Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 11/04/01
"Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress." "He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains" (Ps. 107:13-14, NIV).
Our title today, "The Man in the Ditch," comes from Jesus' parable known as The Good Samaritan, found in Luke, Chapter Ten. Jesus was often tested by the Scribes and Pharisees, who tried to trick Him with their questions. On this occasion, a Teacher of the Law inquired, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Lk. 10:25). Jesus asked him what was written in the law, and the man replied, "'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, 'Love your neighbor as yourself'" (Lk. 10:27, NIV). Jesus agreed that this was true, but seeking to justify himself, the man persisted, asking, "And who is my neighbor?" (Vs. 29). The Lord's answer is what we will be looking at in detail today. Here is the full account:
"A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
"But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.
"The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'
"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise" (Lk. 10:25-37, NIV). This story has been beloved by Christians for 2,000 years, because it tugs at our hearts and encourages us to help others.
Let me tell you a little about this road from Jerusalem to Jericho on which the man was traveling. When we were in Israel in March, 2000, we traveled the "Jericho road" by bus, leaving Jericho headed for Jerusalem, which was the opposite direction our man in the ditch had been traveling. From Jericho, the road winds upward through barren desert, with high embankments on our right side, with a sharp drop off on the left side. You can still see the well worn little path used by those traveling by foot or donkey. The rocks and boulders strewn all around provide plenty of places for robbers to hide. The road from Jericho to Jerusalem is only seventeen miles long, but it ascends from about 800 feet below sea level to about 2,500 feet above sea level. Lots of twists and turns and a narrow roadbed make it a challenging drive. Nothing but rocks and sky and a few straggly sprigs of vegetation clinging to life by a thread, mark the seemingly barren landscape.
Most sermons I have heard on this parable tell us that the meaning of the story is that we are to help those folks in need. Almost thirty years ago now, a dear brother Harry Fox shared with me another meaning which has nourished me from then until now and I want to share it with you. He suggested that when we only identify with the Good Samaritan, we miss a lot of what God would have us see, i.e., that we all are really the man in the ditch. Everyone prefers to be the one who GIVES help, but we are the ones who actually need it ourselves.
When we find ourselves needing help, to whom do we go? Most of us would like for our benefactor to be a worthy person, like the priest and the Levite. In Jewish culture, the offices of priest and Levite carried with them great respect and honor. In our culture, we often look to the clergy or church members to help us, thinking that they would be the ones who would be of most benefit to us.
In Jesus' story, however, the priest and the Levite saw the poor man, but instead of helping him, they just kept walking, on the other side of the road. In case you did not know, the Jews despised the Samaritan people. They were hated foreigners, "a mixed-blood race resulting from the intermarriage of Israelites left behind when the people of the northern kingdom were exiled and Gentiles brought into the land by the Assyrians (II Kings 17:24). Jews viewed them as half-breeds, both physically and spiritually. Jews and Samaritans practiced open hostility, but as Jesus clearly showed here, love knows no national boundaries" (NIV Study note). If you look at a map, you see that the region of Galilee is located in the north; Judea is in the south, and Samaria is located in between. To get from north to south, or vice versa, you had to pass through it (John 4:3-4). The woman whom Jesus encountered at Jacob's well was a Samaritan woman, and she was greatly surprised when He asked her for a drink (John 4:7-8).
To get the full impact of how shocking it was for the man in the ditch to be ignored by his fellow Jews and rescued by a despised Samaritan, let's think of an example in our own culture. It would perhaps be like a wounded white person in the Deep South during segregation days, being ignored by two white clergymen, and given aid by a despised black man. In today's Israel, it would be like a man who was robbed and left for dead, being ignored by two Jewish Rabbis when he called for help, and being rescued by a despised Palestinian. Unless we understand the cultural implications of the time of Jesus, we miss the rich meanings in this parable.
Sometimes, it takes being left wounded in the ditch to cause us to accept help and fellowship from someone we were taught to hate, or from one with whom we had a bad experience that left us in the hate mode, rather than in the love and acceptance mode. When we are sufficiently desperate, we will take help from whatever quarter it comes. Notice that the Samaritan did not just do the least he could get by with. He treated the man's wounds with Neosporin and antiseptic (oil and wine); he provided transportation to the Inn, which probably served in those days as home, hostel, and ER. For good or worse, there were no HMOs in ancient Israel, no ERs, no health insurance and in fact on this barren road, not much of anything at all. The Samaritan took him to the inn and stayed with him until the next day, when he had to leave, but before going, he handed the innkeeper two silver coins and these instructions, 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have' (Vs. 35).
Clearly, the Samaritan did what Jesus encouraged all of us to do, which was to go the extra mile (Matt. 5:41). I would also guess that the love of God flowing through this despised stranger went a long way toward causing the man in the ditch to repent of the way he had probably viewed Samaritans before this happened. It is very easy to hate people who are different than we are. The note in my NIV study bible explains that the Jews and the Samaritans had different theological points of view on top of a diverse cultural background. In Deut. 27:4-6, Moses had commanded the children of Israel to build an altar on Mount Ebal (mount of curses) but the Samaritan scriptures called for the altar to be built on Mount Gerizim (mount of blessings). (Deut. 11:29). The footnote goes on to say that "the Samaritans had built a temple there in c. 400 B.C., which the Jews destroyed c. 128 B.C. Both actions, of course, increased hostility between the two groups." A VERY similar situation exists today between the Jews and the Palestinians, for as we have noted before, the most sacred shrine in Islam, The Dome of the Rock, sits on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, right where Solomon's Temple and Herod the Great's Temple stood (See link at end).
