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Matthew 11:28-30 1

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Background

Before we begin our study, it might be helpful to understand the definition of the word “rightly.” Merriam-Webster’s definition is – in accordance with right conduct : fairly, justly. Our verses are some of the most loved passages in the New Testament. In these passages, Jesus was addressing the people of Israel who were burdened and weighed down with the externalism and the legal do’s and don’ts of the Pharisees. All of this generated guilt,  frustration, and dissatisfaction. In Matthew 23:4, Jesus further warned the people of the oppressive and legalistic ways of the Pharisees when He said, “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” Here, Jesus was speaking about the way the Pharisees had hidden the true meaning of the Old Testament Law with all the religious rules and regulations as the way to God, to true spirituality, and as a way to receive God’s blessing in life. The Pharisees had added to the Mosaic law an additional 365 prohibitions and 250 commandments. Those who were under the Mosaic Law were said to be yoked to Moses. Those who were under the authority of the Pharisees were said to be yoked to the Pharisees.

It is in this setting that the Lord makes a very gracious invitation to all who would want to experience the relief, joy, and the blessings of His life through a grace/faith relationship with Him. This is an invitation aimed at all, at the curious and at the convinced to bring them to a place of a deeper level of commitment in which they are to take His yoke and learn from Him as committed disciples. “Come” is the Greek word “deute,” means a strong appeal on the will of another. It expresses the desire and compassionate heart of Jesus and is His appeal for people to come to Him as a relief from their oppression. It is a call to turn from whatever they are presently depending on and depend on Him. For those without Jesus, it is equivalent to a call to believe in Him. For those who are already believers, it is a call to follow him as a committed disciple. It is a call to completely turn their lives over to Jesus.

Jesus is using this opportunity to drive home one of the great concepts of Christianity that must be taught and grasped. Christianity is a relationship with the person of Jesus Christ. This is not a call to a program, a system of religion, to a church,  to a denomination, and it is certainly not a call to follow one specific human leader or even a group of people. Discipleship is not about cloning subordinates to be like the leaders, but instead, developing Christlike people. While God uses churches, people, and theological systems, Christianity is an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus.

  • “All” points to the universal significance of this offer. We are never to be partial to one group, or class, or nationality. In Christ, God reaches out to the whole world.
  • “Take” is “airo” and means “to take up, lift up.” Here it is used in the sense of “to take upon oneself what has been lifted in order to carry it.” It  represents a decision, sometimes in a crisis, to submit to Jesus. It is undoubtedly equivalent to “take up one’s cross.”
  • “My yoke” is of course the key phrase. Jesus did not say, “come to me and I will remove all yokes.”  He said, “take mine on.”
  • “And learn.” This verb is in the continuous present tense and describes a process of discipleship, of the journey in growth and Christlike change. It is lifelong. “Learn” is “manthano,” the verb is from which mathetes, “disciple,” comes from. It means “to learn by inquiry, but also by use and practice, to acquire the habit of, be accustomed to.” It means “to learn, less by instruction than through experience or practice.”

Items for Discussion

  • What have the most effective ways you have experienced actually learning who Jesus was?
  • We are comparing experience learning here against “book” learning. Why is experience a better teacher?
  • Where does today’s Christian find “experience?”
  • Why would “lock downs,” the separation of people from each other be destructive to Christianity? How might this be different for other religions and faiths?
  • What do you think the secret is in leading a “rightly” life?

 

Luke 10:29-37

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii 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.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Background

In prior verses, a lawyer answers Jesus by stating that two things are necessary to inherit eternal life—loving God, and loving your neighbor (v. 27). Several scholars have noted a link between the parable of the Good Samaritan (vv. 29-37) and the story of Martha and Mary, which follows it (vv. 38-42). The parable shows what it means to love one’s neighbor, and the story of Martha and Mary shows what it means to love God. On the surface, the lawyer is asking who he must love. However, at a deeper level, he is asking Jesus to define the boundaries so that he will know who he is not required to love. If he can determine who is his neighbor, he will also know who is not his neighbor.

