The force of the story lies in Jesus’ words: “You go and do likewise.” Whatever interpretation we land on has to do justice to Jesus’ own application.
But we need to return to the issue of the lawyer’s opening question about inheriting eternal life. How do you inherit the life of the age to come?
The answer seems to be “love God and love your neighbour.” As simple as that. Just love God with every fibre of your being, every moment of the day, and you will inherit eternal life. Without forgetting to love your neighbour. Be a neighbour to people in need; the way the Samaritan was a neighbour to the man who was attacked at the side of the road. Costly, self-sacrificing love. All the time.
But what if you fail?
Have you ever thought about what would happen if God called you to account for every time you have walked past on the other side? Every time you have pretended that you didn’t see? Every time you turn your face away from a “Cliff” sitting at the side of the road? What if he called you to account for every time you failed to love? Every selfish action? Every pound spent indulgently on yourself that could have been used to save a life? Every unkind thought (for he knows those too)?
What if God said that he was less interested in how many religious and evangelical boxes you tick and he really wanted to know how well you loved?
What if he called you to account for failing to love him? For attempting to use him to establish and justify your own agenda. For being your own lord. For witholding the honour and praise that rightfully belong to him?
How easy would it be to inherit the life of the age to come?
The Bible’s verdict on us is that, far from being Good Samaritans and far from being people who love God all the time with all that we have, we have actually all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
We are reduced to the expression from Psalm 130:
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
That’s where the old allegorical interpretation of the parable has a point to make. For the Samaritan’s love for a helpless traveller is an echo of a bigger story: in fact it is an echo of the Bible’s Big Story of rescue and forgiveness.
It’s you and me who find ourselves lying at the side of the road: broken by our sinfulness and unable to pick ourselves up. It is Jesus who comes to the place where we are. At great cost to himself he comes to rescue the people who have failed to love God and others. He comes to rescue the sinners and even the religious people too, if they would have him. On our behalf he received the wages of sin (death) so that we could receive the gift of God: eternal life.
Psalm 130 goes on to say,
But with you there is forgiveness,
That you might be feared.
There is no one better at modelling love than Jesus. There is no better story than the story of his rescue. He is the Ultimate Good Neighbour. He comes where we are. He binds up our wounds.
And sends us out:
You go and do likewise.