This is an editted version of a sermon I preached on the gospel call to mercy ministry. I need to say up front that I'm not good at mercy ministry. I'm not heavily active in it right now. But I have given much though to the proper way of engaging in it and I believe we cannot do it well until we first see the way the gospel draws us into mercy. Therefore, read on and know that I am nothing more than a fellow Christian seeking to understand how to serve the living Christ and extend mercy to those in need. Hopefully this will be of some help.
 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”  And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.  So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.  He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’  Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”  He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
(Luke 10:25-37 ESV)
The great call from Jesus in the parable of the Good Samaritan is for us to go and do likewise. We see that but do we understand it? If we understand it, how do we do it? And it we understand it and do it, where does our motivation come from?
Jesus is calling us in this parable to a life of mercy ministry. The lawyer (who is a religious lawyer, not a civil lawyer) understands what the law requires. He even seems to imply that he’s kept at least the first part and now is trying to narrow the definition of “neighbor” so that he can squeeze into righteousness. But Jesus traps the one trying to trap him by telling him who his neighbor is. It’s a high calling. It’s tougher than the lawyer can imagine. It’s harder than what he is able to do. And that’s the point. That’s the point for us too. We can’t do this, at least not without first seeing it done.
The parable loses some of its shock value to today’s readers. Without understanding the relationship between Samaritans and Jew and the danger of the Jericho road, this parable isn’t as amazing. The Jews and Samaritans hated each other in a way that is startling. We don’t have an equivalent today, I don’t think. The Jericho road was one of the most dangerous in the world and even until recent times people fell to a bloody and often times deadly fate on that road. It was referred to in ancient times as “The Bloody Way.” It was probably rougher than the roughest street in your city. Robbers and murderers were always lurking. So, for a man to fall into this situation where he’s left half dead wasn’t too uncommon. The shock of the story is that the priest and Levite passed by but the Samaritan stopped.
We have to look at what the Samaritan actually did in order to see the depths of what Jesus is calling us to go and do likewise. First, he stops on the most dangerous road in the land. He sees a man left half dead, which means the robbers are most likely nearby since he isn’t all the way dead. Next, he pours out expensive oil and wine onto the man to sooth and comforts him. Then, he puts the man on his own animal, meaning he’d have to walk down this dangerous road at a much slower clip than riding through it. He takes him to an inn and puts him up in a room. He takes care of him. He binds his wounds, gives him food, puts him in the bed, and tends to his needs. Then, as he’s leaving, he essentially gives the innkeeper a credit card and says, “There is no limit. Whatever he needs, pay it on this. I’ll pay the bill.” Then, perhaps most astounding of all, he says he’ll come back to him. He’s going to check up on him. This is no drive-by act of mercy. This is a long suffering, inconvenient, compassionate type of mercy that invests much to give much.
So we see the price this Samaritan pays. It is indeed high! In many ways, it’s much higher than we can do. Who has the money to spend like that? Who can put himself completely in harm’s way? Who can afford to get off track for a couple of days to care for another? Who can give until it costs everything? Well, most of us can’t and I submit that no one truly can until it has first been done for them. Enter Jesus.
More shocking than the use of a Samaritan in the parable is that Jesus is the Samaritan. We see him as the Great Samaritan. We often look at the parable and identify with either the lawyer of the priest and Levite, neither of which did the job. We certainly don’t look at it and see ourselves as the Good Samaritan, at least if we’re honest. But how often do we see ourselves more like the half dead man? I think that’s the point Jesus is trying to make. Yes, we are to go and do likewise, but there’s a starting point and it doesn’t start with us being righteous. It starts with us being dead. It starts with receiving mercy, then extending it.
You see, Jesus is the Good Samaritan. He didn’t pass us by. He couldn’t pass us by. He looked upon a dying world and not only did he stop to help us as he was passing through, he passed through for the very reason of saving us. He came looking for us! Without his passage there is no hope. Without the blessed Savior bending down and pouring oil and wine on us, putting us upon his back, carrying us to an inn where we are provided for and paying the full cost of our healing, we are left for dead in the ditch and no one else is coming by. He’s the Great Helper. He’s the Great Compassionate One. He’s the Great Binder of Wounds. He’s the Great Healer. He’s the Great Provider. He’s our Great God. He’s everything we needed when we were wounded by our own sin, lying in a pool of our own blood completely unconscious of what our true state was. He came. He helped. He lifted us up and placed us in the Great Inn of his Father because he is the Great Neighbor. And when he got to the cross he paid the ultimate penalty to bring us ultimate mercy and salvation. He traded places with us so that we wouldn’t die. He put himself in harm’s way so that we could escape the ultimate penalty of the wrath of God. Without putting our faith in this saving grace we are lost! We are just another victim in a hopeless world with nothing to cling to. And when he rose from the grave he showed us that we would never have to face death. He defeated death forever for those who trust in him. Now because of this mercy and grace we can go and do likewise. He has put us in right standing with God by his death and resurrection so that we can now go. Without this, there is no hope. Without this, we cannot go and we will not go and we will not do likewise. We must have this and he must provide it.
So we see that the gospel is the engine behind all true acts of mercy. We see that we do this because the Lord our God has shown mercy to us. How then can we not go and do likewise? How can we sit in our homes watching the pain in the world through the light up boxes we call TV? How can we drive through the rough neighborhood with the only thought being to lock the doors on the car? How can we pass by the hospital hoping only that we don’t find ourselves in there any day soon? How can we go through an entire day without giving one thought to the homeless man out in the cold as we plan our nights inside because of the chill? How can we go through the week without reaching out to the single mom struggling to raise the kids and work a low paying job? How can we make it through our year with only helping during Christmas when it seems convenient? How can we even think we are doing likewise? God have mercy on us! We must cry out to him together, tonight, for mercy to save us from our apathy! He must save us from our lack of compassion! He must save us from our hardened hearts! And the gospel tells us that he has! And now, because of that good news of the gospel, we are propelled into a new world that isn’t like the old. It’s full of mercy and grace and now we have the privilege of serving the least of those among us. Let us no longer do it out of a sense of duty or obligation but in the fullness of the joy of the gospel to the praise of the glory of his grace!