Luke 10: 25-37
Friends, if you have your Bible please turn with me to, Gospel according to Luke chapter 10 verses 25 to 37.
This parable is very familiar to Christians and non-Christians alike. In fact, we all know what it means when you call someone a “Good Samaritan.” That’s a compliment. That generally means that someone shows kindness, mercy, compassion, care to some other person in need, and that’s good. God is honored by that.
But that being said, the parable of the Good Samaritan is largely misunderstood by many. People are familiar with the story, but sometimes not so familiar with the point of the story.
So the lesson of the good Samaritan is not merely an exhortation to help those in need. It is far too simplistic to say that Jesus’ main point is about showing kindness to strangers. Rather, He told this story to illustrate how far we all fall short of what God’s law actually demands. He is explaining why all our good works and religious merit are never sufficient to gain favor with God.
And that is what we want to look at today. We’ll walk through the passage looking at the setting of the parable, the parable itself, and then we’ll see how it applies to us as a church.
The Setting of the parable: What must I do to inherit eternal life?
Verses 25 to 29 establish the intent of the parable. The intent of this parable is to shatter our pride and our supposed spirituality. Let me show you what I mean.
“A lawyer stood up.” Pulled out of the crowd, came before Jesus, took his position in front of Him for the purpose of putting Him to the test. This tells us his motive was not good. He wasn’t seeking truth. He wasn’t seeking information. He was doing what all these religious scribes and lawyers did. He was trying to trap Jesus so they could condemn Him and find reason to have Him executed. He was part of the religious establishment. He was a lawyer, not in a civil sense, not in a criminal sense. He was a lawyer in the sense of Scripture. He was an expert of the Old Testament law.
So he stands up and asks Jesus the same question the rich young ruler asked Him. “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? What is the path to heaven? What is the path to a right relationship to God?” That is a very important question. In fact, this is the most important question that any person can ever ask. However, it was a good question asked but with a bad motive, because the lawyer hoped to trap Jesus.
Illustration: I think I can also place myself sometime like this lawyer. I remember, during our college time, sometimes we, students, ask questions to our teacher or professor just to test his knowledge of the subject or when we were angry or upset with him just to put him down. I don’t know whether you have done that! Our intentions were wrong. It was just to test him or to put him down.
As Jesus knows the intention of the lawyer, instead of answering the question, Jesus directly asks the lawyer for his point of view “He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? How do you read it?'" This is a scholar of Old Testament Scripture, and he gives exactly the right answer. He combines two scriptures, Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18. Two familiar Scriptures. That is, “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 love your neighbor as yourself.” They are two Scriptures that sum up the entire law of God. In Matthew chapter 22, Jesus said, “These are the two things that sum up the Law of God.”
He said that’s the right answer. Verse 28, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” In other words, if you want eternal life, fulfill the law. You say, “Whoa, whoa. Why is He telling him that? Where is the gospel here? Why didn’t He just say, ‘Believe in Me’?” Because there’s another issue to be confronted here, and that is how the man views himself. There’s no good news unless the man accepts the bad news. Well, this man doesn’t have any interest in a true evaluation of his condition.
Verse 29 makes it clear, “But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” I mean he is so self-righteous, so self-justifying that he doesn’t even think about how he loves God or how he loves others. All he thinks about is maybe you’ve got a different definition of neighbor. He is oblivious to his true condition. He is hostile to the notion that he is not righteous, that he is not justified, that he does not already have eternal life, that he is not right with God. According to him, he loves God and he loves his neighbor.
Well, we know from Matthew 5, Jesus said, “The rabbis have taught you, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemy.” So enemies weren’t included as neighbors. The Old Testament actually says, very clearly, “Love the stranger in your midst.” That was required from the Old Testament.
They did not love their enemies. They did not love strangers. Furthermore, they didn’t even love other Jews. All they loved was the people who were part of their very narrow, elite group. They loved other Pharisees, other scribes.
This is a man who will not come to a real understanding of his condition. This is a lost man. This is just another one of many religious people that Jesus encounters in His life who think they can earn eternal life by their virtue, by their morality, by their religion, by their emotional connections to God.
