16. "The Good Samaritan"

Luke 10:25–37

The Parable of the Good Samaritan differs from most other parables: it's so simple and concrete that a child can understand its basic point.
However, it's also an insightful and memorable assessment of practical moral principles. So many believers, as well as non-believers, understand it. That shows the effectiveness of its simplicity and depth.
Unlike other parables, neither of this story's figures represents a spiritual equivalent. The parable highlights working compassion, verses selfishness, and hate, verses love.
This parable makes clear who our neighbor is and how we should respond to his or her needs.

The Good Samaritan

"Do this and you will live."

Luke 10:25–28
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
26"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"

27He answered: "'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.'"

28"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

The lawyer's question is an important one: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" In essence, he's asking Jesus to encapsulate what's important for a Jew to do in order to be saved.

But Luke tells us that the lawyer has an underlying motive; "to test Jesus." The Greek word is ekpeirazo, "put to the test, try, tempt." In this case and in others we've already discovered, Jesus doesn't answer the question. Instead he appeals to the expert's self-perception of being an authority. He turns the question back to him. "What is written in the Law?" Jesus replies, "How do you read it?" Jesus is saying, "Hey! You're an expert on the Torah. How does your reading answer your question?"

The legal expert's answer reveals insight. In fact, he agrees exactly with Jesus' own assessment of the Torah's essential message (v. 27). Jesus compliments him on his answer: "You have answered correctly," and so, between the expert and novice, Jesus now assumes the role of expert on the Law, commenting on the rightness or wrongness of another's interpretation. The lawyer who was to test Jesus is now himself being tested and evaluated.

Who Is My Neighbor? (10:29)

29But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

In typical lawyer fashion, the so-called expert seeks to defend his position by asking Jesus to define "neighbor." The Jews typically limited "neighbor" to members of the same people and religious community — fellow Jews — while the Pharisees tended to exclude "ordinary people" from their definition. The lawyer agrees that the essence of the Torah is to love one's neighbor as oneself, but then seeks to limit its application to fellow Jews only. "Love your own race and faith community," he believes, "and you have fulfilled the Law."

Robbers on the Jericho Road (10:30)

In reply Jesus said: "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.

If someone were to ask you to define "neighbor," you might provide a carefully-worded definition. But Jesus answers with a parable, a story told to make a point. Jesus wasn't referring to an actual "good Samaritan." Instead, he's calling upon his hearers' awareness of the dangers of traveling alone on the road and presenting a hypothetical situation that makes the point.

Priests and Levites (10:31–32)

"A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

Jesus places, in his story, two well-known figures in society, priests and Levites. Both the priest and Levite see the wounded man and avoid him by passing on the other side of the road. They're aware of the man's need but they each choose not to help. Choosing religious purity instead of helping a needy person who was perhaps still alive is gross hard-heartedness and selfishness. And walking on the other side of the road displays a deliberate "I don't want to get involved" attitude. The less they knew about the man's condition, the less they'd feel obligated to help him.

Samaritans were particularly hated in Jesus' day. Relations between the Jews and Samaritans were hostile. For Jesus to introduce the Samaritan as "the caring person," after a priest and a Levite had avoided acting with any care or mercy, must have been intended as a biting commentary on what passed for "mercy" among the pillars of Judaism.

Taking Pity Upon the Man, Binding Up His Wounds (10:33–34a)

But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.

The Samaritan traveler doesn't also move over to the other side of the road. When he sees the wounded man, he approaches him and takes pity on him. He then binds up the wounds (Greek, trauma) of the injured man, pours oil and wine on them as healing agents, and dresses the wounds, probably using his own garments.

Prepaying the Man's Motel Bill (10:34b–35)

Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35The 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.'

The Samaritan's love of his neighbor proved costly: he used his own supplies to cleanse and soothe the man's wounds; his own clothing to bandage him; his own animal to transport the man while the Samaritan walked; his own money to pay for his care; and his own reputation and credit to vouch for further expenses that the man's care might require. Neighborly love can be costly. But . . .

Who Became a Neighbor to the Man? (10:36–37a)

"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"
37The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."

Now Jesus punches home his point. He asks the lawyer which of the three proved to be "a neighbor to the wounded man." Initially, the lawyer began by asking for a definition of "neighbor," in order to justify limiting his love to his fellow Jews only. Jesus doesn't define "neighbor" in so many words, but his story makes it clear that our neighbor is "whoever has a need." It doesn't matter whom the neighbor might be.

Go and Do Likewise (10:37b)

Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

Jesus isn't content just to define what "neighbor" means. He commands us to do as the Samaritan does, to show mercy to our fellow man who is in need.

A Hearty Application

What are we, as Hearty Boy disciples of Jesus, supposed to learn from this story? For me, the answer is to examine my own heart. Jesus' command, "Go and do likewise," tells me that I must value acts of mercy more than my personal productivity. What does it mean for you?

Q. Who needs your mercy this week, even if you have to slow down your pace to show it?

Q. Who do you need to recognize as your neighbor, whom you may have been ignoring or even despising?

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