Two days pay . . . and much more

I don’t think of what I get paid in days.  I don’t even think in weeks.  I think in months.  This is because I get paid in months.  And if I wanted to know how much I made in a week, or in a day, I would have to divide.  Not that I don’t know how to divide, but, really, who likes to divide when they don’t have to?

But I got to thinking about my salary in days because, as often as I’ve heard the story of the good Samaritan, and even since in the past few years I began reading my Bible . . . I always casually acknowledged the part about two days pay without even thinking about it.

“A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.

“By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.

“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.

The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” (Luke 10:30b-37, NLT)

Thinking about silver coins didn’t mean much to me, because I guess I was thinking more of “silver” coins today: nickels, dimes, quarters.  Sure, I knew the silver coins were worth more than a couple quarters, but it didn’t seem like much.

One denarius (plural denarii)

The actual currency was denarii.  Having nothing to equate denarii to, I guess I had in my mind something like ten dollar bills.  But I’m without excuse to think such a thing, because I had read, I don’t know how many times, in the footnotes of Bibles, that a denarii was worth about a day’s wage for a common worker.

I never stopped to think about how much a day’s wage actually is.  The Samaritan in Jesus’ parable spends two days salary on a total stranger.  That’s not spare change.  That was a commitment that would have thrown his entire monthly budget off.  Something–or maybe many somethings–would have to be given up to give this money for lodging and care to a total stranger.

And scarier still than losing two days pay, this Samaritan assigns himself the financial responsibility of covering the man’s needs, if they were beyond this.  That’s a frighteningly open arrangement.  He doesn’t say he’ll cover the bills if they are one denarius more or up to five denarii more–he simply promises to cover the expenses!

And that’s not all.  The Samaritan used his own olive oil and wine on the man.  It wasn’t as if he could go to Wal-Mart to buy more.  Pouring these ointments out on this total stranger, the Samaritan was denying them to himself and taking away from his family’s provisions.  He would either have to come up with money to purchase more wine and olive oil in the city–and that would have been even more difficult since he had just given two days pay away–or he would have to wait until harvest time, if he was a farmer.

As olive oil had to be pressed from olives, wine had to be pressed from grapes.  Olive oil and wine represented work–hard work–and this Samaritan gave them away to a total stranger.By reading the Bible (like 1 King 17:11-14) we learn that olive oil was necessary for bread, and bread was a meal staple.

But the Samaritan went beyond giving his money and personal provisions.  This man also gave his time.  Having no cell phone to call for an ambulance and no ambulance to come anyway, the Samaritan led a wounded man on a donkey while walking on foot was slow.  And this was the same dangerous place the wounded man had been robbed and beaten.  Walking on foot wasn’t just time-consuming: it was risky.  He had no donkey to flee away on if another band of robbers showed up.  The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was known to be dangerous[1], so this was no easy path.

So this Samaritan gave away his money, his provisions, his time, and he even risked being in the same predicament as the wounded man.

But now here is probably the most amazing part of all: the Samaritan helped a man who was most likely prejudiced against him.  The Jewish man most likely hated Samaritans and saw them as “half-breeds”, because that was the popular thinking of the day.  The Jewish people would often go out of their way to avoid routes that led by Samaritan villages.  So for this Samaritan man to help this Jewish man, he had to overcome his own feelings of injustice and rage.

Some people might have been proud of themselves just for not kicking this Jewish man while he was laying on the ground.  But the Samaritan not only doesn’t take an opportunity for revenge, his heart immediately drops any bitterness, any spite, and he begins to help this man out.  Whether or not he felt like helping the man, this Samaritan overruled all his negative emotions in favor of doing right.  He practices mercy, not because he has a special kind of ability others don’t have, but because he chooses to.

This Samaritan had no cell phone, no ambulance, and no insurance or Medicare to cover the wounded man’s medical bills.  And he had no reason to help a man whose people group hated his people group.  In fact, he had just about every excuse in the world not to help.

Yet he helped anyway.

Jesus taught that this man is the neighbor.

