Vol. 3, No. 3
The parable of The Good Samaritan is one of several parables that are recorded exclusively by Luke. Sequentially in Luke's account of our Lord's earthly ministry, the verbal exchange between Jesus and one in his audience, during which this parable was recited, occurred following the return of the 70. During his Perean ministry, Jesus had sent 70 disciples ahead of him into the cities that he would soon visit (Luke 10:1). These disciples were charged to heal the sick and proclaim that the kingdom was close to coming (Luke 10:9). (Formerly, during our Lord's ministry in Galilee, he commissioned the twelve and charged them with the same mission, Matt. 10:1-6; Mark 6:7-13.)
The coming kingdom was the object of prophecy (Isa. 2; Dan. 2; Joel 2; Acts 2) and the longing of the Jews. Nevertheless, the Jews expected and wanted a physical kingdom (John 6:14-15), whereas Jesus Christ came to establish a spiritual kingdom (John 18:36-37). Even at the late date of the moments preceding his Ascension, our Lord's apostles still imagined that Jesus was about to establish a physical kingdom. "When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6).
Upon the return of the 70, and after they exclaimed that "even the devils are subject unto us through thy name" (Luke 10:17), Jesus responded, "rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20). Perhaps in the presence of a larger audience, our Lord still turned to his disciples and spoke to them privately (Luke 10:23). Immediately thereafter in Luke's account a lawyer of the Law of Moses posed a question to Jesus (Luke 10:25). Was there time and distance between Jesus' reception of the returning 70 and the lawyer's question, or was the lawyer in the larger audience that day? Is it possible that the lawyer was one of the 70 or does the new paragraph in which his question appears indicate, though not specified in the text, that the interchange between the lawyer and Jesus occurred on another occasion, perhaps even on another day?
Misgivings about the new kingdom and its doctrine persisted among the disciples of Christ well after the establishment of the kingdom (church). With some reluctance, the apostle Peter surrendered his prejudice toward non-Jews to proclaim the Gospel to them (Acts 10-11). Peter, though, suffered a relapse to his old mentality regarding Gentiles, for which the apostle Paul publicly rebuked him (Gal. 2:11-14). Judaizing teachers within the church were the source of much agitation, for which the apostles and elders in Jerusalem publicly and in writing countered such erroneous teaching (Acts 15).
Whether the lawyer on this occasion was a disciple of Christ (though somewhat misguided) or what we might call a heckler is difficult to say. The enemies of Jesus frequently badgered our Lord from amidst a crowd of the curious and truth-seekers (Matt. 22:15) as they also did to John the Baptist (Matt. 3:7). In any case, the lawyer's question provides the platform for Jesus' presentation of the parable of The Good Samaritan.
"And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 10:25).
This is the most important question that anyone could ask! This question has been asked by various persons under various circumstances that are recorded upon the pages of inspiration. This question has also been asked for various reasons -- not always to obtain information. The lawyer in the context before us may have been insincere, only hoping to somehow belittle our Lord. The lawyer's motive appears to have been disingenuous.
The 3,000 souls who obeyed the Gospel message in Acts 2 were not seeking the Gospel or the church when the Spirit-filled apostles began preaching in Jerusalem that day. However, they were moved by the message to mouth, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). Saul of Tarsus (better known to us as the apostle Paul) was not seeking Gospel truth when Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9; 22; 26). Yet, he, too, asked the question in these words, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" (Acts 9:6). The 3,000 and Paul became Christians once they received the answer to this all-important question. The rich young ruler asked, "Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 18:18), but went away sorrowfully. The lawyer to whom Jesus recited the parable of The Good Samaritan seems to have resisted the divine answer to his question, too.
The lawyer's question corresponds to the spiritual assessment and encouragement that Jesus directed toward the returning 70: "rejoice, because your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20). It is possible that with an air of sarcasm the lawyer rebutted the statement of Jesus with his question. Irrespective of the lawyer's reason for asking the question, that question is important because of the corresponding divine answer. At no time was the answer to the question a curt, "Nothing!" It is not the case that mankind is exempted from participation in his own redemption.