Now, Jesus could have left him sitting there or standing there. He could have walked away, left him in his self-righteous pride, never said another word, but instead, Jesus engages in an act of compassion with this man, and He gives to this lawyer one more powerful insight. So, the purpose of this story is to crush this guy’s self-righteousness. It is really a wake-up call that he is damned and doomed. The story is to shatter his pride, to shatter his imaginary spirituality.
We all try to justify ourselves like this lawyer. We all try to make the law manageable like this lawyer for our own convenience.
Let me ask you, what laws do we try to make manageable for ourselves? How do we try to justify ourselves for not loving God and others as ourselves? Let’s examine ourselves…Now, let’s look into the parable.
2. The Parable: Who is my Neighbor?
Verse 30, Well, Jesus replies to this man who is self-justifying and says, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, and who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead.” That’s a very short version of what happened.
The traveler in the story is believed to be a Jew, but in this story, he is called simply ‘a man’ or “a certain man”. Going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.
So he fell among robbers. They didn’t just rob him. They stripped him, beat him, and left him half dead. They beat him. It’s a constant verb. They kept on beating him. They kept beating him until he was virtually on the bridge of death, in critical condition. In this miserable condition he could do nothing but wait and pray. Now the dying man is only waiting for the compassion of some loving heart and the kindly touch of some neighborly hand.
We all know the condition or needs of mercy and justice in our country, we read in our daily news paper: Poverty, crime, injustice, murder, corruption, caste system, racism, tribalism and so on. The important question for us today is: what is our attitude or response toward this situation or to the needy people? How are we responding to social, economy, political, cultural injustice that we see or encounter everyday in our lives, in our offices, in our community or in our society?
Let’s see the different responses to the needy man.
Now, this man is in a desperate situation. He needs help. He can’t help himself. He can’t move. So Jesus immediately says, “By chance” – in verse 31 - “a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.”
Well, at first that sounds good. As soon as the lawyer hears a priest coming by, maybe he had a little bit of hope. After all, a priest was somebody who, like the lawyer, knew the Old Testament, knew you were to show kindness, knew you were to minister to strangers.
I mean theoretically you would say that’s what a priest would do in that situation. But the priest passes on the other side. Very strong language. Luke uses the Greek term anti. It means he goes against, completely opposite the other side, the complete ignoring of this man, complete indifference. He ignores him and he’s lying there in critical condition.
On the other hand, the priest may have avoided the man because he thought he was dead, and he did not want to become ritually unclean because there was a religious rule that made a person unclean for seven days after touching a dead body. As someone says, “Love will find a way. Indifference will find an excuse”. So the priest found an excuse.
The point is simple. He didn’t love God. He didn’t love others. He is, in a sense, a representation of that kind of self-righteous system.
And then Jesus says, “A Levite came also” – in verse 32 – “and when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.”
Well, here’s another religious man, connected to the priesthood. We would expect him to come over and help, but he doesn’t love God either and nor does he love others. If he loved God, he would do what God says. He would love his neighbor as himself. If he loved his neighbor as himself, he would care for the neighbor.
Friends, like these two people, we make many excuses for not showing mercy to others – My resources are my own, they do not deserve it, they may abuse my help, I’ll be late for my meeting and so on.
Now the question is: Will anyone do what’s right? Will anyone show love to this dying man? Is there a hope for needy people? Is there a hope for dying man?
Verse 33, and this is the shock. Our Lord has just indicted the Jewish religious establishment in the story, and now He introduces a hated person, “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.”
The very existence of Samaritans was seen as evil. They were evil because they intermarried with the Gentiles when the Northern Kingdom was occupied. They were evil because they tried to disrupt the rebuilding of the Jewish city and the temple when they came back from captivity. In other words, they’re half-breed traitors. In fact, if you wanted to say something bad about someone, you called them a Samaritan.
One of the reasons that Jesus puts a Samaritan in the story is that he, by virtue of his race and history, has no obligation at all to stop and give help. No law, no social convention, no religious prescription dictates that he should render service. Yet he stops. Why? Verse 33 tells us he was moves by his compassion. What a clear message!
