The Parable of the Good Samaritan

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

 The Parable of the Good Samaritan.

Please read Luke 10:25-37.

THE CONTEXT. A lawyer comes to Jesus to put him to the test. A lawyer at that time was an expert on Jewish law, a scholar of the Jewish religion. The lawyer asks a theological question, to spur debate, a religious conversation. The lawyer wanted to see not only how orthodox Jesus was in his beliefs, but also to tempt Jesus into giving a controversial answer to a difficult question.

THE LAWYER. a. The scholar “stood up” to address Jesus, much like a student of that time always stood up when talking with a teacher, out of humility and respect. He then referred directly to Jesus as Teacher, or Rabbi. Jesus had evidently earned the lawyer’s respect through his words and actions. Jesus took the question seriously.

b. The lawyer asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. He was a pious man who wanted to earn his way to life everlasting, mostly through his actions.

JESUS. He responded by asking a question of the lawyer. Jesus referred him to Scripture and asked him if he could find his answer there. Jesus didn’t want to merely state the answer to the question. Jesus instead helped the lawyer to find the answer for himself. He did what good teachers do: Help the student to think for himself, to become an active learner.

THE LAWYER. a. He gave the best answer possible, the shema, found in Deuteronomy 6:5. The shema is the 1st prayer taught to children in a Jewish household, and it is prayed twice daily by every believing Jew, every sunrise and every sunset. Love your God, with everything you got, heart, soul, strength, mind, everything.

b. The lawyer then adds Leviticus 19:18 to the shema, something that Jesus himself said many times. Love your neighbor as yourself.

JESUS. a. He praises his lawyer and says, “That’s it! Good job! Now go and do what the scripture says.” In other words, Jesus is saying that it is not enough to simply believe the right words, to include those words as a part of the law. You must also demonstrate through action that those words are true in your life. His literal response to the lawyer reads, “Do this, and you will come alive,” or “Do this, and you are living.” In other words, eternal life starts now.

b. It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t answer with a little sermonette, something along the line of what he said in John 17:3: “This is eternal life – To know you, God, and to know Jesus, whom you have sent.” He instead referred to the legal equivalent according to Jewish law.

THE LAWYER. a. On the one hand, the lawyer might have been a little embarrassed that the answer was so obvious. Here he was, a scholar of Jewish law, and the answer to his theological question was known to every child and adult in the Jewish faith.

b. Sensing that the words he just quoted were quite a tall order, and are probably impossible to obey perfectly, the lawyer looks for a loophole, like any good lawyer. He wants to go home feeling justified, that he can actually earn eternal life, that he can in fact appear before God as a pious man.

c. So he asks Jesus who is to be considered a neighbor. The term neighbor was actually interpreted in different ways in Judaism, and it technically means “someone who is near you.” He wants to hear Jesus answer with something easy, like this: Well, your fellow Jews are your neighbors, especially your relatives and friends. Just love them, and you’ll make it, no problem.

d. Much of Judaism at this time believed that Jews were neighbors, and gentiles were not. But not everyone thought that, and it was somewhat debatable. So, actually, the lawyer asked a pretty good question, even if he thought he already knew the answer.

JESUS. Once again, Jesus didn’t give him a straight answer to the question. Jesus gave him a story, instead… the story of the Good Samaritan.

THE BANDITS. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho is roughly 17 miles of desert, mostly straight but with a few twists and turns. It was a dangerous road, a well-known hideout for robbers and bandits to do their work. Those who journeyed on that road knew that they had to keep a lookout for those scoundrels who would have no qualms about assaulting them, robbing them, if not murdering them. This particular road was the perfect setting for Jesus’ story.

THE VICTIM. a. So a traveler was beaten severely, seriously wounded, robbed of everything he owned, including the very clothes on his back, and left half-dead by the side of the road. He was no doubt unconscious. Half-dead literally means close to death, so he was in bad shape, and utterly helpless.

b. No one knows who this man was, which religion, which nationality, which ethnic group. Jesus intentionally leaves that up to question. We don’t know if he was a Jew, although the Jewish audience probably assumed that to be the case. The wounded man couldn’t be identified by distinctive clothes, since he was naked. And the victim couldn’t identify himself to passersby, since he was unconscious. So, no one knew anything about this poor man.