Not because he came over to borrow a cup of sugar, or because he waved at his neighbor every time he was at the mailbox, or because he participated in neighborhood watch, or because he bought the kid next door’s cub scout popcorn one year.  Jesus said this Samaritan man was the neighbor because he had the courage, the willingness, the generosity, the patience, the humility, and the mercy to help a total stranger.  In other words, this Samaritan man loved his neighbor.

One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”

The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”

The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.

“By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.

“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.

The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” (Luke 10:25-37, NLT)

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[1] The pastor at my church gave a sermon on this once that encouraged me to deeply investigate this parable rather than just thinking I already “knew” it.  How gracious God is, and how patient!

Photograph of denarius by Daniel R. Blume, http://www.flickr.com/people/drb62/

Photograph of bread and olive oil by Charles Haynes, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/haynes/

Photograph of grapes by Or Hiltch, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/orcaman/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

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Who is my neighbor?

One time when I was a young kid, my family was on vacation in a big city . . . and we accidentally drove into a ghetto.

I wasn’t that worried about it, but everybody else in the car was terrified.  They seemed to believe somebody was going to come up to our car and attack us.  I looked around the ghetto we drove past with new eyes, panicked that we were all going to be killed.  The people weren’t people to me anymore.  They were scary creatures out to get me.

Looking back on this, I realize I was right with my first reaction, and not with my second.  The people who live in that ghetto . . . are people.  And drawing a sweeping conclusion that people are out to get you just because they live in a ghetto . . . that’s just ridiculous.  You could live in a mansion on a hill and be killed by your own butler.

Going back to that day, I don’t have to wonder what would have happened if we’d driven by a woman lying on the side of the road, beaten unconscious.

We would almost certainly have driven right by.

When we got to our hotel, we would have called the police, of course, but never would we have gotten out in the middle of that ghetto, carried that unconscious woman to our car, and driven her to the hospital.

Not with all the dangers around us.  It could have been a trap.  She might not really have been unconscious.  Or it could have been the act of a gang, waiting to spring on us the moment we opened our car doors.

Help her?  No way.  Way, way too scary.

Many people are familiar with the story of the good Samaritan, or at least of the cause named after the person.  But we usually miss the terrible danger within this parable.

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The story of the good Samaritan was told by Christ.  During His life on earth, Christ was a teacher, and people would walk up to Him and ask Him questions.  Sometimes they asked questions because they really wanted to know the answers.  Other times they asked questions to try to trip Him up.  (Not much has changed since then, actually!)

One man, an avid reader and religious sage, walked up to Jesus to ask what he needed to do to get into Heaven.  Sounds like a good question to me!

The problem was, the man wasn’t really asking a question.  He really just wanted to prove to everybody listening that he already was going to Heaven because he was so good!

When Jesus answered him, the sage seems, from my understanding of the story, to get excited.  In his mind, he thinks he’s just proven he has earned eternal life—but he wants to make sure everybody in the crowd knows it.  So he asks a little, bitty easy question to show everybody how good he really is . . . or so he thinks.

I think the answer Jesus gave him left him stupefied.

And a lot less sure he had Heaven ‘in the bag’.

An expert in the Law of Moses stood up and asked Jesus a question to see what he would say.  “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to have eternal life?”

Jesus answered, “What is written in the Scriptures? How do you understand them?”

The man replied, “The Scriptures say, `Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.’  They also say, `Love your neighbors as much as you love yourself.’ “

Jesus said, “You have given the right answer.  If you do this, you will have eternal life.”

But the man wanted to show that he knew what he was talking about.  So he asked Jesus, “Who are my neighbors?”

Jesus replied:

As a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, robbers attacked him and grabbed everything he had.  They beat him up and ran off, leaving him half dead.

A priest happened to be going down the same road.  But when he saw the man, he walked by on the other side.

Later a temple helper came to the same place.  But when he saw the man who had been beaten up, he also went by on the other side.

A man from Samaria then came traveling along that road. When he saw the man, he felt sorry for him and went over to him.  He treated his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them.  Then he put him on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him.  The next morning he gave the innkeeper two silver coins and said, “Please take care of the man.  If you spend more than this on him, I will pay you when I return.”  Then Jesus asked, “Which one of these three people was a real neighbor to the man who was beaten up by robbers?”

