We are in the midst of an extensive study through “The Parables of Jesus”. Over the past few weeks, we have been dealing with particular parables about love and forgiveness. The Parable of the 2 Debtors teaches us that people who have been forgiven more by God tend to show more love to God. The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant advises us as believers to forgive others freely and graciously, just as we have been forgiven by our LORD, and it gives us a ominous warning should we fail to do so. This morning, we will consider a well-known parable that illustrates how we are to love one another.
“The Parable of the Good Samaritan” has been depicted in all types of art and literature. The phrase “good Samaritan” is commonly used even in our modern society to refer to anyone who reaches out and helps another who is suffering. Many charitable ministries such as Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational international relief organization led by Franklin Graham, borrow their name from this parable. In addition, many hospitals, clinics, and other such places reference this story in their institution’s name.
“The Parable of the Good Samaritan” is recorded only once in the Bible and is found in the gospel of Luke. Jesus’ exact location at the time He spoke this parable is uncertain and immaterial to its meaning. Of more importance is the occasion which led to the parable. A lawyer approached Jesus and asked what he must do to receive eternal life. Jesus asked him to summarize the Law, which the lawyer readily recited. The lawyer knew that he did not love everyone as himself, so he followed up with a second question seeking to identify exactly who his neighbor was. Jesus told the parable as an answer to this question.
The Law of Moses commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves. During His earthly ministry, Jesus referred to this as the second greatest commandment. But who specifically is our neighbor? Is it those who live nearby on our street? Is it our friends or those with who we are closely acquainted? Is it those who look like, think like, and act like us? Surely God does not expect us to love everybody as ourselves, or does He?
I. TRAGEDY ON THE JERICHO ROAD - Luke 10:30-32
Jesus opens this parable with a man travelling down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Along the way, he is attacked by a band of robbers who strip him, beat him, and leave him for dead. A while later, a priest passes by and notices the poor man lying beside the road. Unfortunately the priest looks the other way and keeps going. Soon thereafter a Levite come wandering down the road. He too sees the hurting man lying there, but he also callously passes by.
The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was one of the more dangerous and perilous routes in ancient times. In the story, neither the priest nor the Levite stopped to render any assistance to the injured man. Certainly these 2 men would have both been quite familiar with the Law that commanded them to love their neighbor as themselves. Such love would have compelled them to stop and give aid. Yet, in both cases, what they knew should be done and what they actually did were quite different. Whatever their reasons, neither turned aside to help the poor man.
Some might reason that the priest and the Levite did not stop because the victim was not technically their neighbor in a strict sense, and therefore fell outside the parameters of the law. In fact, we don’t have any idea who the beaten man was because Jesus intentionally did not describe him. We do not know his background, his occupation, his nationality, his race, his religion, or anything really. He could be anyone - and that is the point. Neighbors are not defined by certain characteristics - they can be and indeed are any and every one.
II. HELP FROM AN UNEXPECTED SOURCE- Luke 10:33-35
As the story continues, the man who’d been robbed continues to suffer beside the road near death. Finally, along comes a man from Samaria. The Samaritan sees the beaten man, is moved with compassion, and rushes over to help. He pours oil and wine on the victim’s wounds to help provide relief and then bandages them up. Next, the Samaritan carries the injured man into town and puts him up in an inn where he can be taken care of. Finally, the Samaritan makes arrangements to pay for any additional care that is needed after he leaves.
In order to fully appreciate the provocative nature of this parable, one must understand the bitter relationship between the Jews and Samaritans. In short, they hated each other. The Jews despised the Samaritans and regarded them as a people of lesser value. Samaritans were the descendants of Old Testament Jews who had intermarried with pagans and followed after strange and foreign gods. They were called half-breeds. Furthermore, the Samaritans did not know or seek to follow the Law of Moses.
In the parable, it was a vile Samaritan who stopped to help the dying man while both the Jewish priest and Levite passed him by. What shocking irony! The pair of men who knew the Law failed to act on it, while the guy who did not know it showed love instinctively. Jesus used this parable to demonstrate that knowledge of the law is useless if it is not actually put into practice. Furthermore, a basic understanding of morality - the Law of God - is inherent to all men regardless of their religious heritage or background.
III. A QUESTION AND A COMMAND - Luke 10:36-37
As He often did, Jesus ended this parable with a question that was intended to test the listener’s understanding of the message. Remember, Jesus was speaking to a lawyer who’d approached him earlier. So, when His story was complete, the Lord pointedly asked the lawyer which of the 3 passers-by had proven themselves to be a neighbor to the man who’d been robbed. Presumably unable to concede that it was the Samaritan, the pious lawyer instead identified him generically as “the one who’d shown mercy”. Jesus then commanded the lawyer to go and do likewise - ie, to be merciful.
Notice that Jesus never directly answered the lawyer’s question. He did not ever specifically identify who the “neighbors” were. Rather, Jesus instructed the inquisitive lawyer to be a neighbor to others by showing love and compassion. The lesson? Don’t worry about who your neighbors are, but rather be neighborly to all.
While there are numerous other interpretations of this parable, I believe the explanation we’ve discussed today is the most accurate because it is most relevant to the lawyer’s original question. The story also challenges racist and bigoted behavior against those who are different than us. In the end, Jesus’ story shifts the question from who we are to love to how we are to love. Our love must be more than mere words we say, but rather something we actually do.
Unlike most of the other parables, the characters in this story do not necessarily represent anyone in particular. It is simply a story intended to illustrate the nature of neighborly love. We should display the virtues of the good Samaritan as we show genuine and sacrificial love to others. Many people have been beaten up and left for dead along the road of life. Do you see them lying there, and will you care enough to stop and help?