The parable of the good samaritan




Luke 10V25-37.



THEME: Eternal life is a gift from God and neighbourly love must characterise this eternal / kingdom life in attitudes and actions.




It is true to say that the parable of the Good Samaritan together with the parable of the Prodigal son are two of the most well known of the parables that Jesus told. It is also true to say that they are probably they most widely misunderstood.


Considereing that one before us – the Good Samaritan – we will always miss the true meaning if we ignore the context of the parable and focus just on the parable. Because the parable takes up such a large part of the dialogue between Jesus and the lawyer we tend to focus on the story – this inevitably leads to misinterpretation.


When we focus exclusively on the parable we end up with a nice moral / ethical story about reaching out to those in need. So we have organisations like “Samaritans” that do just that. This is part of the teaching of the parable and a very necessary part – but it is only a part and not the whole story!!


The setting is Jesus in dialogue with a group of people one of who is an expert in the Jewish law. This lawyer, it would seem, is intent on tripping Jesus up as well as trying to justify his own position before the watching crowd.


The lawyer asks two questions:


1) “What must I do to inherit etrnal life?” [v25]

2) “Who is my neighbour?” [v29]


Jesus answers both questions with a question. In this way getting the lawyer and the crowd to rethink their preconcieved ideas.


We, too, have many preconcieved ideas – Our homes, our education, the media all play their part in molding the way we think and act – many of the things we learn are not in line with the way of life in the kingdon of God. That is why Paul talked about the word of God renewing our minds so that we begin to think like citizens of God’s kingdom and not like secularists.




The question is “What must I DO to inherit eternal life?”  On the surface it seems like a silly questions – only legal heirs inherit and not beause of what they do but because of who they are related to.


If we look at the OT – we see how Israel’s idea of inheritance was that God gave them the Promised Land. This was interpreted by the rabbis to mean that salvation in the age to come was included – and this was achieved by adherence to the law. This was the common understanding of the people at the time of Jesus – the sinners inherited punishment in Sheol but the righteous, BY KEEPING THE LAW, inherited eternal life.


The idea in the mind of the Lawyer was that eternal life needed to be worked for and what he wanted from Jesus was a list of things that were necessary to achieve this.

This is still the idea in the minds of many people – “If I live a ‘good’ life then God must accept me!!”


Jesus’ answer could have been very short and he could have insisted that the OT was clear that Eternal Life was an inheritance. That would have sparked a useless debate about the Rabbis interpretation of the OT.


Instead Jesus asks a question -“What is written in the law? How do you read it?”


The lawyer’s answer is very good. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all strength” [quoted from Dt.6v5] “and with all your mind” This last bit is added probably because of the Greek influence as an explanatory note. “Heart”  in Hebrew is the centre of the intellect whereas in Greek thought it is the mind.

‘And love your neighbour as yourself.”

This is a brilliant summary of the law of God – our duty to God and to people!!


This Lawyer is absolutely right. His understanding of God’s requirements is excellent BUT the question is: “Is he willing to put this into action?”  — “Is he able to put this into action?


Jesus’ answer is: “You answered correctly. Do this and you will live!”


We tend to see Jesus’ answer in terms of life after death because we think of eternal life in terms of life after death. Eternal life in scripture is not ONLY after death but something we can have now in this present age. [Lit, eternal life = life of the age].


John 3v36 “Whoever believes in the son HAS eternal life!”


Firstly, this verse is lit. saying, “Do this and you will come alive” OR “Do this and you are living”


Secondly, the lawyer had asked about eternal life but Jesus widens the discussion to include all of life.  The lawyer wanted a limited set of requirements but Jesus commands an open-ended life-style with unlimited and unqualified love for God and people.


The law which the lawyer quotes sets a standard way beyond anything anyone can possibliy reach.   In Luke 18 in a parallel passage the people responded “Who then can be saved?” The answer is NO ONE!!


Jesus answer is very simple “You want eternal life then continually and totally show unlimited love to God and people” It is that simple!!

Complete obedience to the law of God is the way to be right with God — Jesus and Paul and the Jewish teaches agree — but experience shows that this is an ineffective way because of people’s inability to give complete obedience to God. {100% – there’s no 50% pass mark}


So eternal life is a gift — it has to be — it can’t be earned!!

BUT the lawyer has not yet given up hope that he can earn entrance into eternal life. This prompts his second question: “Who is my neighbour?”







It is difficult to know exactly what the lawyer was thinking — but it would seem that he was hoping that Jesus would answer “Your family / relatives and friends” then he could say : “I have fully done that” and then go on his way satisfied that he will have eternal life.


You see NEIGHBOUR – by the definition of the Jews at the time was one’s brother – a fellow Jew  — this may include prosyletes [one who is a Jew by conversion not birth] but definitely not gentiles.


