One of the most famous parables of Jesus is the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25–37. This is a lesson in mercy, humility, and kindness. But do we really know it as well as we think we do?
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘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.”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Who is Your Neighbor?
The parable does not begin on the road to Jericho as most of us begin it. It actually begins a little earlier when an expert in the law approaches Jesus. He stands up from the crowd that was gathered around Jesus and asks him “What must I do to get eternal life?” Let’s stop there for a few minutes. This was an expert in the Jewish scriptures. He more than most that were in that crowd should have known that answer, but like many times before someone was trying to show that Jesus was not as knowledgeable as everyone thought that He was. So what does Jesus do? He does like most good teachers do, He answers with a question.
He asks the man what the scriptures say. How does he view it? He turns it around to make the man think for himself. So many times we ask questions because we don’t want to think of it ourselves. Children are notorious for this. They want us to answer for them. They want us to do their homework for them. Yet, when the questions are turned to them, they have to stop and think of how we actually look at the questions and feel about the answers.
The expert announces that a person needs to love God with all their being and to not forget to love their neighbors as much as they want to be loved. To truly love others, you have to have the love for God that is complete and unselfish. This man knew that. He gives the right answer to Jesus. But then he wants to make sure that he is not looking foolish to the crowd. He wants to show that it cannot be that simple. If it is, maybe he wouldn’t be needed then? Eternal life cannot be so clear. It needs more than a couple of sentences to answer. It needs to have a deep theological discussion, right? So, he asks the deepest of questions that he could think of: Who is my neighbor?
Ask a child who their neighbor is and they will tell you that it is Mrs. Jones, Peter Smith, or Mr. Anderson down the street. It is the people who live in your immediate neighborhood. They are ones that have a connection with them and create a community together. The dictionary agrees with these young minds, yet it goes further. It takes it mean you “fellow man”. It is another person. It is another human being. It does not have to be the person who lives right next door. It can be the person living a continent away.
To answer the man’s question in a manner that would hit home and be a direct hit to the heart, Jesus goes into the Good Samaritan parable.
Before we go on, let’s define what a parable really is. A parable is a short story that is told to get across a moral or teaching. It takes what is familiar in a person’s life and applies the teaching in a real life application scenario that the person can walk away with and relate to each time it comes to mind. Jesus used this method a lot to get His message across. It was an effective way of teaching that is still used a lot in teaching today.
The story goes as such:
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ (NIV)
The man who is the victim here is not described much. Why? Because who he is not the focus here. The fact that he is hurt and needs mercy is all that matters. He is going through his life and someone else decides that they want what he has. They don’t care if they have to kill him to get it. They rob him of his protection and respect by removing his clothes. They attack him physically and beat him till death is a huge possibility. Once all this is done, they toss him aside as though he is worthless and continue on their merry way. How often is then done in our lives? How often are people used, attacked, and beaten physically, emotionally, and spiritually? The world uses them till there is nothing else and then tosses them aside as worthless. They are all around us though their wounds might not be visible to any of us. They are there and they have been tossed aside like yesterday’s trash.
Is this your neighbor?
Could they be the ones on the side of the road?
What hurts do they have?
What is tearing at them?
Help You Would Expect to Help
As the poor man is lying on the side of the road with his life seeping from him, a priest happens to walk by. To the religious expert Jesus was talking to this could only mean a Jewish priest who was well versed in the scriptures and should be familiar with God and His teachings. To a reader today, it does not have to represent any particular religion. It represents someone who is knowledgeable in spiritual matters and should understand what it means to be hurt and what can heal that hurt. Priests in almost any religion would be looked at by those in need to be the source of compassion and mercy. But what does the man that is trained to reach those in need do? He sees the man with blood all around him and naked as the day he was born. He sees the dire need. And he finds the farthest part of the path that he can find and walks around him. Maybe if he pretends that he is not there, he won’t feel guilt. After all, he has an important mission. He has an appointment that he just cannot be late for. He might need to get his hair cut and making another appointment could be weeks away. Surely, someone else on this busy road will see him and help.
Someone else does come along. It happens to be a Levite. To the crowd before Jesus this was another person who is raised in the scriptures and is entrusted with the spiritual care of the community. They surely would be the one to help the poor man. The crowd is feeling such sympathy for him. To us today, the Levite would represent a devout Christian or anyone else who is learned in the teaching of their religion. They know the Word. They know the heart. Surely, they will be able to put their learning into practice. But the listener gets a surprise. The Levite also goes to the far, far side of the road and lets the man just lay there in his agony. How could he? How could anyone? Yet how often does it happen? How often do we see the drug addict with tears in their eyes as they shoot up one more time. They are in agony and their souls seek help, yet we get as far away as we can. When the woman breaks down in the group and cries because of the abuse she is suffering at home, how many pull away as though she is sick. When a young girl finds out that she is a freshman in high school and is expecting, do you stand there condemning and shunning instead of showing her that the hurt can be healed? How often are we the Levite who should know better yet cannot find it in our hearts to practice what we preach.
The Unexpected One
But then comes along the Samaritan. To us today this alone is not raising any issues or questions because we just want the man to be taken care of, but to the crowd this was originally addressed to it is something extremely huge. The crowd was Jewish. They were very intent to keep their bloodlines pure. The Samaritans were only part Jewish. They were not purebloods and therefore were considered unclean or below the Jewish people. To us today, it could be anybody. How many people today look down on anyone of a different nationality, gender, or religious preference? If they have a deformity, are they less worthy of love and mercy? There is no culture that can escape prejudices. There is always some group of people that is considered lower than others and are treated with disdain. That is how it was here. This is a reflection of what is still found today. This “lowlife” came along the same road. He notices the man just like the two that had gone before him had done. He didn’t stop and ask the man if he was Jewish, Roman, Samaritan, Greek, or a Martian. He saw a fellow man, a neighbor, in need. That is all he needed to see. Nothing more.
What would you do if you found this man on the road? Call 911 and let the experts take care of him? Wave for someone else to come to his aid and go on? You would have at least have done something for this poor soul. This man who didn’t “have” to do anything, did a lot. He went to the man and treated his wounds. He ministers to the most urgent need the man has. He stops in the middle road without thinking of what he will be late to and takes the precious time needed to tend to wounds. He could have left it at that, but he knew that thought that need was taken care there were still more. He placed the wounded man on the donkey and led him to the nearest inn. He stayed with him overnight to minister to. He didn’t hand him off to someone else when he did have the ability to do it himself. When he knew that he could no more at that moment, he passes the man to another person who can take over ministering. But notice that he still can do more and does. He doesn’t expect the innkeeper to take on the responsibility entirely. He leaves some money behind because he was blessed with money that he could pass on to the care of this man. He even promises to come back through to see if all the needs were met and the help out as much as he still could.
The Truth About Being a Neighbor
Jesus stops his story at this point and looks right at the “expert”. Which one is now the neighbor? No one listening could answer otherwise. The neighbor was the man who stopped and took care of a need. He showed mercy and love. He showed true love. Being a neighbor does not depend on the color of one’s skin, their family tree, or what they do for a living. Being a neighbor is showing love.