The Good Samaritan

Luke 10:25-37

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" 26 And He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?" 27 And he answered and said, "YOU SHALL 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 YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." 28 And He said to him, "You have answered correctly; DO THIS, AND YOU WILL LIVE."

29 But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

30 Jesus replied and said, "A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho; and he fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went off leaving him half dead. 31 "And by chance a certain priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 "And likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 "But a certain Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, 34 and came to him, and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 "And on the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return, I will repay you.' 36 "Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?" 37 And he said, "The one who showed mercy toward him." And Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same."

We are fortunate that this lawyer, this expert in the Law, stood up to challenge Jesus, because otherwise we would not have this great parable about the compassionate Samaritan. The "lawyer" in this case was an expert in the Mosaic Law, the Old Testament Law, not a lawyer in our modern sense of the word. He was an interpreter and teacher of the Law of Moses.

The intent of the lawyer was to test Jesus by asking this question about eternal life. He is not an honest inquirer, but is trying to trap Jesus. He is trying to get Jesus to contradict the Law. He had his mind made up about what the right answer was to the question according to the Law, and he wanted to see if Jesus would say the right thing. His question was, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" A.T. Robertson says that his question put literally was, "By doing what shall I inherit eternal life?" His emphasis was on doing something to obtain eternal life. He had the common idea that good works were necessary to obtain eternal life.

Jesus was shrewd in His answer, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?" He tossed the question back to the lawyer. He said, "You are the expert in the Law, what does the Law say?" We must be wary, as Jesus was, of taking the bait thrown out by those who want to trap us and make us look foolish or discredit us. Some people who come to us will ask honest questions as honest seekers looking for the truth. Many others, though, will just be trying to make us look silly. They will try to stump us with their "intellectual" questions. Jesus gives us a good pattern here. Where you can, throw the question back to them. Let them express their solution to the problem.

The lawyer, quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, answered, "You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself." The New Testament makes it clear that these two commands sum up the entire Law. Speaking of these commandments, Jesus said "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 22:40). In Romans 13:8-10 Paul writes, "Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, 'You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,' and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law." The lawyer knew his stuff. He knew that the whole Law was summarized in these two commands. He saw that to love God and to love others was the whole requirement of God for us.

Jesus affirmed his answer. He said, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live." If we want to do something in order to inherit eternal life, we must fulfill these two commands. We must love God comprehensively, and we must love others as we love ourselves. We must do these things perfectly throughout our lives with no slip-ups in order to obtain eternal life. We must never waver in our love for God or others or we will fall short. The trouble is, of course, that no one can ever live up to this standard perfectly. That is why the grace of God in Christ must step in to provide another means of obtaining eternal life apart from our own efforts to keep the Law.

Now the lawyer was in trouble. Had he loved God as he should? Evidently he didn't think that was a problem. Had he loved his neighbor as he should? That was the problem, he thought. It all hinged on who was to be regarded as a "neighbor." He wanted to justify himself. He wanted to show that he was righteous and free of guilt when it came to loving his neighbor as himself. That is why he asked the follow-up question, "And who is my neighbor?" The lawyer probably did not regard Gentiles or Samaritans as "neighbors," and probably had not treated them well. He probably thought that only fellow Jews were to be regarded as "neighbors" and felt that Jesus should hold to the same view. It is easy to love your neighbor as yourself if you define "neighbor" narrowly enough to include only those with whom you have a close kinship. If you include everyone you encounter as a "neighbor" it becomes much more difficult to love your neighbor as yourself. It means you must love those with whom you disagree. You must love those who live in a way that you do not approve. You must love those who are even hostile toward you. The easy thing is to simply define "neighbor" in the narrowest terms possible.

The parable of the "Good Samaritan" is the answer to the lawyer's question. Jesus did not answer the man's question as he probably anticipated. He probably thought that Jesus should have said, "Well, your neighbors are fellow Jews and God-fearing Gentiles." Instead of simply defining our neighbors, Jesus tells us how to be a neighbor to someone in need. In the process He gives us an illustration of love in action. He shows us how to love others.