When the Jews on Pentecost asked, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37), Peter did not say, "There is nothing to do!" Instead, he said: ". . . Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins . . ." (Acts 2:38). When Saul of Tarsus asked that same question, Jesus did not say, "There is nothing for you to do!" Rather, the record reads, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do" (Acts 9:6). A disciple named Ananias was sent by Jesus to Saul and proclaimed, "And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). The rich young ruler and the lawyer both lived under Judaism and were nevertheless informed that there was something for them to do. Any of the passages above would have been perfect opportunities for the Holy Spirit to announce faith only or grace only or universalism or unconditional election -- without the participation of mankind in his own redemption. Instead, redemption is conditional on obedience (Heb. 5:9) or walking in the light (1 John 1:7). We must, in a sense, work out our own salvation (Phil. 2:12). Still, due to human frailty and our sins, we must rely on the grace and mercy of God (Eph. 2:8; Titus 3:5). Grace and mercy are conditional on our obedience despite human shortcomings.
"He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?" (Luke 10:26).
Many people in our Lord's day or even now may not know the answer to the question posed by the lawyer and earnestly desire a reliable answer. This lawyer, though, was not such a person. By his training and life-long pursuit, he was expected to know the biblical answer to the very question he asked. Jesus, therefore, compelled the lawyer to answer his own question, which he did.
The lawyer by profession was an expert in the Jewish law. He was a man who was supposed to know all the answers.1
Our Lord in substance says -- The question you ask is already answered. "How readest thou?"2
The lawyer not only answered his own question, but he answered it correctly. However, feeling the force of having his question turned back on him, he attempted to avoid the application of the divine truth to himself.
"And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?" (Luke 10:27-29).
The two-level apportionment of our love, first and foremost to God and secondarily to our fellow man, underlies the whole duty of man. This multi-directional love is addressed in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament.
"And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up" (Deut. 6:5-7).
"Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord" (Lev. 19:18).
"Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matt. 22:37-40).
As indicated in Deuteronomy 6, the love that God expected his children to exhibit toward him and toward each other was neither an obscure nor a mysterious revelation. Instruction about love (and every instruction from God) was to be an intricate part of family devotions. Love for God fosters love for one's fellow man; love for our fellows reinforces one's love for God.
"If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also" (1 John 4:20-21).
The lawyer's last statement, "And who is my neighbour?," led our Lord's presentation of the parable of The Good Samaritan.
It has been said that this parable is the most practical of all the parables. It gets down to the bottom of what Christianity really is. There is no room here for pious platitudes and hair-splitting definitions, no place for Christianity in the abstract or for a religion to be seen of men. With one scene the flashes upon the screen Jesus compels us to see that Christianity is a way of living.3
". . . Jesus used his question as an opportunity to teach an important truth, namely, you cannot separate your relationship with God from your relationship with your fellow man." 4
"And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee" (Luke 10:30-35).
The "certain man" is anonymous to us, even to the extent that his nationality or ethic background, his economic, political and social status are not declared. However, for the parable to have the greatest emphasis, it must surely be inferred that the wounded man was Jewish. If he were a Samaritan or a Gentile, given the then contemporary Jewish prejudice toward all non-Jews, the illustration would lose its force. That is, Jews would naturally be thought to avoid a Samaritan or a Gentile, whereas the Samaritan would more nearly come to the aid of an injured fellow Samaritan or a Gentile. "In the time of Christ the bitterness between Jew and Samaritan was so great that Jews traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem would cross over to the east side of the Jordan and come through Perea rather than go through the country of the Samaritans."5 The parable presents a scenario in which one would expect the Jewish passerbys to more readily come to the poor man's rescue than the Samaritan traveler.
The Bible is persistently correct regarding geography, topography and any other science about which the inspired Book speaks and that also lends itself to critical review. (It, then, is reasonable to believe that the Bible is credible also regarding those subjects of which it speaks that are not susceptible to verification by physical evidence.) Jerusalem rests atop a central range of mountains in Canaan at about 2,500 feet above sea level. Jericho, 16 miles west of Jerusalem, is 800 feet below sea level. One literally descends or goes "down" from Jerusalem to Jericho, dropping 3,300 feet.
