Home » Sermons » New Testament » Luke » Three Approaches to Life — The Good Samaritan

 

Three Approaches to Life — The Good Samaritan

 

Luke 10:25-37


I: “What’s yours is mine; I’ll take it.”

The robbers who assaulted the traveller shamelessly told the world how life should be approached: “What’s yours is mine; I’ll take it.” They were criminals; violent criminals as well. They didn’t hesitate to beat a man half to death in order take what they wanted. Clearly they operated outside the law.

We must not think, however, that everyone who shares their approach to life operates outside the law. Most operate within the law. They will never go to jail. They will never taste social rejection. In fact they will often be congratulated. After all, everyone who agrees with “What’s yours is mine; I’ll take it” compliments those who succeed.

The chartered banks write off millions of dollars every year. Bank employees pilfer it. Plainly they are stealing what belongs to customers. The department stores lose millions of dollars of merchandise every year. Employees thieve it. (Employees are responsible for 90% of shoplifting.)

And then there is the person who does work for us and asks to be paid in cash rather than by cheque. In other words, he plans to pay no income tax — which is to say, he plans to defraud every other taxpayer.

What is government-sanctioned gambling except another instance of “What’s yours is mine; I’ll take it”? Our foreparents in Israel regarded gambling as theft. Were they correct, even if gambling is theft by mutual consent? Wherever governments have introduced casino gambling several things have ensued. One, the gambling operation is immediately taken over by the underworld. Two, the social and moral deterioration that follows is as undeniable as it is uncorrectable. (We should note that the day the government of Ontario introduced its gambling operation it cancelled its psychiatric assistance program for gambling addicts.) Three, casino gambling boosts related underworld activities: loansharking (someone has to lend overzealous gamblers large sums of money), narcotics-trafficking, prostitution, extortion.

At the same time “What’s yours is mine; I’ll take it” is an approach exemplified by many who are not financially corrupt. It is the approach of someone who won’t keep her hands off someone else’s husband, of someone else who thinks he can “swipe” another man’s reputation and turn it to his own advantage. It’s the approach of any jealous person who thinks that by crumbling someone else she can magnify herself.

“What’s yours is mine; I’ll take it” is the approach of robbers, however polite and respectable they may be.

II: “What’s mine is mine; I’ll keep it”

The priest and the Levite (Levites were priests attached to a local congregation) had a different approach to life: “What’s mine is mine; I’ll keep it.” In some respects the two clergymen were nastier than the robbers. After all, the robbers did not pretend to be anything but nasty. They never pretended to be concerned with suffering people. They didn’t claim to know that God is wounded in the wounds of all who are made in his image.

The priest and the Levite were ordained. People called them “reverend”, perhaps also “doctor” if they were especially learned. They liked the sound of it all. The titles gave them special recognition and privileged status in the community.

As soon as they saw the beaten man their finely-trained minds hummed even faster as they brought forward reason after reason, each entirely defensible, as to why couldn’t help at that moment, why other matters were more pressing, why their vocation didn’t permit them to be distracted by mundane matters.

Nevertheless the reasons their subtle intellects brought forward were all rationalizations. The real reason (of which they were unaware, needless to say) was that they were stingy. “What’s mine I need”, they nodded knowingly to each other, “and therefore I had better keep it.”

This approach to life is more common than we think. A few years ago, when the Canadian government permitted each tax-payer to claim $100 tax exempt for charitable donations, it was found that only one per cent of Canadians donated at least $100 per year to causes which help and heal.

Do you know who are the most generous people in Canada? The poorest! People whose incomes are in the bottom 20% of the nation’s give away a much higher percentage of their disposable incomes than do those in the top 20%.

At the same time “What’s mine is mine; I’ll keep it” controls many besides those who are financially stingy. How many marriages have melted down just because one partner (or both) insisted ever more loudly, “What’s mine is mine”?

Or think about those who complain that they have no friends. Although they do not know it, the reason they have no friends is their refusal to acknowledge the claim of a friendship. Friendship involves giving as well as taking; it involves making a sacrifice as well as absorbing benevolence. At times our best friend will frustrate us or annoy us or even irk us. Our friends inconvenience us. They want us to help them paint their new house the day we had planned to go fishing. They insist on calling us late at night because they are upset even though we are so tired we want only to fall into bed. Nonetheless, unless we are willing to honour the claim of a friendship we shall never have friends.

“What’s mine is mine; I’ll keep it” sounds smart and cagey and self-protective. In reality it is self-destructive, for it leaves us devoid of human intimacy; which is to say, it leaves us isolated, alienated, destitute.

III: “What’s mine is yours; I’ll share it”

The beaten, bleeding man lying in the road would never have expected help from a Samaritan. After all, Samaritans were half-breeds with weird religious ideas. They were as unlike the urbane citizens of Jerusalem as snake-handling hillbillies from the Ozarks are unlike us. Still, the half-breed “weirdo” shone where others did not. Our Lord tells us they exemplified a kingdom-truth: “What’s mine is yours; I’ll share it.”

Look at what the Samaritan did.

He risked himself. When he stopped to help the injured fellow he had to linger in an area frequented by cutthroats. (The men who had beaten the traveller might still be in the vicinity.) In dismounting from his horse he gave up the one means of speeding through the infested area.

He rendered a personal service. He didn’t merely make a referral or phone an institution, all the while ensuring that his hands were never soiled and his clothes bloodstain-free. Instead he rendered a personal service as soon as compassion electrified his heart. He knew the difference between social assistance and self-involvement.

He made a costly sacrifice. Certainly he was late for his appointment — may have missed it entirely — when he carted the victimized man to an inn and spend the night there too. Certainly he paid for the night’s accommodation (times two) out of his own pocket. Certainly his clothes had to be dry-cleaned if not replaced.

And all of this he did anonymously, not wishing to be recognized or congratulated or bemedalled or made a fuss of in any way. Neither did he exploit the opportunity of helping the helpless as an occasion for drawing attention to himself.

Perhaps the biggest sacrifice he made was simply fighting down deep-dyed prejudice and loathing when he, a Samaritan, came to the assistance of a despised Jew.

“What’s mine is yours; I’ll share it.”

                                                                                                    Victor Shepherd