The first character in the parable is the victim. He is probably a Jew. He is on a journey from Jerusalem to Jericho. The man was surrounded by robbers, stripped and beaten and left half dead. Evidently this was not an uncommon thing along this particular road. Leon Morris says, "The road from Jerusalem to Jericho runs down a steep descent through desolate country. The distance is about seventeen miles and the road descends more than 3,000 feet. It is the kind of wild country in which robbers might well be safe."1 A.T. Robertson notes that the Romans had put a fort along this road because of the violent assaults that occurred there.

Next, there was a priest who happened to be going down the same road. He saw the injured man lying on one side of the road, but he passed by on the other side of the road. Jesus makes it plain that the priest saw the man. The priest could not claim that he did not perceive the need. He saw the man, and deliberately passed by on the other side of the road. He made no attempt to help the man. In the same way, a Levite came along and saw the man and passed him by. It appears that these men could not tell if the man was dead or alive. Being important religious figures, they wanted to avoid the ceremonial uncleanness that would come to them if they touched a dead body. Passages such as Numbers 5:2 and Numbers 9:7-13 make it clear that if someone touches a dead body they become ceremonially unclean for a period of time and are excluded from worship. There may have been other factors as well for the priest and Levite. They may have been fearful that the robbers were still in the area and did not want to linger around and become victims themselves. They may have been on a tight schedule and did not want to take time to help the injured man. They may have lacked confidence in their own ability to help the man, not having the skills, training or materials necessary to treat his injuries. They may have simply not wanted to inconvenience themselves by getting involved.

Too often when we see people in need we "pass by on the other side." We may be fearful, we may be too busy, we may not want to pay the price of getting involved and helping. We may be afriad that if we help someone, they will become dependent on us and we will never be rid of them. Today, we have the added excuse that there are government agencies that are supposed to care for these kinds of needs. On the roads there is the Highway Patrol. They are paid to help motorists in distress, so there is no reason for us to get involved. For other needs there are social agencies that help people with housing and food and clothing. People can get welfare benefits if they are needy. We must be careful as Christians that we do not excuse ourselves from loving our neighbors because there are government agencies that will love them for us. Loving a neighbor means getting involved to help meet their needs.

Verses 33 to 35 deal with the Samaritan who came along the road. Generally speaking, Jews and Samaritans had no dealings with one another if they could avoid it (John 4:9). They hated one another because they had some fundamental and important religious and cultural differences. The Jews regarded them as cultists and deceivers. Here is some history about the Samaritans from Easton's Bible Dictionary:

The name given to the new and mixed inhabitants whom Esarhaddon (B.C. 677), the king of Assyria, brought from Babylon and other places and settled in the cities of Samaria, instead of the original inhabitants whom Sargon (B.C. 721) had removed into captivity (2Ki 17:24; Compare Ezra 4:2, 9, 10). These strangers (Compare Luke 17:18) amalgamated with the Jews still remaining in the land, and gradually abandoned their old idolatry and adopted partly the Jewish religion.

After the return from the Captivity, the Jews in Jerusalem refused to allow them to take part with them in rebuilding the temple, and hence sprang up an open enmity between them. They erected a rival temple on Mount Gerizim, which was, however, destroyed by a Jewish king (B.C. 130). They then built another at Shechem. The bitter enmity between the Jews and Samaritans continued in the time of our Lord: the Jews had "no dealings with the Samaritans" (John 4:9; Compare Luke 9:52, 53). Our Lord was in contempt called "a Samaritan" (John 8:48). Many of the Samaritans early embraced the gospel (John 4:5-42; Acts 8:25; Acts 9:31; Acts 15:3). Of these Samaritans there still remains a small population of about one hundred and sixty, who all reside in Shechem, where they carefully observe the religious customs of their fathers. They are the "smallest and oldest sect in the world."