The teacher answered, “The one who showed pity.”

Jesus said, “Go and do the same!” (Luke 10:25-37, CEV)

WOW.

Jesus says the neighbor is the person who gets out of his car, in the middle of a ghetto, to help somebody in need.

WOW.

Someone could say, “Hey, wait a second, that’s not fair!  Ghettos are way dangerous and this man in the story was just lying on a road!”

This is where we miss the danger of this story.  The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was a scary one[1].  Jerusalem was (and is) a religious mecca.  After people had traveled there, they might go down to Jericho to vacation or for business.  So this road was a thief magnet.  Thieves would wait for travelers to come by so they could prey on one.

Because clothes were so expensive, thieves would often take the clothes right off somebody’s back.  The thieves in this parable leave the man beaten and naked in the middle of the road and probably go off to sell his clothes and spend his money.

Notice that the three people who came by did not see what had happened.

This would be like driving down a dangerous road and suddenly seeing a man lying across one lane, naked and bruised, the other lane empty.

In this parable, the first two people who passed by the beaten-up traveler went around.  In today’s world, it would be switching lanes.  They went down the clear lane.

Although the priest and temple helper are very religious . . . they don’t have much trust in God or feel responsibility to Him.

They don’t trust that God will protect them if they stop.

And they don’t feel responsible to help.

So they go on by.

Of course they didn’t have cars, but I bet they probably had donkeys and weren’t on foot.  To stop and help would be to dismount—get out of the car.  They would have had to kneel down, pick up the wounded man, and carry him on a donkey—which has no driver and passenger’s seat, by the way—to the nearest hotel.

Can you imagine all of the reasons the priest and temple helper could have given for their decision to ‘drive on by’?

This was dangerous!

It could be a trap!

They could lose temple money—religious money!!!—if they got robbed!

Traveling with a stranger on their donkey meant they would have to walk on foot, practically a shout-out to any more robbers in the vicinity!

The stranger might not even be a ‘good’ person!  Who’s to say how he got on the side of the road?  He might have been a drunk or even a robber himself, having been robbed by other robbers!

We tend to think that the religious people who went on by the man would have been embarrassed if their congregation had found out about it.  But I think actually they might have been just fine with it!

After all, they had so many reasons not to help!  They might have even used the man as an example in a sermon of the sad state of the world without ever feeling bad about going by!

After all, they did not believe a neighbor was some unconscious stranger you meet on the side of the road one day!

This parable must have stunned the religious leaders and the disciples and the crowds that listened to Jesus.  Because Jesus opened up the word ‘neighbor’ from meaning someone living on either side of your house to anyone in the world!

This parable might have triggered an immediate memory in the religious sage’s mind—the one who had asked Jesus the question—of all the times when he had been on his way somewhere, seen a person in need . . . and walked (or rode) on by.

Through this parable, Jesus showed this religious sage that he had zero chance of getting eternal life on his own.  What the sage had intended to be an opportunity to show off his goodness had turned into a conviction to look at his badness.  He saw, probably for the first time in his life, that he was not a good neighbor.

When we think of neighbors, we usually think of people we live nearby.  We don’t think of people who live in the bad part of town . . . in a scary apartment complex in Chicago . . . in cardboard houses in Los Angeles . . . in a Cuban prison . . . in a slum in Mexico City . . . in a Kenyan village . . . on the streets of New Dehli . . . in a tent in Mongolia . . . in a Haiti refugee camp . . . in temporary shelters in Japan . . .  people we can so, so, so easily go around.

But Jesus refuses to give us permission to go around.

Who is my neighbor?

Everyone is my neighbor.

Then Jesus asked, “Which one of these three people was a real neighbor to the man who was beaten up by robbers?”

The teacher answered, “The one who showed pity.”

Jesus said, “Go and do the same!” (Luke 10:36-37, CEV)


[1] My pastor taught a sermon on the Good Samaritan recently, and explained this.

Photo by Isawnyu (Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/isawnyu/, website http://isaw.nyu.edu/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.