THE PRIEST. a. The priest was certainly riding along on a mule or some such animal, since priests were an elite, a member of the upper class, and never walked on a journey. He could have at least given the victim a ride to safety, but he didn’t.

b. The priest went out of his way to avoid the victim, literally going to the other side of the road. Out of sight, out of mind. He refused to see the victim in his need. He put on blinders, wouldn’t even look at him, and went on his way. Thielicke said, “At the Last Judgment, it is our eyes that will be judged first. For in Matt. 25:44, the accused reply ‘When did we see you hungry or thirsty or naked or sick?’ The first commandment of brotherly love is eye control.”

c. The priest can actually be a sympathetic figure to a point. He risks being ritually defiled if he touches a dead body. To be ritually impure is humiliating, and it means the priest can not serve as a priest in the temple unless he goes through a very demanding, time-consuming process of restoring legal purity. So the priest wasn’t taking any chances, he wanted to maintain his priestly status. The priest was indeed a slave to the system, a rigid list of do’s and don’ts that took priority over helping others in need.

d. So the priest took a detour around the wounded man and went on his way, secure in his priesthood, safe and clean.

THE LEVITE. a. Levites were temple officials, helpers in temple activities. They were more in the middle class, not in the elite class like the priests. So, the Levite was probably walking. For some reason he didn’t want to be interrupted. Does that ever happen to us?

b. Because so much of the road is straight, the Levite probably saw the priest pass by first without helping. He could have easily said, “If the priest didn’t have to help, I certainly don’t either.”

c. The Levites didn’t have the same priestly rules, so it would have been much easier for him to stop and help the victim. But he didn’t.

d. The Levite, like the priest before him, might have observed the situation, but he truly didn’t “see” him in his need. The Levite may have come a little closer, “coming down to his place,” but it didn’t make a difference. Blinders were still on, at least to his heart, and he walked on.

THE SAMARITAN. a. Samaritans were rejected outsiders, religiously unclean, the hated enemies of pious Jews. They were considered half-breed, mixed-race heretics, not simply unbelievers. Centuries of animosity have resulted in Samaritans being publically cursed in the synogogues, amidst prayers that they will not have eternal life.

b. So Jesus intentionally highlights a Samaritan as the hero of the story! That took courage on Jesus’ part, because he basically said in the story that a hated Samaritan was morally superior to religious Jews. Evidently, it was important to Jesus that he expose the hatred evident in the Jews. That must have raised a few eyebrows, if not hackles.

c. The Samaritan has compassion, something the two pious Jews did not have. The word for compassion is a strong Greek word related to innards. It means he had a deep gut reaction to what he saw, and it moved him to action.

d. The Samaritan didn’t seem to have any fears of robbers jumping him. He did not hesitate to go to the victim and offer first aid. He was fearless, tender-hearted, and committed to helping the victim. He fully realized the unlimited nature of love-in-action.

e. He first bound up the victim’s wounds. That phrase would be known to the Jewish audience. It recalls many scripture references of how God has promised to bind up the wounds of His people, through Divine care. The Samaritan wouldn’t have had a bandage with him, so he probably used his head-cloth, or maybe tore his linen undergarment.

f. He poured oil and wine on the wounds, which recall ritual sacrifice in temple ceremonies. Some in the audience would think of how the Samaritan is pouring out the true offering acceptable to God, for God desires mercy not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6).

g. One aspect of Jewish law states that “oil and wine are forbidden objects if they emanate from a Samaritan.” The audience would think once again of the fearless mercy of their traditional enemy, and of perhaps a blind spot or two in strict Jewish law.

h. The Samaritan is thorough in his compassion. He puts the victim on his donkey, takes him to Jericho, since there were no inns on the road, and pays for the victim’s care. He was intentional, not half-hearted or haphazard.

i. Innkeepers were notorious in their demands for money. There’s a good chance that the Samaritan might have been arrested for indebtedness if the wounded man’s bills went higher than that 2 days wage amount provided by the Samaritan. So the Samaritan said he’s good for any further bills, and that’s that.

j. Samaritans also believed in the Law of Moses, so he also risked ritual impurity the same way as the priest and Levite. The Samaritan actually was more obedient to the Law of Moses, in that the highest priority is always saving the life of another, even if meant violating other Laws. The Samaritan was surely commended for this in the minds of Jesus’ listeners.