On the return from the Exile, the Jews refused the Samaritans participation with them in the worship at Jerusalem, and the latter separated from all fellowship with them, and built a temple for themselves on Mount Gerizim. This temple was razed to the ground more than one hundred years B.C. Then a system of worship was instituted similar to that of the temple at Jerusalem. It was founded on the Law, copies of which had been multiplied in Israel as well as in Judah. Thus the Pentateuch was preserved among the Samaritans, although they never called it by this name, but always "the Law," which they read as one book. The division into five books, as we now have it, however, was adopted by the Samaritans, as it was by the Jews, in all their priests' copies of "the Law," for the sake of convenience. This was the only portion of the Old Testament which was accepted by the Samaritans as of divine authority.

The Samaritan, like the others, saw the man, and when he saw him, he felt compassion for him. Thayer's Lexicon says this about the word for compassion here, "to be moved as to one's bowels, hence to be moved with compassion, have compassion (for the bowels were thought to be the seat of love and pity)." The Samaritan was deeply moved by the man's situation, and his compassion motivated him to help. His compassion overcame whatever fear or misgivings he may have had.

The Samaritan went to the man and cleaned up his wounds with oil and wine and bandaged them. He picked the man up and put him on his own beast and took him to an inn and there took care of him. The next day he paid the innkeeper two denarii (two days wages) to care for the man and promised that he would pay for any additional expenses for the man's care when he returned. Jesus does not tell us how the Samaritan felt about Jews in general. If he was a typical Samaritan, he probably despised the Jews. The Jewish man who had been attacked probably had no love himself for Samaritans. But when the Samaritan saw the man's need, he responded to his feelings of compassion and got involved. He saw a man in need and looked beyond ethnic and cultural differences. He didn't say, "I can't help him because he is a Jew." He sacrificed and gave of his time and effort and money to help the man. He even made a commitment to care for the man in the future.

The Samaritan in this parable is a model of what it means to love one's neighbor. Loving one's neighbor means being sensitive to the needs of those we encounter. It means opening our eyes to the needs around us and not ignoring them. It means feeling compassion for those who have been victimized and injured by the world, and even feeling compassion for those who have messed up their own lives by their own bad choices. It means also being moved by compassion to do something to help meet the needs of others. Love is an active thing that gets involved in feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and injured, sheltering the homeless, clothing those who do not have adequate clothing, and so on. The parable also shows us that loving our neighbor means looking past cultural, ethnic and religious differences to serve others who are in need. Love is a thing that is willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of serving someone else. The Samaritan had to change his plans in order to help the man. He was delayed in his journey.

Jesus' question at the end of the parable answers the lawyers question, but turns it around, "Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robber's hands?" Who was the neighbor to the Jewish man who was assaulted? It was the Samaritan; he proved to be the injured man's neighbor, not the priest nor the Levite. The lawyer, in his answer, could not bring himself to name the name "Samaritan" but rather said, "The one who showed mercy toward him." It was not the Jewish religious leaders who showed mercy toward their brother Jew, but it was the despised Samaritan. The real question is not, "Who is my neighbor?" but rather, "To whom am I a neighbor?" We must not define beforehand who is and who is not considered to be a neighbor, but rather we must decide that we will be a neighbor to anyone in need.

Our "neighbors" are not simply those who share our ethnic, cultural and religious background and outlook. They are not just those with whom we are comfortable. Loving our neighbor means helping anyone we encounter who has a need that we can help meet. Loving them means sacrificially doing what we can to meet their need with no regard for whether we agree with their beliefs or care for whatever group they represent. They may be cultists, they may be from a foreign nation or may even be hostile to us themselves. My neighbor may be a Muslim, Hindu, Jew, Pagan or athiest. By being a neighbor even to such people, I may gain a hearing for myself and be able to meet the deeper need of introducing them to Jesus Christ.

1Morris, Leon, The Gospel According to Saint Luke, Eerdmans, page 189.

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