Listen to what the Midrash – commentary on the Jewish law – says – :

The gentiles amongst whom and us there is no war,

and so those that are keepers of sheep among the Israelites,

and the like, we are not to contrive their death; but if they

are in any danger of death we are not bound to deliver them:

e.g. if any of them fall into the sea you shall not need to take them out:

for it is said:” Thou shalt not rise up against the blood of thy neighbour”,

but such a one is not thy neighbour.

[Lightfoot in Bailey “Through Peasant eyes p.40]


The lawyer was pressing Jesus to answer giving a limited definition like other rabbis BUT instead Jesus tells a parable:


a. The robbers.


A Traveller is set upon by robbers and left for dead.

The 17 mile journey from Jerusalem to Jericho was notorious for bandits — I have travelled down that road — It is very rugged coutryside and easy to see why bandits could hide there so easily. Throughout history it has been famous for robbers. Jesus hearers would have been very familiar with it.


The audience is Jewish and so the traveller is assumed to be Jewish. He is stripped and left unconscious  – there is no way of knowing his identity.  The normal way of a traveller being identified was by the way he spoke and dressed  –  both these means now not available.


The traveller is simply a human being in need.

b. The Priest.


The priests of the time were among the upper classes. It would be assumed that the priest was riding. The upper class would certainly not take a 17 mile hike through the desert – only the poor walked.


Later in the story we know that the Samaritan was riding so it is reasonable to assume the Priest was also – The assumption inf the story is that all the passers – by had equal opportunity to help.


It is quite probable that the Priest was travelling home after having completed his two week tour of duty at the temple. He was travelling away from Jerusalem so this is a safe assumption.


The book of Sirach 12v1-7 { part of the inter-testamental writings} gives us an insight into the thinking of the priest:


If you do a good turn then know to whom you are doing it,

and your good deed will not go to waste.

Do good to a devout man, and you will receive a reward,

if not from him, then certainly from the Most High …

Give to a devout man,

do not go to the help of a sinner,

Do good to a humble man,

give nothing to a godless one,

Refuse him bread, do not give him any,

it might make him stronger than you are;

then you would be repaid evil twice over

for all the good you have done him.

For the most high himself detests sinners,

and will repay the wicked with avengeance.

Give to the good man,

and do not go to the help of a sinner.


How often do we only help those who we think will be of use to us in the future.

How much of Britian’s aid goes to countries where there is the prospect of a return in the furture. How often is our help given with strings attached??

How often are we willing to help our own kind but not others – the root of Racial/ class distinction. E.G. Apartheid in RSA.

The priest riding down the road sees this traveller lying at the side of the road. Is he a Jew? — no way of knowing!! Is he a sinner? – no way of knowing. Is he dead or alive? The only way to find out is to go and touch him BUT if he is dead then the Priest will be defiled – ritually unclean. In fact if he goes within four cubits [2 metres / 6’6″]  of a dead man he will be unclean.


If he becomes unclean then he is faced with a lengthy ritual process of cleansing – he would also have to immmediately rend his garments which would conflict with the obligation not to destroy valuable things.


He had just finished his two weeks serving as a priest in the Temple – he would have been leading the worship; if he became unclean he would have to go through ritual purification at the temple -this involved the expense of having to buy and sacrifice a heifer – this also involved having to stand at the East gate during certain ceremonies with all the unclean!! What a humiliation for a priest!!


Helping this traveller would cause him to loose face – it would damage his status.

He was a victim to a list of “DOs and DON’Ts” and a slave to his status. Not prepared to jeopardize his position he passes by. It was not concenient!! Must we only help those in need when it is convenient!!!


c. The Levite.


A levite was also a religious leader – he also served in the Temple – his position is not as high as the priest. The requirements of the law were not as strict on him. He was only required to observe ritual purity during the course of his duties. If he touched the dead man he would still be unclean but the implications for him were not as serious.

This is borne out by the fact that he at least comes and sees “.. he came to the place..”


Why didn’t the Levite help? Probably because he knew that the priest hadn’t! BUT the story doesn’t say that. In those days and in that part of the world it was always the case that a traveller would ask as he left the city gate who else was travelling that road. Sometimes your life could depend on knowing who you fellow traveller’s were. Also the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was such that it was possible to see a long way ahead and who was travelling.


Why then should a levite help a poor traveller when his superior had not? If he helped it would be a criticism of the priest. BUT whatever his reasons nothing in his religious consciousness moves him to help this man!!


d. The Samaritan.


The order of hierarchy in the Temple was Priest, Levite and laymen so it would be expected that the next person to come on the scene would be a layman BUT no!! A Samaritan  – A hated, despised half-breed. They were the traditional enemy of the Jews.


