Currently, in the United States, forty-one states have what is called a “good Samaritan” law. In general, these laws protect anyone who renders aid in an emergency from any liability provided that the aid was one, provided in good faith. Two was done for no money or other consideration. And three, they were not grossly negligent (such as trying to perform the Heimlich maneuver by drop-kicking someone and breaking their rib). These laws get their name from the good Samaritan of Jesus parable found in Luke 10:25-37.
This parable is perhaps the most practical and difficult parable that Jesus taught. It is the most practical since it shows us very tangibly how we are to be neighbors. The most difficult because all of us, at one time or another, have asked, “And who is my neighbor?” for the same reason as the lawyer who sought to justify himself. This morning we will look at the questions that precipitated this parable, the lessons of the parable, and end with the application Jesus made from this lesson.
What Shall I do? (Luke 10:25-29):
We begin with a certain lawyer, unnamed in the account. Quickly Luke tells us a few things about this man. The text reads, “And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him” (Luke 10:25). We should pause before we jump to any conclusion about motive or character based solely on the fact that this man came to test Jesus. The same is said of the lawyer who asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. “Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him…” (Matthew 22:35). Mark’s account shows that Christ said of this lawyer that he was “not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34).
The word for “tested” used in Luke 10:25 (ἐκπειράζω 1598) means “to try, sound” (Mounce), “to test thoroughly” (Strong’s). The best we can infer of this lawyer is that he has clearly heard of the wonders and teaching of Jesus and has now come to see if it is all true. The goodness or evilness of a testing is only in the tester, of which we are given no motive. Only that he came to ask Jesus the most important question a person can ask.
The lawyer asks Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). And as teachers do from time to time, when they think, or know, that the student asking can answer the question themselves, ask the question right back at them. So, Jesus answers Him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” (Luke 10:26).
The lawyer answered by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 ” ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). To which Jesus answered, and note the end of Jesus answer carefully, “You have answered rightly; do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:28).
Jesus’ emphasis on doing the Law instead of merely knowing it or regurgitating it puts the lawyers’ feet to the fire, as it were. Like all of us who have been convicted by what God commands, there is a reactionary response to excuse our non-action or actions; to “justify self” (Luke 10:29). And so, the lawyer asks, “who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29).
The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35):
Jesus then begins telling the parable to answer the lawyer’s question of who is my neighbor. The parable begins with a man making his way from Jerusalem to Jericho. As a side note, this parable may be rooted in some fact as this path between the two cities was notorious for robbers and was known as the way of blood due to the misfortune of many of its travelers. It is to be expected then when Jesus tells us that this man was robbed and that the robbers had “stripped him of his clothing, wounding him, departed, leaving him half dead” (Luke 10:30). This man is not in a good state and won’t last very long if he is not tended. This man will encounter three other persons that day.
- A Priest (Luke 10:31) – as luck would have it, here comes a priest! One who is supposed to be the embodiment of the Law! But what’s this? He’s going to the other side of the street. We can imagine this man crying out for help for only the priest, supposedly a man of God ignores the cries.
- A Levite (Luke 10:32) – Not a priest, but they help the priest. They were trained in the Law too. Maybe the priest was on an urgent mission. Surely, this man of God will help me! We can imagine the man saying. But sadly, the Levite did exactly as the priest did.
- A Samaritan – Thirdly, a Samaritan passes by. These people were hated by the Jews and viewed to be worse than Gentiles. According to some authorities, the Jewish definition of neighbor was so narrow that it “as excluding Samaritans and Gentiles [Alford]” (Robert 1997, 109). But it is this man in the parable who shows compassion on the poor half-dead man. He did not ask what caused him to get in this situation, nor did he make any sort of judgment as to whether he deserved mercy. He was moved with compassion because here was his fellow man robbed of his dignity, injured, and near death. The Samaritan lived out the greatest commandments.
How did the Samaritan show compassion? He loved his neighbor, his fellow man, like himself. Just as the Law had instructed, he treated “others the same way” he would “want them to treat” him (Luke 6:31). So, how would you want to be treated if you were robbed and beaten half to death? This is what the Samaritan did; he “bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn and took care of him” (Luke 10:34). Not only this, but he also paid in advance for whatever that man might need at the inn and told the innkeeper to put the rest on his tab (Luke 10:35).
The Application (Luke 10:36-37):
Jesus then asks the lawyer, “who acted like a neighbor to the man?” He answers that it was the Samaritan. To which Jesus says again, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). And there is the challenge. Will we go and do likewise? Will we be like the Samaritan? Like Christ? Consider how Christ acted neighborly to those around Him.
- When those around Him were hungry, He fed them (Matthew 15:32-39).
- When they were in sorrow, He comforted them (Luke 7:11-17).
- When they were in danger, He warned them (Matthew 11:20-24).
- When they were killing Him, He prayed for them (Luke 23:34).
Jesus, above all else, was moved with compassion for us. Just as naked, poor, and near-death as could be. He did not ask what we did to get into such a state (although He already knew). Nor did He ask if we were worthy of such compassion because we know we’re not. He, like the Samaritan in the parable, saw us weak and helpless. Afflicted with sin and was a neighbor to us.
Going back to the lawyer’s question, “who is my neighbor?” It is the wrong question because the question seeks to narrow our view. The right question for us today is, am I being neighborly? Or rather, how can I be a neighbor? Because everyone we meet is my neighbor and everyone we meet, we owe a debt of love to (Romans 13:8-10).
James Strong, The New Strong’s Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996).
Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, vol. 2 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 109.
William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 1137.