured, unconscious and as good as dead. Our hero is a total loser. And to underscore Jesus’ status as a loser to the religious system that is going to strip him naked and leave him for dead outside the walls of Jerusalem, Jesus says two members of the religious elite pass by.
This outcast, this loser, offers nothing but the ruining of their spiritual, moral, physical life plans. Involving themselves with this dead man would mean religious death, the inability to complete their mission of good works in the temple. So they pass by this impure “dead” body.
The Good Sam
The Samaritan is an outcast who identifies with an outcast, a loser who identifies with a loser. The loser Samaritan goes to the mugged man and involves himself in the mugged man’s passion. He identifies with the reproach of the man left for dead.
Go and Do = Come and Die
In light of the left-handedness, the upside downess of Jesus’ parables, we can now see Jesus’ instruction to “go, and do likewise” as something far greater than an exhortation to human kindness and compassion. The thrust of Jesus story is about sharing in the passion of the man left for dead.
The “imitation” Jesus commands is not the meritorious exercise of good will, not moral uprightness, but spiritual insight into the mystery of redemption. The lawyer is commanded to identify with the man beaten, degraded, and left for dead outside the city walls of Jerusalem.
“With whom should I identify,” asks the lawyer. “Identify with the One who has set his face toward Jerusalem to be stripped naked, beaten, and left for dead outside the camp,” says Messiah. The “go, and do” is an invitation to “come and die.”
The lawyer’s question to Jesus is the same one the recently-fed crowd asked after Jesus feed 5,000 people in Jn. 6:28-29, “28 Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God? 29 Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you trust into him whom he has sent.’”
Mary and Martha
To emphasize that point, Luke, in 10:38-42, follows up the Mugged Man parable with 5 short verses on Jesus’ visit to Mary and Martha. Martha welcomed Jesus into the house and immediately jumps into the good and exhausting work managing her life by providing hospitality to Jesus and his entourage while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet (dead to the idea of life-management and good works) soaking up all he has to say.
If Jesus’ parable was about doing nice things for others or about doing nice things for God, then Martha is the one who ought to get the props! She’s being a “Good Sam” to Jesus, isn’t she? She’s exhausting herself to provide for others. She’s winning the right-handed competition, adding assets to her books.
By the way, if you’ve ever sat through a Bible study and had some well-intentioned group leader ask you if you are a “Mary personality” or a “Martha personality,” perhaps now you will know to gag over such a totally point-missing question. The thrust of the Mugged Man parable and the Mary vs. Martha incident is the same. It’s about who Jesus is regardless of our personality traits.
Jesus’ very presence, just hanging out in her house, challenges Martha and her ideas of what she really needs. Like the lawyer that prompts the Mugged Man parable, like the Zebedee brothers who wanted to wipe out a village, she doesn’t need another rule of accounting. She needs to die to self-justifying, to die to bookkeeping. She needs to give up and lose.
The true question for the lawyer, for the two sisters, and for each and every one of us is whether or not we shall keep on living to justify ourselves with bookkeeping, to keep on trying to find our own way, to keep on managing our own lives in such a way that we win over our neighbors.
Will we struggle to keep it all together, living in terror of losing it? Or, are we willing to be lost? Lostness is the only currency you need; it’s the only one each and every one of us really has. It’s the one the Samaritan and Mary chose to use.
6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.21
1 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Lk 10:25–37.
2 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Lk 9:51. Emphasis added.
3 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Lk 9:23–24.
4 Capon 205.
5 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Lk 10:21–22.
6 Capon, 213.
7 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ga 3:21–22.
8 Capon, 214.
9 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Lk 10:30.
10 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Lk 10:31–32.
11 Capon, 216.
12 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Jn 1:10–11.
13 The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Heb 13:12–13.
14 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Lk 10:33.
15 Capon, 216-217.
16 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Lk 10:36.
17 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Lk 10:37.
18 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Lk 10:40.
19 Capon, 218.
20 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Lk 10:41–42.
21 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 5:6–8.