Some localities in Bible times were especially notorious for the ferocious activity of robbers, especially in rugged areas along highways. One such place may have prompted the missionary John Mark to turn back from his evangelistic endeavor while Paul and Barnabas continued (Acts 13:13; 15:38). The road between Jerusalem and Jericho shared this infamous distinction.
The Jericho road was rugged, robber-infested. Because travelers had been attached so often on this road, it became know as "the bloody way."6
One commentator cites the Jewish historian, Josephus, regarding the robbery common to that route.
Josephus tells us that Herod had dismissed 40 thousand workmen from the Temple, shortly before Christ's recital of this parable, and that a large part of them became vicious highway robbers, who were aided in their diabolical plunder by the hiding places and sharp turnings of the road.7
Whereas the Jews who passed by the unfortunate victim later doubtless professed piety, the robbers had no regard for their fellow human beings. The robbers only regarded the wealth and possessions they hoped to procure from hapless commuters. The lives of their targets were not precious.
Deprived of his money, stripped of his clothes, battered and left to die, the fallen stranger was not a specimen of economic, social or political attainment. He simply was a fellow human being desperately in need of a biblical neighbor. "We must find our neighbor everywhere and in everyone, and especially in the fellowman in need."8
Coincidentally, the first person to happen on the scene following the vicious assault was a priest.
Since the time of David, the priests had been divided into twenty-four courses or orders (see 1 Chronicles 24:1-19). Each order served in the temple twice a year, a week at a time. Jericho like Jerusalem was a city of priests, so priests and Levites often were seen moving to and from on the desert road.9
Apparently, this man was ". . . one of the 12,000 priests living in Jericho at that time, had evidently left God back in the Temple and had neither time nor compassion for his unfortunate fellow Jew."10
The victim and the priest were both traveling the same direction, away from Jerusalem and down to Jericho. The stranger preceded the priest by a matter of minutes. The priest could have as easily been the human casualty lying along the road, the other man finding him in that condition. Though the priest passed by his fallen countryman, doubtless he would have wished for more compassion by anyone discovering him injured along the highway. "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets" (Matt. 7:12).
Evidently, the priest left his piety back at the temple. He did not demonstrate the religion that he honored by his service in the Temple while traveling the Jericho road. Perhaps his attitude was, "I've been serving at the temple. I've done my part. . . . I've been away from home and need to hurry."11
Perhaps the tendency to duplicate the blameworthy conduct of this priest is common to mankind. Several exhortations appear in the New Testament as if to counter this disposition (Matt. 25:31-46; Jam. 2:15-17).
"And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise" (Luke 6:31).
"As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith" (Gal. 6:10).
"Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (Jam. 4:17).
"But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" (1 John 3:17).
Next to pass by the dying stranger was a Levite. "The Levite was a servant of the Temple and as a minister of religious worship and an interpreter of the Law should have been eager to assist the distressed soul he looked upon, yet left unaided."12 We would say, "The priest and the Levite didn't practice what they preached."
A Samaritan, however, the third person to discover the wounded and destitute man, stopped to assist him. What did it mean to be a Samaritan and how did the Samaritans differ from the Jews? Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C., after which it deported 20,000 Jews and brought in 20,000 Gentiles.13 The remaining Israelites from the northern kingdom and the re-settled Gentiles intermarried -- producing the Samaritans. Upon the return of a remnant of Jews to Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon, Zerubbabel refused to allow the Samaritans to help rebuild the Temple. The Samaritans built a temple on Mt. Gerizim (John 4:4-20) and practiced a corrupted form of Judaism, revering only the Decalogue. See also these additional New Testament references to Samaritans: Matthew 10:5; Luke 9:52-53; 17:16, 18; John 8:48.
