The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)
In 1973 two professors from Princeton published the results of an experiment they titled “From Jerusalem to Jericho” based upon the parable of the Good Samaritan. They assigned seminary students to prepare to teach for 3-5 minutes about being a minister. Some were also asked to incorporate the parable of the Good Samaritan into their talk. In addition to the assignment, they were also informed whether they had some time before the talk (no hurry), if they had a few minutes (medium hurry), or if they were already late for the talk (high hurry). Along the way to present their talk they passed a man hunched over in the middle of a four foot doorway and coughing.
How many stopped to help the man? Overall, 40% stopped to offer help. The primary factor was how much of a hurry they were in. Those told to incorporate the Good Samaritan into their talk were slightly more likely to help than the group giving the general talk. 63% of those in no hurry offered to help. 40% of those in a medium hurry offered help, and 10% of those who were late stopped to offer assistance. Darley and Batson noted: “on several occasions, a seminary student going to give his talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan literally stepped over the victim as he hurried on his way!”
In the previous passage Jesus was rejoicing in his electing grace. The rejoicing of Jesus is interrupted by a self-righteous lawyer in the crowd who challenges him with a question. It’s as if, right on queue, the “wise and understanding” showed up to illustrate what Jesus had just said (21). On the one hand, this parable rebukes the pride of those who seek to justify themselves (like the lawyer). But it also serves as a call to show lavish and unhindered compassion to others.
Read Luke 10:25-37
I. A SELF-RIGHTEOUS LAWYER (25-29)
25 The lawyer poses his question as a test. Later on in Luke a rich young ruler will ask Jesus the same question (Lk 18:18). And Jesus will respond with a similar answer by pointing him to the law. There is a pattern developing here. “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The question itself is one of assurance. How can I be sure that I have eternal life? How can I know that I have done enough?
26 Why did Jesus respond to the question regarding eternal life by pointing to the law? We’ve already seen how Jesus could perceive the heart of those who come to him with false motives (5:22; 9:47). Based upon that, we can assume that the answer Jesus is about to give is meant to humble him. Where do we go to humble the prideful man? The Law of God (Rom. 3:20).
On the other hand, in Acts 16:30, we have a picture of one asking a similar question from a place of humble desperation. When the Philippian Jailer was about to kill himself because he saw the prison doors had been opened and everyone was free from their bonds, Paul called for him not to harm himself. He assured him that no one had left. This shocked the jailer and he came trembling with fear before Paul and Silas asking, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They did not respond by giving him the Law. They didn’t ask him about his obedience to the greatest commandments. They simply said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31).
The law humbles the proud, and the humbled are ready to receive the grace of the gospel. We will continually seek to justify ourselves until the law of God has broken our pride.
In a sense, the redirected question is itself a rebuke. You’re a lawyer, therefore you understand the requirements of the law. You are considered an expert on the Pentateuch. Why are you asking me?
27 This lawyer is clearly versed in Scripture. He knows that a good summary of the Law mentions love for God (Dt 6:5) and love for neighbor (Le 19:18). This love involves our whole person. Jesus had responded in the same way to the scribes question about the most important commandment (Mt 22:26-40; Mk 12:28-34).
28 The only way to inherit eternal life through the Law is by perfect obedience (Gal. 3:12).
Sproul There is no-one, not one person, who has kept the force of this commandment for the last five minutes, let alone for their entire lives. For to say that you love God with all of your mind, and all of your soul, and all of your strength, and all of your heart, really is to say that you never sin, because it would be impossible to sin if you loved God in this way.
29 The lawyer is seeking to limit his neighbor as first-century Jews did. At the greatest extent it was limited to the nation of Israel. But many limited it even further. The Pharisees would have only considered other Pharisees to be their neighbors. This common practice was a contradiction of Lev. 19:34. The point of Jesus’ parable to to correct this notion that we could eliminate certain people from the category of “neighbor” and conveniently ignore their needs.
The first thing we should acknowledge about this passage is that it’s possible to have all the right answers intellectually, and still have a heart that is far from God. This lawyer answered Jesus’ question perfectly. He understood the perfect standard of the law, but instead of admitting how far he had fallen short of the standard, he sought to “justify himself” by lowering the standard. Beware of a self-righteous knowledge that sees no need for repentance.
When we admit our pride, we can learn something from…
II. A COMPASSIONATE SAMARITAN (30-37)
Keep in mind the question this parable is answering is not “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” But the second question, “Who is my neighbor?”
30 This seventeen-mile road from Jerusalem to Jericho descended over 3,180 feet in elevation. It was infamous for the hazardous encounters that often occurred there. Thieves hid in the numerous caves along the way.
