Jesus’ familiar parable of the Good Samaritan was shocking to His Jewish audience, challenging their prejudices and self-serving interpretations of God’s law. It is still today a powerful statement of what it means to love your neighbor.
Every state in the United States has Good Samaritan laws—laws that give legal protection to those who attempt to help others in an emergency. They actually encourage people to do the right thing without fear of legal repercussions.
I think it is fascinating that the legal concept behind Good Samaritan laws today comes from a conversation Jesus had with a lawyer 2000 years ago. As we continue our chronological study through the Gospels, we now pick up the narrative here in Luke 10, verse 25:
And behold, a lawyer stood up and put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Now obviously, this is not a legal question; this is a theological question. This Jewish lawyer is a scholar in the law of Moses, and he wants to know how many rules he needs to keep in order to get into heaven.
So, Jesus gives him a pop quiz here in verse 26: “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The lawyer answers by quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5: “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.” Then he adds Leviticus 19:18: “And [love] your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus grades his answer and says here in verse 28, “You have answered correctly.” In other words, “You get an A+.” And since he had dedicated his life to studying the law of God, everybody who knew him also would have given him a perfect score in the school of religion.
However, the last part of his answer is where Jesus is going to push back. It is one thing to say you love God; after all, who can see into someone’s heart to know if the person really loves God or not? It is another thing to say you love your neighbor—that is visible to everyone. Jesus is going to show this man that the real test of loving God is how you love your neighbor.
The lawyer asks Jesus a clever question—verse 29: “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”
By Jesus’ time, the Jewish rabbis had defined a person’s neighbor as a fellow Jew—another follower of God. They had defined loving your neighbor as loving people who loved you back. And, beloved, that’s the standard rule of thumb to this day! We love people who love us back.
So, Jesus begins to tell a parable that radically redefines your neighbor and shows what love for your neighbor really looks like:
Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.” (verse 30)
The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was about seventeen miles; it was a rough road, winding through areas where caves dotted the hillsides, creating perfect hideouts for bandits. In fact, so many people were robbed and injured or killed on this stretch of road that it was nicknamed “The Bloody Way.”
Jesus continues in verse 31: “Now by chance a priest was going down that road”—that is, in the same direction. A priest represented the height of devotion to God. Here was a man who supposedly loved God; in fact, he was considered the servant of God. But Jesus says, “And when [the priest] saw him he passed by on the other side.” He literally changed lanes. If anybody was considered good enough to get into the kingdom, it was one of Israel’s priests. But he passed by on the other side. Why?
Well, we are not told, but there is a clue back in the book of Numbers 19. There verse 11 says that anyone who comes into contact with a dead body will be ceremonially unclean for seven days. The beaten man might be dead. And as you know, being quarantined for seven days is a hassle.
Bible scholars tell us that Jericho had the largest population of priests living outside of Jerusalem at that time. It was quite possible that such a priest would be returning home after having served his tour of duty in the temple. He had just come from serving God. If anybody would stop to help, it surely would be him.
Now another man came walking down this road—verse 32: “So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.” He changed lanes as well. The Lord’s audience is probably still shocked the priest did not help; but they definitely expect the Levite to stop. His occupation was assisting the priests and serving in the temple.
Both of these men got that A+ on the religious report card, so it would seem obvious that they loved God. But they both walked away.
Now Jesus’ listeners would have understood the danger of helping this man. Thieves could still be nearby; this could be a trap; they could become the next victim. So, the surprising thing here is not that these two men didn’t stop to help; the surprising thing is that someone will!
At this point Jesus’ story takes a shockingly unexpected turn:
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn. (verses 33-34)
The implication in this story is that this beaten man was a Jew. The Jews and the Samaritans had hated one another for centuries. So this man is the last person one would expect to stop and help a Jewish man on the roadside.
But his compassion was comprehensive: he poured wine on his wounds to disinfect them and oil to relieve them. He bandaged the wounds and set him on his own animal, presumably a donkey, and took him to an inn.
Most people think the Samaritan checked the man into the hotel and then took off. That is not what happened at all—verse 34: “He . . . brought him to an inn and took care of him.” That means he took care of him through the night, at the most critical stage in this man’s condition. He did not hand him off; he stayed with him through the night.
In verse 35, Jesus tells us what he did the next day:
He took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.”
This amount of money would have been enough to cover his room and board for more than a month. Compassion, care, generosity, concern—the point is, somebody who loves God will demonstrate such things to show love to his neighbor.
So, with that, Jesus turns to this lawyer and asks him one more question:
“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” (verses 36-37)
Notice, he cannot even bring himself to say, “The Samaritan.” He has gotten the point, but he is not going to repent of his prejudice and pride. He wants to continue claiming to love God while hating the Samaritans.
Through this parable Jesus is not telling us we can earn our way into the kingdom by loving other people. He is telling us what it looks like to demonstrate the loving heart of the King—how to act like King Jesus.
Fellow Christian, this is exactly what He did for you. He found you, helpless, hopeless, empty, and broken. He had compassion on you. He stooped down to pick you up. He restored your life. Just like Him, let’s treat others with compassion and grace and love.