Jesus is the master of the twist ending. Or maybe more accurately, He is the master of the twist protagonist.
One of the most intriguing parts of Jesus’ story-telling is when He points to a character in His parables that is intentionally surprising. Even shocking. You particularly find this on display in the Book of Luke.
Take, for example, the parable of the persistent widow. Here is a story meant to illustrate the need for perseverance in prayer in which Jesus uses not only a woman, someone thought much less of in that culture, but also a widow, someone who had virtually no rights in that culture. He does the same thing in Luke 15 with another woman, this one turning over her whole household to find a lost coin, all to illustrate the pursuing nature of God for those He loves. Then back in Luke 18, Jesus tells another story of a tax collector, a position generally regarded as the worst kind of traitor to his own people, who exemplified the kind of humility God finds pleasing.
All these people were the most unlikely of protagonists. From their very mention, they caused the audience to rock back on their heels a bit, They countered the prejudice and preconceived notions of self-righteousness in the audience. And they cause us all, still today, to step back and consider the heart of the matter rather than mere appearance.
Such is the case with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The parable was spawned by two questions, and the question was spawned by a heart desiring to do the least amount necessary and still be “all good”:
Just then an expert in the law stood up to test Him, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the law?” He asked him. “How do you read it?”
He answered: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
“You’ve answered correctly,” He told him. “Do this and you will live.”
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29).
Jesus, the great knower of hearts, launches into a story with the most unexpected of heroes. A half-breed. A throw away kind of person. An unclean untouchable. The kind of people you would specifically go out of the way just so you didn’t have to even pass through the country they occupied. He was the one, according to the story, that the followers of Jesus should emulate.
While the original audience might have recoiled at the idea of a Samaritan being the protagonist, we as modern day, sophisticated, and analytical Christ-followers recoil for another reason – the command from Jesus that closes the story: “Go and do likewise.”
Wait a second – go and do likewise? Where is the faith? Where is the gospel? Where is the believing, for here Jesus’ command is not that, but instead, an action? So we recoil and busy ourselves at the dissection of this teaching. But perhaps Jesus actually meant for us to go and do likewise – actually to go and do likewise. Here are three reasons why we should:
1. Because Jesus said so.
It’s happened before in our home when I, with my fatherly authority, will tell one of the kids to do something. But these kids are getting older, and they’re getting smarter, and so rather than going and doing what I said, they will begin to parse out every syllable and try and find every loophole, each moment passing asking another question to dig further into what I really meant or really said. And then I tell them to again, just to go put their shoes away.
I know it’s simplistic, but this is a command of Jesus. And with Jesus’ commands comes His authority. So the first and perhaps best reason for us to show the kind of mercy to others that the Samaritan in Jesus’ story displayed is because Jesus actually and really said it should be so.
2. To combat spiritual intellectualism.
The plain truth of my own spiritual life is that my knowledge well out paces my obedience. It’s truly ironic how much time I spend wondering about the will of God, all the while having more than enough of God’s revealed will right in front of me to walk in. This is symptomatic of the fact that I have the tendency for my faith to turn into intellectualism, with all the work spent in the classroom and none of the work spent on the street. But when I go and do likewise, I am taking an active stand against this intellectual obesity. I am exercising my faith in Jesus, who means what He says and says what He means.
3. To experience the gospel… again.
It’s not that Jesus forgot the gospel in these verses; far from it in fact. Jesus knows who he’s talking to. He knows the man in front of him is looking to get by doing only the minimum, and He also knows that this man’s heart needs to be exposed to himself. So what if that man, who loves to ask questions and probe for nuance, actually does what Jesus tells him to do? What if he does go and show the kind of sacrificial and extravagant mercy of the Samaritan? He will no doubt find it to be a terrible experience. He will find that he does not have the mercy inside him he needs to show, and every step and every coin will be with anger. This is what I experience when I go and do likewise. I am reminded of my own sinfulness, and then am forced to reckon the fact that Jesus was the Samaritan on the road for me. He was the One who did for me what I now do for others. I experience the gospel, as I ask for Jesus’ forgiveness for my lack of mercy, and experience it again as I remember His for me.
Go and do likewise. Do it today. And find a Jesus with authority and with mercy waiting on the road for you.