A lawyer approaches Jesus and asks a question. There are really two questions being asked and answered in the parable.
Jesus answers the first question with a question. What does the law say? The lawyer, a man skilled in the Mosaic law, answered and summed up the teaching of the law by saying one must love God with all one’s heart (Deut 6:4) and his neighbor as himself (Lev 19:18).
Some think that Jesus really surprises the Pharisees in Matt 22:37f when He summarizes the law with these two points. This was in fact the conclusion that the Jews had come to concerning the 10 commandments. In Matt 22 Jesus was probably saying that you are not applying the very thing which you understand. (That is a common theme - people are held responsible for what they know! Jesus did not condemn them for what they did not understand. He condemned them for what they did understand, but did not do!)
When Jesus tells the man to “do this and you will live,” He is not saying, you can get to heaven by being perfect. He is using the man’s statement and saying, “Assuming it is true for the sake of argument, do it and you will live.” Jesus is just holding up a mirror so the man can see his sin. He makes an accommodating statement - to accommodate the man’s understanding and help him see the truth. Jesus knew the man could never do it. He wanted the man to see it too.
You’ve heard the statement - “You’ve got to get them lost before you can get them saved.” That is what is going on here. Jesus is trying to make the man see his need for salvation.
Then the man asks a second question:
The lawyer asks the question to test him. He is not sincere. That may be the reason Jesus goes along with the assumption that you can earn eternal life. Another thing we see about the lawyer is his self-righteousness. Remember that most parables answer a question and deal with an attitude. The attitude being dealt with in the parable is self-righteousness. The text says the lawyer was “seeking to justify himself.” That by the way was the problem with the nation. Of course we don’t have that problem in our culture. We just write books titled, I’m ok, You’re ok.
Verse 30 says, “Jesus replied...” The Greek word means to “take up.” The man had thrown down a challenge and Jesus took him up on it. This is not simply, “Jesus answered him.”
The parable is primarily answering the question asked by the lawyer “who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29), but Jesus also indicates in a subtle way the true answer to the lawyer’s first question.
The historical context is that Samaritans were despised and hated by Jews. The story which follows would have seemed impossible to a Jewish audience.
To the Jew, the above diagram represents the social hierarchy within the society. It was so ingrained in the culture that even in synagogue the priest read first, then the levite and then the regular Jew. It is important to understand this, because the lawyer is asking how far out in that diagram do I have to go? How far do the love priorities of the law extend? We might ask, “Do I have to love street people and boys in the Hood?”
The best way to organize the parable is around the major players. In the story there are the robbers, the victim, the priest, the levite, the Samaritan and the innkeeper. Of these, the major players are the victim, the priest and levite (which represent the same attitude) and the Samaritan. Notice that Jesus says, “A certain man, a certain priest, a certain levite.” There are no names; parables are representative of real life.
The road between Jerusalem and Jericho was very steep and it was treacherous because of the many places for robbers to hide. In fact the name for the road was the way of blood. So, this is a very believable story for those listening. Although Jesus does not identify the man going down to Jericho, since this was a Jewish lawyer and audience, they more than likely imagined a Jewish person. The man is robbed and wounded and left for dead. He needs help.
It helps to understand the culture here - anyone who touched a dead man would be unclean. The priests could have used the excuse that they didn’t want to touch the man because he might have been dead. That would have kept them from serving God in the temple.
BUT, the priest and Levite were going "down on the road." (Jerusalem is on a hill) They were leaving Jerusalem and could not use the excuse that they did not want to touch the man and be unclean for worship. They had already accomplished their duties and were heading home. In fact, the story shows their hypocrisy. They had just been to worship God (love God), but did not help the wounded man (love neighbor). His refusal to love his neighbor casts doubt on his love for God.
The Priest was an expert in the law and undoubtedly knew of laws like those in Ex 23:4-5 which commanded that you help your enemy’s donkey if he was lost or overburdened, but he was unwilling to help a human in distress.
vs 32 The Levite was also from the tribe responsible for spiritual leadership of the nation. He also would “know” the law and what was required of him.
What did they do? Both ignored the wounded man lying in the road.
These two represent people caught up in lifeless religion. They play at church, but it does not affect the way that they live.
