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09.18.11 What is Risk-Taking Mission and Service? Luke 10:25-37, 6:32-36

by on September 19, 2011

Most people think Jesus was a Jew. In reality, he was a Samaritan. From the perspective of the religious elite of his time, he was a second-class also-ran. The circumstances of his birth were suspect. His hometown and region were derided. He acted like a drunk. He didn’t observe the Sabbath. He ate with unwashed hands. He didn’t fast. And to top it all off, when a Samaritan village rejected him, he let them off the hook instead of calling down the fires of divine judgment upon them.

Summary Points

  • A spiritual meaning to the parable of the good Samaritan
  • The meaning of the parable for disciples
  • What it really means to be a follower of Jesus today

But the tell tale sign Jesus was a Samaritan is the parable he told in Luke 10 about a traveler on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. This is approximately twenty-three miles and descends about 3000 feet. It winds through mountains and even has a section called the “valley of the shadow of death.” It’s a dangerous road to walk alone, as the traveler in Jesus’ parable found out. He was robbed, beaten, and left for dead.

Two people follow the victim, a Priest and Levite, worship leaders at the time of Jesus. When they see the “half-dead” man they switch sides and keep walking. Perhaps they had in mind the law making anyone who touched a corpse unclean. Then a Samaritan man discovers the abandoned traveler. He tends to his wounds, takes him to the nearest inn, and promises financial restitution to the keeper until the man’s health is restored.

From the metaphorical perspective, the parable of the good Samaritan suggests that Jesus is a Samaritan. In our spiritual journeys we will travel from time to time from the glorious heights of Jerusalem to the low-lying Jericho. We will have to go through dark valleys and traverse difficult and dangerous trails. We will be attacked, robbed, and left for dead. The meaning of the parable at this level is that even in these situations, a Samaritan will come along to help and restore us. We know him as Jesus.

But in Luke’s Gospel, the parable serves another purpose. It is here that we find what many refer to as the “great commandment.” In the gospels of Mark and Matthew, an expert in the law asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment, and he answers directly, quoting the Older Testament, that to love God and love neighbor are the greatest commandments. In Luke, the lawyer asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus engages the lawyer in a conversation, drawing the same quotations out of the lawyer.

Then the lawyer, a person who is eager and sincere in wanting to follow Jesus (“he wanted to justify himself”), asked, “Who is my neighbor?” The parable of the good Samaritan follows, after which Jesus asks, “Who was the neighbor to the victimized man? Go and do likewise, and you will live.”

The lawyer in Luke 10 realizes that following Jesus means more than having the right answers. It’s more than knowing where in the Bible it says thus-and-so. It’s more than saying, “Love God and love neighbor.” “Eternal life” according to the lawyer, and “living” according to Jesus, requires that we be neighbors to those in need. Neighbors like the Samaritan was a neighbor. Being a neighbor like Jesus was neighbor—Jesus the Samaritan.

Being a follower of Jesus requires service. It requires, in the words of Methodist Bishop Robert Schnase, and after the example of the Samaritan, “Risk-taking mission and service.” Imagine the risk the Samaritan took in caring for the victimized man: the robbers could still be around, the inn keeper could take advantage of him, the victim could leave and never say thanks. Jesus faced the same risks in coming to our aid as well. And as followers of Jesus, we are to take those risks also in ministering to others in his name and Spirit.

Why do we do it? In Luke 6:32-36 Jesus says there’s no credit in helping those who can help us back. Christian concern is not to be limited to those who are helping themselves. Such people are destined to better their lot in life. Instead, Christians are to follow an ethic that run-of-the-mill “sinners” will not—we are to help the helpless, the hopeless, the hassled and abandoned—because we follow a Lord who does so. He summarizes with a striking hyperbole: “love your enemies.” By enemies he means everyone, including those we are not naturally inclined to include. And by love he means active, risk-taking mission and service.

And as we do so, as we act like Jesus the Samaritan acted, Jesus makes a promise. We will become more like he is—we will mature in our identity as children of God. Schnase writes that engaging in risk-taking mission and service, “takes us to another level in our understanding of Christian discipleship, moves us beyond our comfort zone, and presses us to follow Christ into more adventurous encounters with people. As we do so, God’s Spirit changes us, changes others, and changes our churches. That’s Risk-Taking Mission and Service.” (p. 88)

For Further Reflection and Discussion

  • How’s the risk God took in sending Jesus to rescue you paying off?
  • Are you content to know the answer to the lawyer’s question? Or are you willing to prove (“justify”) your eternal life by living the answer?
  • Identify one or two concrete ways you can engage in a risk-taking service opportunity.
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