Jesus could have simply answered, “Everyone is your neighbor.” Instead Jesus tells a story that encourages us to change our focus from the fence that separates us to the neighbor on the other side. When our eyes are focused on the fence, we cannot see our neighbor clearly. However, when we look at the neighbor, we hardly see the fence. Jesus’ story might have its roots in 2 Chronicles 28:5-15. In that story, Samaritans rescued Judeans who had been defeated in battle, fed them, clothed them, anointed them, and brought them back to their home in Jericho, much like the Samaritan will do for the traveler in Jesus’ parable.

The road described here affords thieves opportunities for ambush and easy escape routes. Travelers of those times were well-advised to travel such roads in a convoy. Traveling alone, this man took a risk and paid dearly for his decision. The Samaritan, however, does not ask whether the victim brought trouble upon himself, but simply stops to help. Our society today still sorts needy people into deserving and undeserving categories, which allows us to excuse ourselves from helping those who are not deserving. Christianity, however, is about help for the undeserving (Romans 5:8).

Both the priest and Levite pass by the injured man. They are from the tribe of Levi, but priests are also descendants of Aaron (Exodus 28:1). Priests serve as mediators between humans and God, and perform sacrifices and other rituals. Levites assist the priests with these duties (Numbers 3:6). We expect compassion from clergy and assume that the priest and Levite will help, but they pass by on the other side. Jesus does not tell us why they fail to stop. Whatever their reasons, Jesus’ story highlights that observing the letter of the law which we may assume the priests did, falls short of loving God and our neighbors. Even the lawyer had outlined that point to qualify for salvation.

Jews consider Samaritans to be half-breeds. They intermarried with pagans, were considered defiled and unfit for God’s service. Jews avoided contact with Samaritans whenever possible, and considered them worse than pagans. After all, Samaritans were people of the promise who did not value the promise enough to keep themselves pure. Furthermore, Samaritans opposed the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 4:2-5 and Nehemiah 2:19), and established a rival temple on Mount Gerizim.

We know little about the victim, and we know even less about the Samaritan. We know only that he is willing to help even though he is traveling through Jewish territory among people who would not be inclined to help him in similar circumstances. The Samaritan’s actions reverse those of the robbers. They robbed the man, left him to die, and abandoned him. The Samaritan pays for the man, leaves him in good hands, and promises to return, leaving a deposit worth two days wages as a down payment for care. Conclusion: Jesus leads us to define neighbor, not in terms of boundaries, but in terms of relationships and human need.

Being a good neighbor comes, not from without, but from within. We can be neighbor to anyone who will accept us as neighbor. The person in need is the best candidate to be our neighbor, because the person in need is most likely to accept us. The Samaritan is willing to be a neighbor to the wounded man, and the wounded man is willing to accept his help. That might not be the case had he not been wounded.  The concern for religious purity prevents the priests and Levites from acting as neighbor to the fallen man, but the Samaritan, considered by Jews to be unclean, fulfills the requirements of the law to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). The one question we are left with through this parable is who do we identify with? Some people feel like the wounded man in the parable, and would be delighted to have a Good Samaritan bring them relief. Others identify with the Samaritan. To the staunch Christian, they may identify with the priest or the Levite. Jesus tells us to do the right thing even when our human needs are so overwhelming that we are tempted to pass by on the other side.

Items for Discussion

  • Is this a parable for “today?” If so, how? If not, why?
  • Who are today’s Samaritans, priests/Levites and victims?
  • Mission programs often remove the givers from the victims —  Why is this not as effective as being directly involved?
  • What is the most effective way to honor what Jesus is telling us to do?

Discussion Challenge

  • In what ways might a church act more like the Samaritan than the priest and Levite?

 

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations
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