ILLUS.: That is why when Jesus spoke to the Samaritam woman in John 4 she was so astounded – In fact she was surprised that Jesus was there as Jews would often not travel through Samaria because of the hatred between them.


A Samaritan is NOT a Gentile – they, like the Jews, followed the law of Moses and so this Samaritan was bound by the same Religious laws as the Priest and the Levite.

What is more he is travelling in Jewish country and so this wounded man is most likely to be a Jew. He too risks contamination if the man is dead. The robbers might respect a Priest or Levite but not a  “hated” Samaritan.


He too would know that the Priest and Levite had passed by so why should he help this wounded Jew when his fellow Jews hadn’t.


BUT  “… he took pity …”  [Lit. compassion – pity in action]

He binds up his wounds and pours on oil and wine [first aid remedies] BUT also sacrificial elements used in worship at the Temple. The Priest and Levite would have been pouring out these very elements in their worship at the Temple.


“Pouring out” –   is a term used of worship before God.


Paul uses the same word in Phil. 2v17 ” … I am being poured out like a drink offering in sacrifice and service….. ”

The same idea is in Romans 12v1 speaking to Christians Paul says we are to be ” … a living sacrifice …”


The Priest and the Levite poured out oil and wine on the altar before God but failed miserably in their ability to be a “living sacrifice” to this wounded man.

It is easy to perform all the right religious rituals and say the right things but when it come to sacrificial acts for others where do we stand??  Singing and prayer and Bible study are important and necessary BUT of little value if they done lead to love toward people.


Then the Samaritan puts the man on his donkey and takes him to an inn.

The social distinction  between rider and leaders of riding animal in the ME is very important – if you lead then you are a servant.  BUT this Samaritan takes the role of a servant.


When he gets to the inn [ not the Ritz – inns were pretty basic and often dangerous places themselves] he cares for him – as a servant would – but also pays – and then offers to settle up on his return. If the wounded man was not able to pay he would be place in a debtors prison until he was able to pay.


The Samaritan risks his life – the avenging of blood by a family is very posible – by getting involved he is a target for vengance.


ILLUS.:  {Bailey} A Red Indian Riding into Dodge City with a scalped cowboy and booking into the local saloon.


This Samaritan is an unknown stranger yet inspite of the cost to himself in time. in effort, in money and personal danger he FREELY demonsrates unexpected love to the one in need.


Isn’t this a dramatic demostration of the kind of love that God has shown us through Jesus Christ.


3. THE QUESTION: “who is my neighbour?” REDEFINED.


ILLUS.: OHP – Member to Pastor “I’d like to see you love my neighbour?”

MY RESPONSE – “I can’t” He’s your neighbour not mine!! You can’t hire someone else to love your neighbour!


Jesus has reshaped the Lawyer’s question – not “Who is my neighbour ?”  BUT “who was neighbour to the one who fell among the robbers?”


Jesus tells him to be like the Samaritan!!!


“Who is my Neighbour?” asks for a list of kinds of people!!

“To whom must I become a neighbour?” – this is the real questions –  Unless you show this kind of love to ALL humanity you can’t expect to receive eternal life?

BUT who can do this ???  NO ONE!!!!


YOU SEE – I must become a neighbour to everyone in need. To fulfill God’s requirements I must reach out in costly compassion to all people, even to my enemies. The standard remains even though I can never reach it. I can’t justify myself and earn eternal life> [Bailey p.55]


Self justification before God is hopeless – eternal life is only received as a gift.

BUT I still must strive after the standard even if I can’t attain to it.  In the same way and God commands his people to “Be holy even as I am holy”

This is our goal -not to gain salvation but in response to having reeived it as a gift!


There are two types of sinners in this parable – the robbers who hurt the man by violence and the Priest and Levite who hurt the man by neglect. They are all guilty. Omitting to do good when we have the opportunity is just as sinful as actively doing harm.


We have been talking about the kingdom of God over the last few months – this is the kind of kingdom living the God requires.


Being a good neighbour is not like the theme song of the soap opera “Neighbours”  – it is not a cosy little huddle on Ramsey Street in a nice middle class suburb –


“Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours,

with a little understanding

we’ll find a perfect blend.

Neighbours should be there for one another,

that’s when good neighbours become good friends.”


Being a neighbour is being like Christ – a willingness to demonstrate costly undeserved love on any one in need.


The robber’s philosophy was “What’s yours is mine if I am strong enough to take it away from you!”


The Priest/Levite’s philosophy was “What’s mine is mine and I’ll selfishly keep it to myself  because I don’t want to get involved!”


The Samaritan’s philosophy and that of every citizen of God’s kingdom is “What’s mine is yours if you have need and I have the ablity to do something about it!”


May God help us all to be good neighbours!!


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