If you were one of the more than a dozen people in China who saw the two-year-old baby lying in a pool of blood after she was run over by a hit-and-run van driver, would you help save her life? The video of this incident has generated shock and anger not only in China, but all over the world.
But the Chinese who knew about high-profile cases in which those who helped accident victims ended up being charged or fined put the blame squarely on the courts. Just last June, such a “Good Samaritan” was ordered by a court to compensate an elderly woman, whom he had helped, a hefty amount of yuans. In the United States, there are so-called “Good Samaritan” laws. These laws are based on a legal principle that a person, in good faith, who has voluntarily helped a victim in imminent danger, cannot be sued for wrongdoing or a mistake made during the rescue act. The good intent is to encourage giving aid to a stranger in need without fear of liability.
“Do Likewise,” and Inherit Eternal Life?
Our shock and indignation against the coldheartedness andÂ incivilityÂ of the people who did not help the baby girl is not misplaced. We should be, otherwise, we lose all sense of morality and human dignity. As evangelicals, we are reminded of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan who was the very antithesis of the passersby who did not offer any help; they are the real life priest and Levite who both ignored the helpless, beaten man. Citing the Samaritan’s compassion, Jesus ended his parable with a command to the self-righteous lawyer, “Go and do likewise.” And so we believe that the Samaritan is the best example of loving our neighbor.
“And who is my neighbor?” was the lawyer’s follow-up question. His original question, a cynical test to paint Jesus into a corner, was “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” So did Jesus tell this parable to his audience of disciples, Pharisees, lawyers and other detractors to teach that eternal life could be had by “doing likewise”â€”a selfless good workâ€”as the Samaritan did?
Obviously, Jesus wasn’t about to contradict his own teaching of faith in him, not good works, as the path to eternal lifeÂ (John 3:16). But the law-expert must have also wondered how Jesus could say that the 72 disciples are blessed because they have received what many prophets and kings have not received (verses 23-24). Surely, they must accomplish more than just preaching and casting out demons to get their names registered in the heavenly book of life (verse 20). Â»[ref]William Hendriksen, Luke: Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975), 533.[/ref]
In the mind of the lawyer, the most important requirement is missing from the 72 disciples: obedience to the Law of Moses. This is why he quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18â€”total, unselfish love for God and for neighbor. In answering the law-expert’s first query, Jesus himself affirmed this in Matthew 22:37-40 as the two great command-ments in the Law, and added a paraphrase of Leviticus 18:5, “Do this, and you will live.”
The lawyer is now caught in his own trap. Before the whole audience, he, a law-expert, is unmasked as someone who is not able to keep the whole Law, just as all the rest of them. Jesus answered his question, “What shall I do,” squarely: If he is not able to “do this,” he will not receive eternal life. Perfect obedience, of course, is impossible for all mankind (Rom 7:13-20), but this is what God still requires for receiving eternal life. So even a single disobedience, as in Adam’s case, results in the death penalty” (Rom 5:19; cf Jas 2:10). Therefore, no one will be justified by making the Samaritan’s deed a paradigm for one’s life
It must be noted that Luke described the lawyer’s intention as “desiring to justify himself,” thereby condemning the law-expert’s works-righteousness. This is related to his first question about eternal life: justification is salvation, and salvation is inheriting eternal life. Moreover, the first question is flawed since inheriting is not earned by doing. An inheritanceÂ is a free gift: the testator is not paying the heir for services rendered. Â»[ref]Kenneth Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 286.[/ref]
UPDATE: You can now read the whole sermon here.