By Sam E. Stone
After Jesus concluded his Galilean ministry, he began to make his way to Jerusalem. En route he told one of his best-known and most widely loved parables—the parable of the Good Samaritan. It is recorded only by Luke.
The man who initiated the discussion is called an expert in the law. Some translations call him a “scribe” or “lawyer.” H. Lynn Gardner pointed out that “a lawyer was not an attorney, but rather a scholar, teacher, and interpreter of the law of Moses, especially the first five books of the Old Testament. . . . He did not ask out of a sense of spiritual need for information as much as he wanted to see how Jesus would answer.”
The Question | Luke 10:25-29
As Jesus was teaching the people, a lawyer went to the Master Teacher with a question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Unfortunately his motives were questionable. He was wanting to test Jesus, perhaps to find a mistake or weakness in his teaching. Asking about eternal life was good. Nicodemus (John 3:3) and the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18) had similar concerns. This lawyer evidently felt his good works were the key. Jesus answered his question with a question: “What is written in the Law?” The lawyer may have been surprised that Jesus referred him immediately to Scripture.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart . . . and love your neighbor as yourself.” Quickly and confidently the lawyer responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:4, 5 and Leviticus 19:18. It was a good reply, similar to the words Jesus himself used later in Jerusalem (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-31). Jesus confirmed that this was the right answer, but then he added, “Do this and you will live.” He changed the conversation from a legalistic discussion to a penetrating look at the lawyer’s life. Knowing what is right, by itself, is not enough (James 2:17).
The lawyer was not eager to face the personal inspection required by Jesus’ command. Instead, he grew defensive, “And who is my neighbor?” If he were allowed to define “neighbor” as he wanted, he still could keep up the appearance of righteousness, despite what he knew of his inadequacy.
The Story | Luke 10:30-35
Jesus’ story began with a man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. This is literally down—a descent of between 2,500 to 3,000 feet over about 17 miles. This deserted and desolate wilderness was a favorite spot for robbers to ambush unsuspecting travelers. The situation Jesus described was not uncommon and could have been based on an actual event.
One of the religious leaders from the temple in Jerusalem—a priest—came upon the man first. Upon seeing him, he passed by on the other side. He might have been thinking of his schedule or his safety. He saw the man but deliberately chose not to help him, even though showing mercy was commanded by the law (Exodus 23:4, 5; Deuteronomy 22:1-4). So too, a Levite. The Levites assisted the priests in their duties. He too did nothing to assist the injured man.
The next person who came by was a Samaritan. Two Jewish men had failed to help their own countryman. Those hearing Jesus’ story couldn’t imagine that a Samaritan—a foreign “half-breed”—would. The two groups had no dealings with each other, although they lived side by side in ancient Palestine (Matthew 10:5; John 4:9, 20). However the Samaritan took pity on him. Rising above his culture, he showed compassion.
Quickly he went to the injured man and bound his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. These were normal remedies for a wound (Isaiah 1:6). Then he took the man to an inn. While the Samaritan walked there, the injured man rode his donkey. At the inn the Samaritan paid the innkeeper for a room. He shared his money as well as his time with the injured traveler. Much like we might use a credit card as a guarantee or deposit, the Samaritan assured the innkeeper that he would cover any additional expenses incurred during the man’s stay.
The Lesson | Luke 10:36-37
After telling the story, it was time for the application. Earlier the lawyer had asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Here Jesus called on him to answer his own question. Being a good neighbor is demonstrated by how one treats others. Although the lawyer could not escape the truth of the story, he refused to even speak the distasteful word “Samaritan.” He answered simply, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Your life reveals how you answer the same question. Being a good neighbor means showing God’s love, not just talking about it. As Gardner wrote, “Love does not ask where it can stop but what it can give.”
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.