Who does the hearer of the parable expect to come by next. Look at the circles. They would have expected Joseph Jew to come by. But Jesus as the master story teller, tells a 3 billy goats gruff, 3 little pigs type of story with a surprise ending and skips all the way down to the Samaritan. Samaritans were an inferior mixed race in the Jewish mind. He was considered to be less than human, but look at his actions:
Compassion - In the Greek this stands out because of the prepositions. While the priest and Levite passed by ajntiparh'lqen, the Samaritan passed by proselqwVn. He doesn’t pass by on the other side. He moved toward the injured man. This is so significant because you must move toward people in order to love, in order to build relationships. It doesn’t just happen. It isn’t convenient. The Samaritan is moving toward someone who would despise him, if he were conscious. Someone who would not do the same if the situation were reversed.
When you feel like you have no deep relationships with others, perhaps it is because you are waiting for something to happen. You are waiting for someone to move toward you. Perhaps you need to take the initiative and move toward others. It is a scary thing to do because you might be rejected or hurt, but you can’t build relationships unless you do.
Care - He stopped and took care of his wounds (oil and wine were the traveling medicine kit of the day). He put him on his own donkey and the Samaritan walked. He took the wounded man to an inn. It is important to recognize that he took the time to take care of him. I think we sometimes make a donation to a worthy cause to pacify our conscience when perhaps we should have gotten involved. In our society, we are so busy with the rat race of going to work, taking our children to soccer games, going to Bible studies or care groups, etc. that we don’t have time to reach out and help someone else. Even something as small as going out of our way to take someone home would be a Good Samaritan act - a demonstration that we care and love others.
Cost - He gave money to take care of him and put no limit on how much he would spend to see that the wounded man was taken care of. Remember that this is a Samaritan in enemy territory. He has just told one of his enemies (a Jewish landlord), “Here is my VISA card.” Do whatever you need to do to take care of him. Talk about vulnerability!!! This is also significant because vulnerability is also essential for loving others. When you move toward someone else, you might be hurt. But you must be willing to sacrifice and be vulnerable, and take the chance of being hurt.
Which of these “proved to be a neighbor?” The obvious answer is that the Samaritan proved to be the “neighbor” to the wounded man. But the lawyer couldn’t bring himself to say the good Samaritan. That was an oxymoron. He answered, “The one who showed mercy toward him.”
Notice the significance of the question. What did the man ask? “Who is my neighbor? He was asking who and how much do I have to love. Jesus changes the question and makes the neighbor be the subject. Love does not ask how far do I have to go. Love asks, “What can I do?” Love does not just meet the other person half way. The old saying that marriage is a 50/50 relationship is terrible. If you love, you give 100%.
The Samaritan’s actions were a true demonstration of love because he had no prior relationship with the wounded man, he would not gain anything materially from his actions. He would instead lose time and money. And the wounded man probably would not have done the same for him if the situation were reversed.
How you love people shows your relationship with God. And Israel had failed to keep the elementary principle of the law which was to love. I believe this is the main message of the whole Bible.
Craig Blomberg teaches that parables have as many points as they do major characters. If this is true, then the following points might correspond to the characters in this parable:
Point 1: Even our enemies are our neighbors.
Point 2: Ethnic and social standing are no guarantee of right standing before God.
Point 3: The Samaritan’s actions are an example of what it means to love.
The parable relates to the kingdom program of God by demonstrating what it means to fulfill the ethic of the law which is summed up in the command to love one’s neighbor. The man is asking, what must I do to get in? Jesus tells him what one who is on the inside looks like.
This is so important to understand. What Jesus is doing here is showing the difference between works and fruit. “Works” has the idea of what must I do to get in. But “Fruit” - what you do - is the result of being on the inside.
If the lawyer is asking the question, “How do I get in?” and Jesus is telling him what one on the inside looks like, then we can assume the lawyer is on the outside. How he gets inside becomes the question.
And I think Jesus answers that very subtly.
There is an interesting analogy here that is worth noting. Who was in the ditch? A Jew. What did it take for the Jew to get out of the ditch? He had to trust a despised person to help him. The Samaritan, an outcast, paid the price to get the man out of the ditch.
Who else was an outcast and paid the price to get men out of the ditch of sin? Jesus
How does Jesus answer the lawyer’s question about inheriting eternal life? Allow one who will be called a “Samaritan” by the religious leaders to pay the price for him. Compare John 8:48. Jesus was called a Samaritan by the religious leaders.
So Jesus answered the man’s question about how to inherit eternal life, but it is in a whole different way than he expected.
Three Attitudes displayed:
What’s yours is mine and I’m going to take it.
What’s mine is mine and I’m going to keep it.
What’s mine is yours and I’m going to share it.