The Good Samaritan

The Lawyer’s Test (Luke 10:25-28)

            Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 are probably the ones most well-known in the world. So much has been written about the parables themselves that we often forget that were told in response to particular situations.

            The scene for the parable of the Good Samaritan is set by a lawyer approaching Jesus to put him to the test. He stood up to gain attention and then asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. The trick in this question is that it is a personal one. The lawyer wanted Jesus to tell him what he needed to do, yet Jesus knew nothing about him. Perhaps he hoped that Jesus would select one part of the law which would lead to a debate about why one part of the law should be more important than another. If Jesus stated something not in the law, the lawyer could accuse him of adding to Moses law. If Jesus stated only what the law already stated, the lawyer could accuse him of having nothing new to teach that hasn’t been taught before.

            But instead of directly answering, Jesus flatters the lawyer by asking his opinion first. Which laws, in his opinion, were important?

            The lawyer’s answer shows him to be an astute man. He didn’t quote the Ten Commandments as so many people do, but selected two relatively obscure passages which combined summarize all of God’s laws. The first comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and shows that God must be absolutely first in a person’s life. The first four commandments in the Ten Commandments are applications of this law. The second quote comes from Leviticus 19:18 and deals with man’s relationship with his fellow men. The last six commandments of the Ten Commandments are applications of this law. Paul points out in Romans 13:9-10 that there are two ways to look at law. We can see them as a list of do’s and don’t’s which are difficult to memorize because there are so many of them, or we can see them as subsections of a greater law that summarizes them all.

            Jesus congratulates the lawyer on his selection and tells him that by following those two laws he would have eternal life. This is exactly what the Law stated (Leviticus 18:5; Ezekiel 20:11; Nehemiah 9:29).

The Lawyer’s Excuse (Luke 10:29-37)

            But lawyers tend to see law as a set of guidelines with give and take depending on how words are interpreted. While he had selected the two laws he believed best summarized God’s laws, Jesus answer was too direct and blunt. There was no give or shading of application. Thus the lawyer wanted to know who would be considered a neighbor in the second command. Luke tells us that the lawyer knew he didn’t follow that command as broadly as it was given, and sought to justify his application of the command in his own life.

            Jesus answers by telling a story. The story presents three attitudes toward a fellow human being.

The Robbers:

            The robbers have a “what is yours is mine” attitude. They believe that might makes right. They take from another simply because they are stronger, and to such people that is enough justification to do so. It is a brutal view of the world, but such people are found in the world (II Timothy 3:3). Violence is a characteristic of the wicked (Proverbs 4:14-17).

            It is sad to see people who value money above the welfare of people. It is the desire for money that leads to many sins (I Timothy 6:10).

            Similarly, the robbers display an attitude where the end justifies the means. They want to be rich, someone else has funds, so therefore they feel justified in harming another person to take what he has.

The Priest and the Levite:

            The priest and the Levite represent a “what is mine is mine” attitude. It is every man for himself – an attitude frequently seen in religious people. It is another sign of wickedness, as Paul warns about people who are lovers of themselves (II Timothy 3:2).

            The priest and the Levite are too busy with their own duties to get involved in the affairs of another man. It is not that they were unaware of the man for they walked on the other side to avoid him. They didn’t cause the man’s unfortunate circumstances. They felt no obligation or responsibility for the man’s welfare. Perhaps they could even justify it to themselves by thinking the man might be dead or close to dead and die while they are helping him. Why they could end up unclean and unable to perform their duties to God! That would never do!

            In other words, they have neglected an opportunity to do good (James 4:17; 2:13-16; I John 3:16-18; Galatians 6:10). By their inaction they have given consent to the crime committed against the man (Hosea 6:9; Proverbs 21:13).

The Samaritan:

            The Samaritan demonstrates the attitude of “what is mine is yours.” He represents the point Jesus made in the sermon on the mount to do to others what you would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12).

            Even though he is traveling and we know he has obligations elsewhere, he takes the time to stop and help. Nor did he withhold his own goods, saying “I’ll need them later.” Nor did he offer an excuse that he didn’t have enough to help. He didn’t wait for someone else to help. He didn’t check out the man’s character or nationality to decide if he was deserving of help. But then are we not to help even our own worse enemy? (Romans 12:20).

            It is important to notice that nothing is said about the man who was robbed. We don’t know if he was a rich man or poor; Jew, Samaritan, or Gentile; all we are told is that he suffered and his need was obvious. Of the three groups: robbers, religious Jew, and Samaritan, only the Samaritan treated the man as a fellow human being. The Samaritans were despised by the Jews, but by making him the hero of the story, Jesus forced his audience to see the attitudes and not the nationalities involved. Who was the neighbor to the injured man comes through loud and clear.

            Jesus’ point to the lawyer was that he needed to do the same. Talk is cheap (James 2:24). Do we only do good to those who treat us well (Luke 6:32-36)? Do we show mercy on the poor (Proverbs 14:21)? Who truly follows the laws of God (Micah 6:8)?