Today we are looking at another parable of Jesus which is called the Parable of the Good Samaritan. That’s a title that was given by the translators and editors of the original manuscripts. It’s not phrase that would have been understood by Jesus’s audience. That phrase would have been considered by Jesus’s listeners as an oxymoron. In the opinion of most Jews of that day, the only good Samaritan would have been a dead Samaritan. Samaritans were considered people of the lowest, most despicable character. They were half breeds who were the descendants of those Jews left in the land of Israel during the exile under the rule of the Assyrians and who had intermarried with their oppressors and produced an offspring called the Samaritans. They not only were looked down upon, but the Samaritans themselves added insult to injury by building their own temple and adapting certain pagan rituals in their worship.
But before we delve too far into all the particulars of the Samaritan in Jesus’s story, we must consider the context in which Jesus gives this story. It is given in response to a conversation with a lawyer, an expert in Jewish law. And the lawyer asked Jesus how he could obtain eternal life. Notice how Luke describes it though. “And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
It would seem that this man was not genuinely seeking the wisdom of Jesus concerning eternal life because he recognized that Jesus was the Son of God and was the way to life. But his motive seems to be to put Jesus to the test. He is trying to catch Jesus saying something that was contrary to the law. The religious rulers were constantly testing Jesus, trying to entrap Him in something that He might say.
So this lawyer asks a good question, but with an ulterior motive. In fact, it’s the most important question that any person could ask. You could say that it is mankind’s greatest question, which reveals man’s greatest need. We looked a couple of weeks ago at the rich, young ruler who asked virtually the same question; “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Unlike this lawyer, the young ruler’s question was sincere. But Jesus answered him much the same way that he answered this man. In answer to his question, Jesus turned him to the law.
Now this man was a lawyer – he was supposed to be an expert in interpreting Biblical law. And so Jesus responds to his question with a question; Vs 26 Jesus said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”
I think it’s noteworthy that when this lawyer or the rich young ruler asked how to enter into eternal life, Jesus did not give them a gospel tract and tell him to repeat the sinner’s prayer after me. You know, 21st century evangelical Christianity wants their theology reduced down to a simple formula. Do these three things, or take these three steps and “presto” you are saved, you will avoid hell, and you will live forever in heaven. But Jesus never seems to use a formula or a prescription for salvation. He rarely gives a pat answer. Jesus’s response should raise a caution flag for us when we try to teach people how to lead someone to salvation through some formulaic prayer.
In fact, seemingly contrary to all evangelical, grace dominated church doctrine, Jesus turns this man to the law. That would seem to put the Romans Road plan of salvation on it’s ear. Except, if you listen carefully to what Jesus taught, He isn’t teaching that keeping the law is the way to salvation. He is teaching that righteousness is the means of salvation. Jesus points them to the law so that they might understand God’s standard of righteousness. But as Paul says in Galatians 3:24 that the law is our schoolteacher to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. The law reveals God’s standard of righteousness which we all fall short of, necessitating a righteousness which we receive from Christ by faith.
So Jesus refers this man to the law to show this man his need for salvation. And the lawyer responds by quoting the two great commandments, which as Jesus said in Matthew 22 all the law was summarized in these two commandments. And the lawyer shows that he obviously knows that as well by his response, saying; “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; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”
The amazing thing though is how Jesus responds to this man’s answer. Jesus says, “You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE.” Jesus unconditionally says “if you do these two commandments you will have eternal life.” Now that would seem to fly in the face of evangelical, reformed doctrine. But we have to accept it as Jesus said it, without caveat.
However, let me hasten to say that perfect obedience to the law is righteousness. Jesus is not saying occasional righteousness gives eternal life. He is not saying that if your righteousness outweighs your unrighteousness then you will be saved. He is saying perfectly keeping the law is perfect righteousness and therefore you have no sin, and consequently, there is no punishment for sin which is death. So you will live.