"The Samaritan: [was] sympathetic (he had compassion on a fellow-human, even though a natural enemy) . . ."14 Compassion results from the inner self being "moved and stirred."15 In this illustration, the character least likely to come to the aid of the victim responds with genuine interest in the physical welfare of the stranger. "The Samaritan did not permit either racial or religious barriers to hinder him from helping the Jewish victim."16
The Samaritan puts himself to inconvenience, perhaps to peril, and after dressing the wounds, takes the wounded one along with him, provides lodging for him and even takes care of the sick and friendless man's future. The piled-up acts of kindness were all clearly done to a poor stranger, without hope of recompense or reward.17
"The good Samaritan used his beast, oil and wine."18
Oil was widely used by the ancients as an external remedy to assauge the pain of open wounds (Isaiah 1:6). The use of wine was also an external remedy for wounds and bruises.19
Besides attending to the injured man's immediate needs, the Samaritan provided for his extended care, too. Two "pence" (denaria) represented two days' wages (Matt. 20:2), whereas a day's lodging cost about a twelfth of a denarius. Thereby, the Samaritan provided for three weeks' recovery.20 If that were not enough, the good Samaritan obligated himself financially for reimbursement of the innkeeper should even more be expended in the rehabilitation of the Samaritan's espoused beneficiary.
Jesus, through this parable, caused the lawyer with whom he was conversing to acknowledge truth before he surely understood that it applied to him. This is one of the characteristics of a parable; see 2 Samuel 12:1-13.
"Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise" (Luke 10:36-37).
The adversaries of our Lord often tried to entangle him in his words, but to no avail (Matt. 22:15-22). In each instance, Jesus thwarted the verbal assaults, as one would expect from the divine Son of God (Matt. 22:46; Luke 14:6).
The Jewish lawyer got the message. When Jesus asked him which of the three was neighbor to the victim -- the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan -- the lawyer gave the correct answer, but he would not use the word "Samaritan"! He said, "He that showed mercy on him."21
The lessons derived from this parable are many and are equally applicable today. For instance,
Without distinction of race or religion that man is our neighbor who has need of us. It is not place but love that makes neighborhood.22
He [the lawyer] failed to see that the important question was not, "Who is my neighbor?" but "To whom can I be a neighbor?"23
It is practical service that counts in Christ's kingdom. Christianity is more than going to church and saying prayers. A group of people can do these things for years and be a dead church. Christianity is a way of living.24
We learn from the priest and the Levite that, "Religious ritualism cannot be a substitute for compassion for others."25 From the Samaritan we learn that, "Real compassion affects conduct."26 "In the parable the Samaritan shows that the circle of Christian responsibility is the world."27
Under Judaism, the Jew was obligated to rescue stray or distressed animals, even if an animal belonged to an enemy (Exod. 23:4-5). The priest and the Levite in the parable ought to have rescued any human being left by robbers to die along a desolate road. With whom do you identify -- the priest and the Levite or the good Samaritan?
1 Neil R. Lightfoot, The Parables of Jesus, Vol. 1, Abilene, ACU Press, 54.
2 R.C. Trench, Notes on the Parables of Our Lord, Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 109.
3 Lightfoot, 56-57.
4 Warren W. Wiersbe, Windows on the Parables, Wheaton, Scripture Press, 55.
5 Lightfoot, 56.
6 Fred Davis, “The Good Samaritan,” The Parables of Our Savior, Indianapolis, Garfield Heights church of Christ, 88.
7 Herbert Lockyer, All the Parables of the Bible, Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, 261.
8 Davis, 87-88.
9 Lightfoot, 56.
10 Davis, 89.
11 Wiersbe, 57.
12 Davis, 90.
13 Wiersbe, 61.
14 Wayne Jackson, The Parables in Profile, Stockton , CA, Wayne Jackson, 72.
15 Wiersbe, 61.
17 Davis, 92.
18 W. Gaddys Roy, Sermon Outlines on the Parables of Jesus, Anniston, AL, W. Gaddys Roy, 42.
19 Lockyer, 263.
20 Jackson, 73.
21 Wiersbe, 64.
22 Lockyer, 263-264.
23 Wiersbe, 59.
24 Lightfoot, 58.
25 Jackson, 73.
26 Lightfoot, 58.
27 Ibid., 59.