Thursday, September 5, 2013

Saved by a Good Samaritan

In Luke chapter 10 we read of a certain lawyer who inquired of the Savior, 'Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?' Christ, the master teacher, answered by asking the lawyer what was written in the law of Moses. The lawyer recited: 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.'

Christ commended the lawyer for his response, but the scripture states that this particular lawyer was 'willing to justify himself' and so, as lawyers sometimes do, he began looking for a loophole. Such loopholes, then as now, are often found in the way words are defined. The lawyer inquired again of the Savior, 'who is my neighbor?'

Most of us are familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan that the Savior related on this occasion. It is the story of a certain man who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho when he fell among thieves and was left half dead. Lying naked on the side of the road he was passed over by a priest and a Levite before a despised Samaritan bound up his wounds and took him to an inn, promising to compensate the innkeeper for whatever expenses were necessary to heal the injured man.

The parable provided a powerful answer to the lawyer's attempt to rationalize. Everyone is our neighbor and we are expected to treat all people with love and mercy, regardless of status or prejudice. The message of the parable is so clear it is impossible to misunderstand the point and the lawyer's inquiries ceased.

There is also a deeper meaning hidden in this parable that may not have been lost on the lawyer. We have to study and ask questions to find what would have been common knowledge to those in ancient Israel. For example, why did the Savior specify in a hypothetical story that the journey was made from Jerusalem to Jericho? Why was the journey made by a certain man, rather than just any man? Why did the thieves take even the man's clothes-- wouldn't that be hard to do on a highway between major cities without getting caught?

A topographical map reveals that Jerusalem, the holy city, sits in the mountains more than 3,000 feet above Jericho's location below sea level. The man in the parable went from a high, holy city to a low place, got beat up, wasn't helped by the administrators of the law of Moses, then was healed by a man who was despised because his heritage was half of the chosen race and half from the impure world of the Gentiles.

Starting to sound familiar?

The lawyer, and each of us, are the certain man in the Savior's parable. We come down to this earth from God's presence and are battered by life's difficulties and our own sins. As fallen men and women we are helpless ('naked'), unable to heal our own souls and unworthy to return to God's presence. Even the rites of the sacrament symbolized in the Passover or the ordinances of the temple cannot save us of their own accord.

As the Samaritan bound up the wounds of the man in the parable, our Savior, Jesus Christ, is the perfect physician of body and soul. He was born of Mary as the Son of God to atone for our sins and break the bonds of death through his resurrection. Isaiah testified:

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed
(Isaiah 53:5-6).

Finally, an inn is a temporary place of refuge that is open to all. This life is a temporary state away from our heavenly home in God's presence. The Savior brings us into his church to be cared for while we are here. He also promises us, as hosts of those who may be lost or injured in our stewardships, that he will repay all that we give to bring health of soul to those we serve.

With the additional meaning in this parable, Christ again addressed the lawyer's primary question, 'what shall I do to inherit eternal life'. The answer for the lawyer, and for all of us, begins with believing in Christ as our personal Good Samaritan and Savior. It is His Atonement that gives meaning to the sacrament and other ordinances of gospel law. It is He that binds up our wounds and takes away our pains, our sorrows, our remorse, and our weaknesses. It is with his stripes that we are healed.

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