But keeping the foremost commandment is impossible if you do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God. If you really love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, then you will have saving faith in Jesus Christ. To believe in Him, to trust Him, to follow Him, to have faith in Him are all ways in which you love Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
The problem is that this lawyer doesn’t believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. So he may claim that he loves Jehovah, but he really doesn’t love Him, because He doesn’t believe in Him. Jesus said in John 5:21-24 “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes. For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” So Jesus would say that “I and the Father are One.” If you reject Jesus, then you cannot love God.
However, from his next answer the lawyer makes it clear that he thinks he has the first commandment locked down, and if there is any concern he has it’s about the second commandment. So he will narrow down the possibility of failing that commandment by asking Jesus another trick question. Luke says that wanting to justify himself he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Notice, he wanted to justify himself. We saw a moment ago in Galatians that Paul said that the law was meant to be a schoolteacher to turn us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But this man thinks that he is justified by keeping the law. But the law convicts him, and so he wants to find a way to justify himself. He wants to find a way to be able to believe he is keeping the requirements of the law.
So his question is really a means to try to escape the conviction of the law. But he felt he was justified in that respect, because the religious Jews of that day narrowly defined who qualified as a neighbor by only including other Jews who lived righteously. Never in a million years would the average Jew consider a Gentile as a neighbor, or a Samaritan a neighbor, or even a Jewish person whom they considered to be a sinner to be a neighbor.
So Jesus tells a parable in order to answer the man’s question, who is my neighbor. It’s very important to recognize that Jesus does not tell this story to illustrate how to enter into eternal life. A lot of people have erred into a social gospel through misunderstanding the purpose of this parable. It is not to answer the question “how to enter eternal life,” but to answer “who is my neighbor?”
The parable begins with a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. These two cities were separated by seventeen miles of desolate countryside. This particular highway was notoriously dangerous and would have been well known at least by reputation among the Jews. Merchants would often travel this road in order to sell their wares in Jericho. The desolate and rocky terrain made this road a popular site for raids by bandits.
It’s interesting to notice that Jesus does not describe this man with any ethnic or nationalistic or religious characteristics. He is just a man. There are no defining marks to put him into a specific category of people. Jesus just simply identifies him as a man traveling on this road, and he fell among robbers. I’m sure that on that road robbery was a well known risk, and in this case, the man fell victim to what was already a high probability.
Jesus said not only did they rob him, but they beat him and stripped him of his clothes and possessions and left him lying on the side of the road half dead. This man suffered terrible consequences for his decision to take this road. Obviously, not everyone faced the same consequences even though they made a similar decision. But the point should be made that as Christians we do not rush to judgment about a person because they suffer the consequences of a bad decision. How and why they are in the predicament that they are in is not our concern as much as how we are to respond to their need.
And to make that point, Jesus introduces two other characters into the story. He says in vs 31, “And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.”
Most of you know that I just got back from a trip to LA yesterday. And I could not help but be reminded of this story as I walked down certain streets in LA and saw the many homeless people that live on the sidewalks in certain areas. Some of the homeless you see look like they are physically capable enough I guess to take care of themselves to some degree. A lot of them though seem mentally challenged, perhaps through addiction to drugs or alcohol. And every once in a while you see a person who is laying on the street, and you can’t really tell if they are ok or not. And you are kind of afraid to find out. The homeless situation out there is so dire, so out of control, that it seems overwhelming. You really don’t know where to begin, and so you tend to just keep walking, to pass by and try to put it out of your mind. It’s easier if you say to yourself that they are on drugs, that they brought it on themselves, that they could go in a shelter if they wanted to, but they want to live like that. We make all kinds of rationales in order to justify ourselves.
But we are negligent in our comprehension of this law of loving our neighbor if we only relate it to homeless people we see on the street. This parable teaches that anyone that we cross in our path is our neighbor, whether or not we identify with them culturally, financially, geographically, or by any other metric which we might use to make distinctions about people.