Jesus' stories are timeless, for they deal with the human heart, and man's choice to follow either God or his own mind. The lesson that has blessed me for almost thirty years from this parable is what my friend Harry shared with me about it. He said to me, "It is important to see that you are the man in the ditch. God will always meet your needs to get you out of it, and will bind up your wounds, and make you whole, but you do not get to choose by whom He does this." That was a bitter pill for me to swallow at the time, as I was encountering some very difficult emotional problems in my own life and I wanted a say in how they would be resolved. I was not comfortable with what he said, but I accepted it as from the Lord, and as time rolled on, I began to see the truth of his words. God has always met my needs, has always provided aid in getting up and out of whatever ditch I may have found myself in, has always treated my wounds and patched me up better than new, but I never got to say how or through whom He did it.
Here's an example of that from our real estate career. Lenny and I had listed a home for some clients of ours who were getting a divorce. The sales contract, brought in by another broker, was contingent upon the sale of the Buyer's home. This is not an unusual situation, and in due time, the Buyers for our listing sold their home to a young couple. The broker who brought in that offer was unfortunately a "flake." She meant well, but simply did not have her act together enough to do her business in a professional way. She did not perform her duties in a timely fashion. The contract called for the loan application to be submitted within three days of acceptance. She missed that deadline by over a week! Her Buyers had spotty credit and she kept changing lenders to try to get them a loan. The inspections were not completed within the time limit of the contract, and on and on it went. The broker, who had brought the offer on our listing, and who had to deal with this woman was tearing out her hair in frustration and crying on my rug daily.
Our Seller, who had little hair left to tear out, told us that he had repaired this woman's car within the past year. (He was in the auto repair business). She had promised to pay him what she owed, but never did. He was left holding the bag with a substantial repair bill which he knew she would never pay. He was on the phone to us almost daily complaining about her and wringing his hands in despair and desperation and wanting to know what we were going to do about it.
I had known this woman for years, and knew what she was like, but by this time, the Lord had worked into me His sovereignty, and the fact, that since He is in control of all things, we can relax. I kept testifying to our Seller, who was not a Christian, that God was in charge, not this flaky broker, and that if it was His will for the escrow to close, it would close. He trusted us completely, but I understand how he could not really trust God because he did not know Him. That is the purpose of all our trials, by the way, to reveal to us that God is worthy of trust.
Things rocked on in this aggravating fashion for a much longer time than anyone wanted, but finally, against all odds, by the skin of their teeth, the flaky broker's Buyers got a loan. They closed on that house and we closed on ours. As all this was happening, I thought about Jesus' parable. We were all in the ditch on this one, actually. Our Seller needed to sell because his home life was more and more unbearable. He needed the money to move out and get on with his life; Jan and Lenny needed the money as real estate brokers usually do; the Buyers of our listing wanted the house and needed to move; and most of all, the flaky Broker needed money, for she had been in the ditch, financially speaking, for as long as I had known her. At the end, I witnessed to our Seller one more time about God being in charge, and left it at that. He had experienced up close and personal the truth that we cannot pick and choose who comes along to rescue us from whatever kind of ditch we may find ourselves in. In the end, he saw that what I had told him was true. God did deliver us all, not in the way we might have wanted, but in His time, as is always the case.
America is in the ditch right now. People are living in fear; the terrorists sometimes seem to have the upper hand, but make no mistake, God will have His way with all of us. We are learning in the meantime to look at each other, not as enemies or despised Samaritans, but as friends, and we have learned that in spite of our cultural and religious differences, our color, our gender, our creeds and culture, we all bleed when we are cut; and cry when we are hurt. We are more alike than we are different, all children of our heavenly Father. We are seeing that it is not the size of our bank account which matters, but the size of our heart. We are learning to listen to each other, pray for each other, and with God's help, we will be able to love one another as He loved us. The longer I live, the more I know that Jesus IS the bread of life. Feasting on Him gives us eternal life, right now! (John 6:32-35; 47-51; 53-56).
His lesson for each of us, both in and out of the ditch is "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked" (Luke 6:27-28, 32-35, NIV). God is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Isn't that glorious? He is kind to the man in the ditch, but also to the priest and the Levite. Some forget that part, but it is true. When someone is mean to you, or judges you, or puts you down, leaving you emotionally wounded and bleeding, ask God to love him or her through you. You cannot do that on your own, but with Christ dwelling in your heart (Gal. 2:20), you can be perfect, even as He is perfect (Matt. 5:48).
Let him who has an ear to hear, open his heart to this teaching, for as Jesus said to His disciples, "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it" (Luke 10:23-24, NIV).
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
Jan's Poem, "The Man in the Ditch"
"The Third Temple"
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 11/2/01
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 11/04/08.