JESUS. The parable started with the question, “Who is my neighbor?” But Jesus turned it around at the end, to “Whose neighbor am I?” And that is an ongoing question we need to keep asking ourselves… “To whom am I a neighbor?” Is it true that the needy person will see us as his neighbor? Am I neighborly? Perhaps most importantly in this story, am I ready to love an enemy, to demonstrate mercy to an enemy? Do I realize that even my enemy is my neighbor?

VICTIM. Jesus is telling this story for a man who wants to justify himself. So it’s interesting that Jesus subverts the expected meaning of the story. The neighbor ends up being the one extending mercy, and the lawyer is to identify himself as the one in the ditch! Jesus wants the lawyer to think of himself as the one needing mercy, even from an enemy. As Mark Buchanon writes in The Holy Wild, it’s as if Jesus is saying to the man, “Go and do likewise. Go discover how desperate, naked, and left for dead you really are. Go discover that you are, in fact, broken and lying in a ditch. Go discover that there is no way to justify yourself. Go discover that you can’t do a single thing to inherit eternal life, that unless Someone has mercy on you – extravagant, sacrificial mercy – yes, unless the God of the Holy Wild happens by, a jar brimming with oil in hand, and pockets stuffed with  coins to pay the innkeeper, and He stops – well, you’re as good as dead. What must I do to inherit eternal life? Simple. Realize I’m in a ditch. Realize that I’m doomed unless my Neighbor loves me.” 

LAWYER. Even the word “Samaritan” was so distasteful that the lawyer could only bring himself to answer, “the one who…” This parable was probably a bitter pill to swallow, with the enemy as the hero.

JESUS. He closes with a repeat of what he said earlier, “Go and do likewise.” Continue doing what is on God’s heart. Your behavior reveals your faith. Demonstrate love to someone, anyone in need. Be a good neighbor and care for the needy that you run across. Keep on doing this, and you will come alive.

THE LAWYER. We don’t know if the story and conversation changed the lawyer. He knew all the right answers in this exchange with Jesus, but will it make a difference in how he lives his life? We don’t know. Wouldn’t it be great if he said something like this to Jesus: “What you have said is impossible. To love God constantly, with my whole heart, soul and everything else? The shema is a great goal to quote from scripture, but how does one actually live that way consistently? And to be a good neighbor to anyone in need, even my mortal enemy? I can’t do it. It’s beyond me. I will do the best I can, and then in the end depend on God’s mercy. I know now that I can’t earn eternal life, that I can’t honestly justify myself. And I know that you can pass whatever religious test I throw your way. I am your student, and I have a lot to learn, a lot to think about.”

FINAL THOUGHTS. a. The priest and the Levite were so caught up in the rigorous details of the law that they forgot the heart of the law, the spirit of the law. They were scrupulously following the rules, and they loved appearing righteous, more than actually doing the humane thing. Jesus called the bluff of these temple officials, and highlighted spiritual priorities while still pointing to the essentials of Jewish law. Love God, and love your neighbor. The priest and the Levite committed sins of omission through cowardice and scrupulosity. It would be wise if we Christians took this personally.

b. According to Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus himself identifies so closely with the victim that he counts himself as one of the victims. By passing by the wounded man, did the priest and Levite actually miss an opportunity to personally care for the Lord? Do we do the same?

c. The Lord can be considered the ultimate Good Samaritan. The rejected one who nonetheless cared for us wounded ones by the side of the road; who bound our wounds, offered the sacrifice of mercy, and brought us back from the dead; who was the observant neighbor who was willing to turn aside and care for each of us in our misery and our vulnerable state; who provides what is needed to sustain us through the Holy Spirit in his absence, knowing that he will return and do what’s necessary to bring us to full health; who sees practical love as the fulfillment of the law.