Now Jesus doesn’t elaborate on how the priest or the Levite justified passing the man by. It’s noteworthy though that the distinction that He makes about them is they are of the religious order of the Jews. They worked in the temple. They were the religious leaders of Judaism. If anyone should have been attuned to the requirements that God expressed concerning how we are to treat one another then these guys should have been prime examples. And yet Jesus shows that the religious leaders did nothing for this man. They passed on the other side of the street. That indicates that they wanted to distance themselves from the situation as much as possible.
You know, I used to hear a phrase in the church growing up, which was “There, but by the grace of God, go I.” It was used in conjunction with seeing someone who had fallen into sin, that had been overcome by some vice or calamity. I hope it was used in the right way, humbly recognizing that if it had not been for the grace of God which delivered them, then they could be where that person is. That but for the saving grace of God they would be homeless, they would be addicted, or they would be in financial or physical ruin. As Christians, we should have a heightened view of our sinfulness and overflowing gratitude for the grace of God which delivered us. And consequently, we should have compassion on those who are still captured by such circumstances.
Any number of possible excuses might have kept these two religious leaders from helping the beaten man. They might have said this man should have avoided this road at that time of day. He brought it on himself. They might have said I am in a hurry, I can’t miss my appointment. Or I can’t afford to touch this man lest I become unclean and won’t be able to perform my duties in the temple. Or their excuse might have been that it could be a trap. Or maybe the man is already too far gone, there is nothing I can do to help him. But whatever the excuses, at the end of the day that was all that they were – excuses.
Then Jesus introduces a Samaritan who was traveling down the road. The very use of that term Samaritan eliminated in the minds of the Jews any inherent good in this man. He was someone who was avoided by God fearing Jews. They would travel an extra day to avoid having to cross into Samaria. After all, when the inhabitants of Judah returned from exile in Babylon, they experienced opposition and antagonism from the Samaritans. And so perhaps they thought they were justified in treating them with contempt. So for Jesus to cast this Samaritan in the light of someone who kept the law of God would have been shocking and disturbing to them.
Jesus introduces the Samaritan, saying in vs 33 “But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on [them;] and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him.”
You know, the Samaritan was probably in a hurry as well. Jesus said he was on a journey, and later on the Samaritan said when he returned he would stop again and pay whatever was owed. So he had someplace to be, and somewhere to go. He wasn’t just out for a Sunday drive and had nothing better to do. It was probably inconvenient for him. But nevertheless, he saw a man in need, and put everything else aside in order to tend to this man’s needs.
I want to point out his motivation for doing what he did. Jesus said he felt compassion. Compassion means sympathy or empathy, it can mean love, pity, concern. I feel confident that Jesus used it in the sense of love. After all, the law said you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Compassion is a form of love that indicates action. It’s not just feeling sympathy or pity for someone and moving on and eventually not thinking about it any more. But compassion means being moved into action.
Compassion in Strong’s Greek dictionary is defined literally as being moved in one’s bowel’s. Now before you jump to conclusions, the bowels were considered at that time to be the seat of love and pity. We might think that sounds odd, but yet we use similar expressions sometimes, such as “gut wrenching” to describe something that moves you in the pit of your stomach. Fear can cause that kind of response, and I suppose love could as well. But it’s noteworthy to see how often the word compassion is used in the New Testament in relation to Jesus. He was frequently moved with compassion when He saw the lost sheep of Israel, the Jews. And it always spurred Him to act on their behalf, whether it was to feed them or heal them or teach them. To have compassion is not to remain unmoved, but to be moved to act in love towards someone.
