Author: Ron Graham
The parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is well-known. Jesus told the story to show up the stupidity and hypocrisy of the religious leaders in Jerusalem.
The parable illustrates how gaunt was compassion in the religious system of the time. The Bible said plainly, "Love thy neighbor". The hypocrites curled the lip at that, and sought to muddy the matter with a clever question, "And who is my neighbor?". Jesus answers with a simple story that makes the clever question look dumb indeed.
The parable of the Good Samaritan carries the last three of the seven themes, namely (5) God's kingdom is for all, (6) In God's kingdom the weak are strong, and (7) God looks on the heart.
The quality of heart portrayed in this parable is a heart of compassion, a heart that sincerely and impartially loves fellow men, and through this loves God (1John 4:7-12).
¶“25And behold, a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. The lawyer asked, 'Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?' 26Jesus said to him, 'What is written in the Law? What is your reading of it?' 27The lawyer answered, '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.' 28And Jesus said to him, 'You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.'”
¶“29But the lawyer wanted to justify himself. He said to Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?' 30Jesus replied, 'A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him. Then they went away leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road. When the priest saw the victim, he passed by on the far side of the road. 32Later a Levite, when he came to the place and saw the victim, likewise passed by on the far side.”
¶“33However a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where the victim lay. When the Samaritan noticed him, the Samaritan had compassion. 34He went up to him and bound up his wounds. He poured on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn. There he took care of him. 35Next day he took out two denari and gave this money to the innkeeper. 'Take care of him,' said the Samaritan, 'And if you spend more than this, I will repay you when I return.'”
¶“36Jesus asked the lawyer, 'Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?' 37The lawyer replied, 'The one who showed him mercy.' Jesus said to him, 'You go and do likewise.'” (Luke 10:25-37).
Luke 10:25-30,36-37 record the background to the telling of the story. A certain lawyer asks Jesus a test question which Jesus fired right back at him. So the lawyer fired back another question that implied some kind of legal technicality in the definition of the word "neighbor" so as to allow one to exclude the most part of humanity from love.
Note —LAWYER: The lawyers mentioned in the gospels were not lawyers dealing with civil legal proceedings, but experts in religious law supposedly based on the law of Moses but in fact consisting mostly of the traditions and inventions of men (Mark 7:9-13).
Luke 10:30-35 record the story in which there are seven characters. They are, in order of appearance, the traveller robbed, the robbers, a priest, a Levite, the good Samaritan, his beast of burden, and an inkeeper. Only one of the seven characters has any lines. The rest of the characters are understood as it were through mime.
In particular the priest and the Levite are not allowed to cover up their deeds with any high-sounding words or legal arguments. They and the other “silent” characters are represented and judged by their actions alone, and this helps to give the parable its punch.
The traveller robbed. The steep rock-sided road from Jerusalem to Jericho was apparently favoured by robbers, so the experience of this victim would resonate with the listeners. Jesus puts no color on this man except the color of blood. All we know about him is that he is a victim left bleeding, dying, and helpless. Will another traveller discover him and rescue him?.
The robbers. Although we are treating the robbers as one character, they were a group. Cowardly, the group gangs up on one solitary traveller. Mercilessly, they leave him to die. Villains they are, yet they are not the chief villains in this story —that “honor” belongs to the next two characters, the priest and the Levite.
A priest. For a priest, religion was vocation. A priest led people in worship, conducted sacrifices of atonement for their sins, and taught them God's word. If anyone should be merciful and loving and willing to help the weak, it should be he. How fortunate for the fallen traveller, that a priest should be the first to find him! But no, the priest keeps his distance and walks on by.
Perhaps he thought the man might already be dead. According to the law if he touched a dead man he would become unclean. Best to avoid that, and let someone else do the dirty work.
A Levite. Well fortunately for the victim, along comes someone who is used to the dirty work. A Levite. The descendants of Levi were appointed as workers in the temple. But apparently there is dirty work to be done, and dirty work to be avoided, and this Levite also passed the victim by.
The good Samaritan. A good Samaritan, in the mind of the Jews, was a contradiction in terms. "The Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans" (John 4:9). Samaritans are scum. There's no such thing as a good Samaritan.
This was a centuries-old prejudice. Its roots went far back as the split of the nation of Israel into two kingdoms, whose capitals and religious centers were Jerusalem versus Samaria. Yet of the three who could have shown mercy, two Jews and one Samaritan, it was the latter who did so. That was pretty pointed.
It is almost as though Jesus were saying, "Put that in your phylacteries you hypocrites!"
Note —PHYLACTERIES: A phylactery is a small box bound to the forehead, and another on the arm, containing passages from the law (Deuteronomy 6:8)
The beast of burden. Perhaps you think that an animal ought not to be considered a character in the drama. But this beast helps his master do the good deed. We don't want to take any credit away from the good Samaritan. He deserves to be the hero. It's ironic, however, that the dying man received help from a beast yet was forsaken by a Levite and a priest.
An inkeeper. This person, who assists in taking care of the victim, would also be despised by the religious elite as "a publican and a sinner". Yet this man offers his inn, and all good care, to the man in need, and does so at a fair price. He got paid for his service, so Jesus does not include him in the choice when he asks the lawyer "Which of the three do you think proved to be a neighbour?". But at least the inkeeper was willing to be of service.
Luke 10:36-37 give the main idea of the parable. The lawyer had asked, "And who is my neighbour?". Now Jesus, having told the parable asks, "Which of the three proved to be a neighbour to the man who fell among thieves?" The lawyer hadn't missed the point of the parable. "I suppose the one who showed mercy to him." And Jesus replies, "Go and do the same".
Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy. Damned are the unmerciful no matter how religious they may be. God looks on the heart, and he does not much care whether the exterior is Samaritan or Levite or any other outward distinction. God discriminates only on the basis of whether the inner person is humble and just, merciful and kindly.