Luke 10 v25 – 37
Last winter, an astonishing thing happened in New York City. A building worker named Wesley Autey was standing on a subway platform with his two young daughters, aged four and six, waiting for the tube. Suddenly another man on the platform, suffered a seizure, stumbled and fell off the platform down onto the lines. Just at that moment the headlights of the approaching tube appeared in the tunnel. Acting quickly, and with no thought for himself, Wesley jumped down onto the line to save the man but he saw the tube was coming too fast and there wasn’t time to pull the man to safety. So Wesley pushed the man into the hollowed-out space between the lines and laid his own body over him to shield him as the coaches passed over the two of them. They cleared Wesley by mere inches, coming close enough to leave oil and dirt marks on his cap. When they came to a stop, Wesley called up to the startled onlookers on the platform. “There are two little girls up there. Let them know their Daddy is OK.”
Immediately Wesley became a national super star. People were deeply moved by his selflessness, and they marvelled at his fearlessness. What he had done was an astonishing deed due to his concern for another person. He had no obvious cause to help this person. He didn’t know the man. He had his young daughters to think about. What he did was at a danger to his own life. But a fellow human being was in need, and Wesley saw it and, moved with compassion, did what he could for him. “The Subway Superman”-that’s what the media called him But the headline in one newspaper described Wesley in biblical terms. “Good Samaritan Saves Man on Subway. If you had been on the platform that day what would you have done? Would you have had what it takes to jump down on those lines to help? Could you have been a ‘Subway super person that day?” Maybe the question that Jesus wants us to ask ourselves is, “Am I willing, to help others? If I see someone lying in a ditch or in the gutter would I put myself in danger to be of help? Jesus became involved in a testy conversation with a local attorney, an expert in the law (and we all know we don’t need experts these days). The man did not like His message and was pushing Jesus, trying to make him look foolish, to expose a weakness in his teaching. He was questioning Jesus on the witness stand: “In your view,” the lawyer asked “just what do I need to do to gain eternal life?” “You’re the lawyer,” said Jesus. “What does it say in the law?”
“The law says, ‘Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and also love your neighbour as you love yourself.'”
“Well,” said Jesus. “There you have it. Love God fully and love your neighbour as yourself. Do this and you will have eternal life.” The lawyer was not going to let this go so easily. Just what do you mean by ‘neighbour’? Who exactly is my neighbour?” It was in answer to this challenge Jesus tells of an injured, beaten man in urgent need of help. How he was ignored by those who could be expected to help yet helped by one so despised. Having told His tale He says to the lawyer, “Now define the term ‘neighbour.’ Who is the neighbour in this account?” The lawyer mumbles, “The one who showed mercy.” “Go and do likewise,” said Jesus.
Now, some may think the message here is “OK, I want you to go out and be just like that Good Samaritan. He cared for someone in need; I want you to imitate him. Go and do likewise.” However there are two problems with this.
The first problem is that if this were Jesus’ point, then he could have told in another way. He could have made it into a simple ethical example and left out all that Samaritan business. What he would have said is; “There was a man in need, and three people passed by who could have helped. The first one didn’t, and neither did the second, but the third one did, so be like the third one and help people in need. Yet this isn’t as simple or as easy as that.
The second problem is even more significant. If Jesus’ point is that he wants us to imitate the compassion of the Good Samaritan, the sad fact is we can’t do it. That is why, what Wesley Autey did on that subway platform, is so outstanding and almost unbelievable. Almost none of us would have done it. It is simply not in our nature to forget ourselves and chance losing our lives for someone we don’t know. Simply knowing in our minds what is the thing to do does not mean we can do it. If we are going to be Good Samaritans, then we will need more than a change of mind for it will take a change of heart. And that’s what Jesus wants from us: a change of heart. A study was once conducted as to why some people are giving and compassionate, while others are not. It was found that for many something had happened to them, someone had acted with compassion and love toward them, and it is this which had altered their lives. A little dit about a man called Jack Casey, a fireman. Casey was brought up in a tough home, the child of an alcoholic father. He once said, “All my father ever taught me is that I didn’t want to be like him.”
But something happened to Jack when he was a child that changed his life, changed his heart. He was in hospital about to go to theatre and was scared. The nurse with him took his hand and said “It’ll be fine Jack.”I’ll be here beside you no matter what happens. I won’t leave your side.” Sure enough when Jack woke up again, she had kept her word and was sitting there by his bed. Years later, Jack Casey, now a fireman, was sent to the scene of an accident. A man was pinned upside down in car and as Jack was trying to get him out the fuel was leaking down on both of them. Others were using power tools to cut the metal, so one spark could have caused everything to go up in flames. The injured man was scared. Jack remembered what had happened to him in the hospital, how that nurse had spoken tenderly to him and stayed with him, and he said and did the same thing for that man. “Look, it’ll be ok, “I’m here with you and I’m not going anywhere.” When I said that, Jack said later, I thought of how that nurse had said the same thing to me and how she never left me. Days later, the injured man said to Jack, “You know, you were an idiot, that thing could have exploded and we’d both have been burned up!”
“I just couldn’t leave you,” Jack said.
Something had happened to Jack Casey that changed him, made him into a Good Samaritan. Has anything like that ever happened to you?
Yes it has. That is the point of all this. What the lawyer discovered-and what we discover too, is that we cannot stand on the sidelines and figure out how to be good, defining our terms and weighing up the odds. Is this person my neighbour or not? Working out if this is the moment where we qualify for eternal life. For all of our virtues and attitudes, we just cannot do it. We are helpless on our own.
I believe that in this example we are the person in the ditch, we are the one who lies helpless, injured and wounded. The one who needs to be saved. And along comes a Good Samaritan, a man named Jesus – a man despised, hated and shunned, who comes to save us, speaks tenderly to us, lifts us into his arms, and takes us to the place of healing. As Paul said, “While we were still God’s enemies, He saw us in the ditch and had compassion, and in Jesus He came to save us”. So, the question is not the lawyer’s, “What is the definition of ‘neighbour’?” The question is who has been a neighbour to you? Jesus has been and always will be, for the condemned one is a neighbour to us all.
Have you ever felt his mercy make your own heart merciful? If you have in your heart you will know what it means when He commands us, when He commands you “Go and do likewise.”
The Bible says love can be seen and touched. It may be as big as an injured man or as small as a smile in the supermarket, just as long as it is done in Jesus’ name. You may give without loving, but you can’t love without giving.