And notice how the compassion of the Samaritan for this stranger, possibly even someone who would have considered him a natural enemy, resulted in such loving care for his needs. He goes above and beyond to ensure that this man will have a full recovery. Jesus said “he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on [them;] and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’”
So not only does he stop to help and tend to his wounds, but he actually spent the night there with him. That probably really upset his plans for his trip. And then he not only did he use his provisions and his horse or donkey to carry the burden of this man, but he also used his own money, and promised to pay whatever was needed when he returned. I think that idea of returning is sorely missed in a lot of our evangelism today. I remember many years ago seeing a man who was supposedly a really great soul winner, who would just witness to anyone at the drop of a hat, I saw him supposedly lead a young man to the Lord one night. And after he had led him in the sinner’s prayer, he said “Praise God, but I have somewhere to go” and he left right away. I was the liaison between these two men, and I couldn’t help but notice over the next few years that the soul winner never asked once how the young man was doing, was he still living for the Lord. We are not told to make converts, but to make disciples. That requires an investment in time, in revisiting that person, to stay in touch, to follow up. Not to chalk one up for the kingdom and keep moving on like you’re in a basketball game. This Samaritan shows his compassion is legitimate, because he comes back to check on him and to follow up.
So having given the illustration, Jesus returns to the lawyer’s question, once again by asking him a question. Jesus said “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ [hands?]” Even a child should have been able to answer that question after hearing this story. The lawyer answered, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” And Jesus said, “you have answered correctly. Go and do the same.”
Of the three passerby’s, the Samaritan was the only one who showed mercy to the injured man. The neighbor wasn’t the one who only felt sorry, or saw the plight, or passed by, but the one who acted in mercy towards someone who crossed their path. Love is showing mercy.
But Jesus’s parable does not simply encourage us to have compassion upon those
who we see are in need who we find some affinity with. But it also teaches us that our concept of neighbor is not limited by national or ethnic or geographical characteristics. Every human being is our neighbor whom we are to love as much as we love ourselves.
I also think that there is another story that is being presented in this parable which is sort of like a story within a story. I think it’s the story of salvation, and our need to be the means of bringing salvation to the world. We are to be the supply of the greatest need humankind faces. The need for eternal life.
Jesus said in John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have [it] abundantly.” He is talking about the devil and his angels; they are the thieves, the robbers on the road of life, that lay wait and prey upon unsuspecting men and women. People that perhaps are naive, that are foolish, that are on the road of life and they think they are going to be ok. And somehow or another they fall into the hands of robbers. The devil attacks them, robs them. His intention is to destroy them, to kill them.
And unfortunately, most of what is considered organized religion fails to help those who have fallen into sin. As Paul said in Romans 3:23 all have sinned and fallen short of the kingdom of God. We are all dead in our trespasses and sins. Satan has deceived us. He has robbed us of the life that God had given us. But God so loved the world, He had such great compassion on us, that He left the throne of heaven to come down to our level, to pick us up from the side of the road and bandage us up, to pay the price for our redemption, for our salvation. And one day He is coming back for us.
As the children of God, as people who have been born again of God, we are to be like Christ in the world, having compassion on the world. Going to a world that is sick, that is dying, that is wounded and bleeding because of the deceit and robbery of the evil one. And we are to bring the message of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of spiritual healing, and of eternal life. The greatest need of the world is Jesus Christ. Not just to give some down and out guy a bowl of soup and a pat on the back and send him on his way, but give him the Bread of Life and the Water of Life, by which he will never hunger and thirst again, by which he might have life and have it more abundantly.
We are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves. To see their greatest need and be the supply of that need for the sake of Christ. The greatest problem in the world affecting mankind is not hunger, it’s not climate change, it’s not Covid 19, the greatest problem in the world is sin and the death that reigns because of sin. So then if that’s the greatest problem in the world, then the greatest question in the world is “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And we have the answer; Confess Jesus Christ as Lord and you shall be saved.
Let us show mercy and compassion towards our neighbors, and share with them the saving knowledge of the gospel. Let us not be like the religious people who passed by the man on the side of the road, but realize that God has commanded us to love our neighbor, and show compassion towards them by leading them to Christ.