He came to him, verse 34, “He came to the man,” must have knelt down, analyzed, evaluated, assessed, diagnosed his condition, his need - careful attention to everything. Here we need to note what he did. Each step is significant in showing how we are to love our neighbors. He went to him and reached out personally to help. He bandaged his wounds: eased his pain. He poured oil and wine into his wounds i.e. gave of his own goods. He set him on his own donkey i.e. sacrificed his own comfort. He provided rooming for him: provided the basic necessities. He took care of him: nursed, looked after him personally. As someone says, “The attentive look, the compassionate heart, the helpful hand, the willing foot, the open purse is the manifestations of love.” This is exactly what we see here in this parable.
Then he tells the innkeeper, “Whatever you want to spend on the guy, spend on the guy, and I’ll pay you when I come back.” This is lavish love. That’s the whole point of this. This is lavish love. Amazing generosity for a complete stranger, to one who is his enemy, the one who hates him, but that’s – what’s our Lord saying here? It is just like giving a blank cheque with your signature in it to your enemy. WOW. That’s amazing!
Have you ever done that for anybody else? Will you do that for anybody in that condition? To be honest, I have never done that and I can’t do that.
However, the Good Samaritan bears the features of the despised Nazarene, who comes to seek and to save the lost. He loves us and gave his life for us when we were still his enemy. Romans 5:8 says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. Christ loved us when we were his enemy or sinner. This is a lavish love! What an undeserving or amazing grace?
3. Conclusion: Are you a Neighbor?
So Jesus asks the question, verse 36, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?”
Now, the Lord has just changed the question. The question in verse 29, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus says in verse 36, this isn’t about who your neighbor is. This is about “are you a neighbor?” It’s not, “Who is my neighbor?” “Who qualifies to be loved?” But it’s about “Am I a neighbor who loves in an unqualified way?” The question points deep into the heart.
Well, the man answered the question, “The one who proved to be a neighbor was the one who showed mercy toward him.” And then Jesus said, “Go do the same.” You go love like that and you can have eternal life. Huh?
What should have been his response? “I’ve never loved anybody like that. I only love me like that”. The conviction is laid upon the man, and there’s a blank space in our Bible between that verse and the next one. The next words are, “Now as they went on their way.” Hmm.
We all have to say, “I don’t love like that. I can’t love like that. I can’t love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength all the time; and I certainly don’t love everybody around me in need the way I love myself.” I don’t love in an unqualified way. My love comes with all sorts of qualifications. If he had said, “I can’t! Forgive me” maybe this could have been a wonderful story if all of a sudden, like the Luke 18 story, he had fallen down and beaten his breast and said - “Lord, be merciful to me – a sinner.” I can’t love like that. Neither can you, neither can I. We need forgiveness. We need mercy. We need grace.
It’s just too simple to say this is a story about going to the other side of the road and hugging somebody and feeding them. This is about the gospel. Do we want eternal life? We know what God requires: perfection, loving Him perfectly and loving others as we love ourselves. We don’t do that. We can’t do that.
We need to come for mercy and grace. Then when you’re saved, it’s amazing how He sheds abroad His love in our heart, and we begin to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength - not perfectly, but that becomes the direction of our affection. And we begin to love other people as we love yourself - not perfectly, but that’s the direction.
As Tim Keller rightly pointed out,
“The only true and enduring motivation for the ministry of mercy [or love] is an experience and a grasp of the grace of God in the gospel. If we know we are sinners saved by grace alone, we will be both open and generous to the outcasts and the unlovely”
In 2 Cor. 5:14, Paul writes, “The love of Christ compels us”. The motivation and rationale of the ministry of mercy is the grace of God. Mercy is commanded, but it must not be the response to a command, it is an overflowing generosity as a response to the mercy of God which we received. The deeper the experience of the free grace of God, the more generous we will become.
What was the point of Jesus’ Parable? We could put it this way. He was humbling us with the mercy God requires [which we cannot fulfill] so we can receive the mercy God offers [in Jesus Christ] and share that mercy with others. This is the gospel. All of us lie helpless and bankrupt, dying in the road and trying to justify ourselves. In that situation, Jesus Christ, who is our natural enemy, who owes us nothing, nevertheless stops and gives us of his spiritual riches and saves us. This story depicts the pattern of God’s mercy. If you have not yet received that mercy and grace, nor understand how Christ has treated you like the helpless man in the road, please come and talk to us or any of NCI leaders, we would love to help you understand more. May the good Lord help us to receive the grace and mercy of God so that we can share with others.