31 This would have been common as many priests and Levites lived in Jericho and traveled along this path. Some have assumed that the priest is on his way to Jerusalem from Jericho. This would imply that he passed by the victim because he wanted to avoid becoming ceremonially unclean before serving in the temple. But Jesus specifically says that the priest was “going down that road” as well. He was not going up to the temple, but departing Jerusalem. He had likely just completed his temple duties and was now traveling home in the same direction the victim had gone.
32 There is no mention of which direction the Levite was going, but he ignores the victim just like the priest had done. Like the priest, the Levite had duties in the temple. They essentially served as assistants to the priest. Both the priest and the Levite had been set apart for service to God. If anyone was expected to show compassion, it was certainly these men.
33 When Assyria captured Samaria in 722 BC, they scattered many of the citizens and then moved Gentiles into the region. This resulting intermarriages brought about a race of “half-breeds” as they were known among the Jews. Their division only grew wider upon the return of the Jews from exile to Babylon. It got so bad that Samaria built their own temple on Mount Gerizim to worship God, but the Jews destroyed the apostate temple in 128 BC. The tension was still very much alive during Jesus’ ministry. This lawyer Jesus is answering certainly looked down upon the Samaritans (Jn 4:9; 8:48).
Under no circumstances would the lawyer have ever defined a Samaritan as a neighbor. In all likelihood, if instead of being half-dead he had half his strength, he would’ve used it to kick the Samaritan away. Luke has already shown that the feelings of Samaritans towards Jews were similar (Lk 9:52). In this parable, Jesus is flipping their cultural assumptions on their head. He is calling them out for their prejudice. Our neighbor includes anyone, especially those we most despise.
34-35 It is the Samaritan who shows incredible compassion. The mercy he shows to the man goes beyond what anyone would have expected. Instead of passing by, he “went to him.” He cleaned out and bandaged up the man’s wounds. Then he gave up his seat on the donkey in order to carry the man to the nearest inn. While there, he himself takes care of the man before providing the innkeeper with up to four weeks of lodging. He asks the innkeeper to take care of the man promising to pay any additional expenses incurred! He lavished his mercy upon a man who likely would have despised him had they both been conscious when they encountered one another.
36 Instead of limiting the extent of one’s circle of neighbors, the lawyer should be seeking to show compassion to anyone who is in need regardless of their ethnicity or social class.
37 Stubbornly refusing to say “the Samaritan” he at least acknowledges that the one who showed mercy was the one who proved to be a neighbor to the victim.
NBC Jesus does not supply information as to whom one should help; failure to keep the commandment springs not from lack of information but from lack of love. It was not fresh knowledge that the lawyer needed, but a new heart—in plain English, conversion.
Something we in the Western world can learn from this passage is the impact of personal involvement. The Samaritan did not simply make a donation to assuage his conscience. (Let’s be honest, even that is better than many can say today.) He made the financial and physical sacrifice to take care of the man himself.
Stein Jesus and Luke sought to illustrate that the love of one’s neighbor must transcend all natural or human boundaries such as race, nationality, religion, and economic or educational status.
Of course, this does not mean we will be able to help everyone. We have to be wise, but generous stewards of our resources. The first demand that compassion makes is that we actually see those who are in need around us. Are we stopping to engage with people or simply stepping over them assuming we cannot help them? Do you tend to avoid situations that might require time and resources of which you are in short supply?
The context of this parable is not simply well-timed. It reflects an approach to life that oftentimes separates the sacred from the secular. There is a tendency to check off our religious duties and then focus on every other component of our lives as if they are entirely separate. Virtually every Jewish home recited the Shema every morning and evening (Deut 6:5 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”). That would have certainly been true of the priest and the Levite in this parable. It is possible to come to church every Sunday and declare our love for God while harboring indifference or even bitterness towards our neighbors. If that describes us (and who of us can claim that it does not describe us from time to time?) then we must respond with repentance for our hypocritical attitude, and seek to be filled with the compassion of our Lord and Savior.
Jesus Christ was willing to humble the self-righteous by speaking the truth in love. But rather than become indifferent toward those who mistreated him, he showed the ultimate compassion for them by drinking the bitter cup of the wrath of God on their behalf. When we were left without hope, naked and ashamed, Jesus did not pass us by. He noticed our shame, and then took it all upon himself and put it to death on the cross.
Those who have been united to Christ by faith and repentance are called to go and do likewise. Love your neighbors sacrifically out of the abundance of love that God has shown to you in his Son.