  1. In the Deep South in 1954, the height of the Jim Crow era. A white man was hiking in the country and attacked by a gang of thieves. They took all his money, stole the clothes on his back, and beat him unconscious by the side of the trail. A white Baptist preacher strolls by, sees the man, and is afraid the gang may still be around to beat him too. So he quickens his pace and walks by the beaten man. Then an energetic youth minister walks by and sees the beaten man. He has an important staff meeting at church to attend, and he is running a little late, so he doesn’t want to be interrupted on the way. The youth minister also continues his walk to church. Finally, an old black farmer stumbles onto the scene, discovers the beaten man, and is moved by compassion for this man lying unconscious. He bends down, wraps the wounds of the beaten man with pieces torn from his undershirt, stops the bleeding, and puts him on his old plow horse. He takes him to the nearest motel down the road to recuperate. The black farmer is able to pay for the room, and promises to return after his prayer meeting.
  2. Eagle River, Wisconsin, 2018. A man was driving his SUV on the main road into town, and he stops at a light. Immediately a masked man and his accomplice open the driver’s door and pull the driver out of his car. They pistol-whip him and leave him in a ditch on the side of the road unconscious, bleeding, barely breathing. The two carjackers climb into the SUV and speed away as the light changes. The entire carjacking took two minutes tops. The local bishop drives by and sees the beaten man lying motionless in the ditch, and wonders if he should stop and help. He realizes he is late for an important appointment with a priest who is causing some trouble in his church. The bishop continues driving, figuring someone right behind him will surely stop and help. The next car down the road is a prominent deacon on his way to a church planning meeting. The church feels called to operate a soup kitchen in town. The deacon sees the victim as he approaches the light. He wants to help, but the meeting is important, and he can’t miss it. It is to help the poor, after all. So he drives on, assuming another driver will soon stop and help. Then a old beat up Toyota comes by, driven by an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. He doesn’t hesitate, stopping the car near the victim. He calls 911, pours water from his bottle over his wounds, and stays with him until the EMT’s arrive. He then climbs into the ambulance to be at the side of the beaten man, offering to stay with him until he receives care at the hospital. He knows he’s at risk of being caught by Immigration.
  3. In these two scenarios above, it’s obvious who the hero was, the good neighbor. Who, according to the parable, is well on his way to eternal life? Who were the sheep in these stories, and who were the goats in terms of Judgment Day in Matt. 25?
  4. Why did Jesus go out of his way to include those religious leaders in the worst possible light?
  5. There was an heroic moment in biblical history recounted in 2 Chronicles 28, when a prophet in Samaria named Oded confronted some warriors from the Northern Kingdom of Israel, right after these warriors slaughtered 120,000 troops who were their neighbors in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. These warriors from the North, after the slaughter, then captured 200,000 women and children of Judah and planned to take them home to use as slaves. The prophet Oded stood in their way and spoke the Lord’s displeasure with their brutal actions. The Northern troops finally relented and freed their neighboring Judean prisoners. Oded and a handful of leaders from the North cared for those Judean prisoners right there in Samaria. The Northern leaders gave these Southern prisoners clothes to wear, food and drink, they dressed their wounds in oil, and they put the injured and weary on donkeys. All these women and children were then returned home to Jericho. Sound familiar? Oded was truly a good Samaritan, who cared for the beaten and injured and took them to Jericho to be restored to health. It is an amazing moment in biblical history that most Jews were aware of, and I wonder if Jesus wanted to remind his Jewish audience of what mercy looks like in the hands of a good man from Samaria. Did Jesus have this true story in mind as a biblical backdrop of his story about another good Samaritan? I have a feeling there were plenty of Jews in the audience who remembered the story of Oded, and caught the reference while this powerful parable was being told by Jesus.

Resources: Brad Young, Jesus, the Jewish Theologian; A. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah; K. Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes; H. Thielicke, The Waiting Father; H. Lockyer, All the Parables of the Bible; J. Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus.