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The Life of Jesus - Series 8: Episode 8

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

| Martin Charlesworth
Luke 10:25-37

Jesus tells this parable in response to a trick question. He challenges the Jewish concept of loving fellow Jews as neighbours and encourages mercy for anyone who has need.

Jesus tells this parable in response to a trick question. He challenges the Jewish concept of loving fellow Jews as neighbours and encourages mercy for anyone who has need.


Hello, and welcome to Series 8 and Episode 8, in which we're studying the 'Parable of the Good Samaritan', which is recorded in Luke 10: 25 - 37.

Introduction and Recap

We're currently following the story of the life of Jesus, primarily through the Gospel of Luke. It's Luke who most clearly defines for us the development of Jesus' ministry when he leaves Galilee and he heads for Jerusalem. It's Luke who explains that Jesus takes his disciples away from Galilee for a time of reflection to a place called Caesarea Philippi nearby; he's with Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration; he explains that he is going to go to Jerusalem and he's going to depart this life and return to heaven. It's Luke who explains in Luke 9: 51 that Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. He refers to this issue several times later, so he's trying to give a framework for our understanding of what happens in the next period of Jesus' life. Those things take place during Series 7, and we're now in Series 8.

As Luke describes the story, Jesus has left Galilee; a group of disciples have gone with him. He's heading south, and he's heading ultimately towards a major confrontation in Jerusalem. He's already warned his disciples that he will suffer, die and be raised again from the dead, and that this would be the defining conclusion of his earthly ministry. Their expectations must change. The popularity he's enjoyed in Galilee is no longer assured; opposition will increase and he's not returning home to Galilee. This is a big challenge for the disciples and Luke has already described this journey beginning. He's already told us that when Jesus approached a Samaritan village on the way through, they didn't receive him, so they went on to another village. That was a complication in itself because he's left Galilee and he's now heading towards the central area of the country - Samaria, and the southern area, Judea, in which the capital city Jerusalem is situated, and the surrounding areas on the east of the River Jordan. A whole new era is taking place. Samaria is not an easy place to travel through because Jews and Samaritans didn't get on well together. We're going to talk about that significantly in the parable that we are looking at, where that becomes a central theme of the story.

In the episode that takes place just before the parable that Jesus tells here, we see Jesus, in a very strategic way, using the opportunity of travelling south in the country to spread the word about his message, his identity, and his claims. He gathers together the Twelve, and 60 others, a group of 72, and he sends them out in pairs. This is recorded at the beginning of Luke 10. He sends them out in pairs to go to all the towns and villages that he is planning to visit or to go nearby. He is hoping that they will speak the message about the Kingdom of God coming, perform miracles, and basically ensure that everybody in the central and southern districts has actually heard about Jesus in the same way that almost everybody in Galilee had heard about him. This is the sense of movement and direction we have in the story, a lot of interesting themes coming together. Luke gives us quite a lot of material from this particular period of time when Jesus isn't in Galilee.

We will be drawing on Luke's Gospel quite often during the next period of our studies, and one of the things that he provides us is a series of parables that Jesus told at this time. He also tells us of a number of incidents, of people that Jesus meets and we'll hear about those as we continue. 

The Right Answer

Luke is very keen on recording for us the parables that Jesus tells. Quite a few of the parables of Jesus are only recorded in Luke's Gospel. This is an example of that, the Parable of the Good Samaritan. We're going to look at the introduction and how the story came about by reading, first of all, verses 25 - 28.

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?” 27He 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 neighbour as yourself.’” 28“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

Luke 10:25-28, NIV

One of the themes of this particular period of time, is the rising opposition to Jesus. We've seen the opposition in Galilee but it's intensifying. John's description of Jesus making a very brief visit to the Feast of Tabernacles, which we looked at in recent episodes, showed that opposition very strongly but here as Jesus travels through the country, an expert of the law decided to test Jesus. He's basically trying to test him on his knowledge of the Old Testament and his understanding, particularly of the Law of Moses - ‘ What should I do to inherit eternal life?’ The standard Jewish answer is to worship God, and obey the Law. He was expecting Jesus to give him a summary of the Law but in fact, Jesus did what he often did. He answered the question with a question. I wonder whether you've noticed that. He put the question back to the expert in the Law, and said, ‘What do you think are the key ingredients for godly living and entering into eternal life?’

His summary in verse 27 is a standard answer. It's an answer that the religious teachers of the time, gave to their disciples or questioners when asked to summarise the Law of Moses, bearing in mind the Law of Moses had over 600 commands; it had the 10 Commandments at the centre of it. How would you summarise it? There was an agreement amongst quite a few teachers at the time that you could take two central commands and they would be the summary upon which everything else hangs: love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind. That's the first one. That's actually taken from Deuteronomy 6: 4 - 5. It was considered by the Jews to be the summary of the primary aim of the Jewish worship - to love God. The second one is taken from Leviticus 19: 18 - to love your neighbour as yourself. In Leviticus, I notice that this law is not prominent; it's very brief and it's in the midst of all sorts of other practical commands. There are many different laws in that particular part of the book of Leviticus. It's interesting that this teacher should pick out this law and it's interesting that Jesus himself on another occasion does, in the same way. He actually agrees with the expert in the Law that these two laws do actually summarise the whole of the Law.

Who is my neighbour?

The question that comes out is about, ‘Who is the neighbour?’ The human part of the law becomes very important. ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’, said this command, as the men quoted, but in verse 29, it says he wants to ‘justify himself’, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Note at this point we have the central radical teaching that Jesus brings. It was not controversial amongst the Jews to say, ‘We need to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength’, and obeying different laws out of love; a devotion, a worship of the living God, Yahweh, the God of Israel. Jesus is now going to take a very close look at the second of these two commands: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. When I look at it in its original context, in Leviticus 19, the natural application of loving your neighbour as yourself is to love your fellow Jew because your neighbour is the person who lives in the same community as you - the Jews who lived in their villages, their towns, their communities, and the Law of Moses was directed specifically to them. It wasn't a law for the whole world; it was a law for the Jewish community, and it was telling them how they should behave. In their communities, it would be very unusual to have as a neighbour someone living on your street who wasn't Jewish. in the early days when these commands were first experienced and interpreted in the settled community. Once they got into their land, they built Jewish communities and so Jews would consider the primary reference of this definition of ‘neighbour’ to be their fellow Jews. They would consider the application to be the avoidance of arguments and disputes in Jewish communities. Because you love your neighbour as yourself, you avoid getting into conflict and arguments; you avoid taking negative attitudes and actions against your neighbours. That's what they would have in mind.

Jesus Gives a Parable

‘Who is my neighbour?’ asks the man, and brings forth from Jesus this amazing parable, which stretches the imagination and the thinking of the expert in the law. Verse 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. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He 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. 35The 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?” 37The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:30-37, NIV

We must remember with parables, as we've seen before, that the main significance of them is to have a central point or theme. They're almost always not allegories where every single detail is applied to another reality. There might be some links between details in the parables and other realities but we should be looking for the main point. The parable, to the person who can see the significance, is incredibly enlightening; and for the person who is unclear about what Jesus is talking about, may fundamentally be confused by parables. This particular parable is incredibly powerful when you think about it.

Jerusalem to Jericho was a journey of approximately 25 km which I've done myself. I've been on the road in the modern nation of Israel and down into the Palestinian territories where Jericho is and what characterises this journey, as you go on this road, you notice that it's downhill. It's a long way down and Jericho in fact is at a very low point on the earth's surface. It's one of the lowest habitable places on the earth's surface in the whole world. Jerusalem is set in the hills of Judea and so you have to go down a long way to get from Jerusalem to Jericho. People travelled on this road regularly because Jericho was a major city and it was a passing point, as you went over the River Jordan and up north. There were a number of northern roads you can go from there too. Many people went down this road. It was a major road.

The man is going from Jerusalem to Jericho. Many people were going from Jerusalem. It was the commercial centre; it was the religious centre. That's where the Temple was; that's where worship took place. This particular man, a Jewish man, is beaten up, robbed and left for dead on the side of the road. A priest and a Levite passed by going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. That's very significant because priests, and Levites who were their assistants, had periods of time when they were on duty in the Temple in Jerusalem. Many of them didn't serve all the time in Jerusalem. They came occasionally, when their particular division or group was on duty. We have an example of this in the New Testament - the father of John the Baptist, Zechariah in Luke 1, Zechariah is described in verse 5 as belonging ‘to the priestly division of Abijah’, and in 1: 8, ‘Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God’. Zechariah, like many others, like the priest and Levite in this story, had a period of time that they had to be on duty in the Temple in Jerusalem. They would leave their homes and go up to the city; they would stay in accommodation in and around the Temple and they would serve the religious function that they were assigned. We can easily imagine that this was the situation of the priest and Levite; they had just finished a period of duty in God's holy Temple in Jerusalem, worshipping him, administering the sacrifices and helping the worshippers as they came in their hundreds and their thousands up to the Temple in Jerusalem to perform their religious duties. That's what they were doing. They were heading home because they were going down the road to Jericho; they were going away from Jerusalem, They passed by. They didn't take any notice or care of the man, who had been left as if he was dead on the side of the road.

The Good Neighbour Shows Mercy

A third man, a Samaritan, came and helped the man: took him to an inn; made financial provision; and promised that he would come back and see how things were going. The other important thing about the context is to remember again, as we've noticed on quite a number of occasions, that there's a big ethnic conflict between the Jews and the Samaritans. This particular geographical area will have Samaritan communities to the north and Jewish communities to the south. The Samaritans and the Jews didn't get on with each other; the Samaritans claimed that they had replaced the Jews as the special people of God. Their ethnic origin was partly Jewish and partly non-Jewish and came from a period about 700 years before this time, when, through a policy of ethnic cleansing of an imperial power called the Assyrians; there had been large numbers of different people groups moved round their empire and mixed together. This produced the Samaritan community. They believed in Yahweh, the God of Israel; they believed in the Law of Moses but they did not accept Judaism as a whole. They did not worship in the Temple and they did not respect the Jews; the Jews did not respect them. They considered them upstarts. That is a very key detail in this story.

The conclusion is that when Jesus says, ‘which of these three men do think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ the expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him”. It turns out that Jesus is redefining neighbourliness; he is expanding the meaning of the Old Testament principle, ‘love your neighbour as yourself’, from its original context in the book of Leviticus, where it applied primarily to the Jewish communities as they related together, and he's expanding the meaning. He's showing that in this particular instance, it's the Samaritan, the one who is not even a Jew, who is loving his neighbour as himself. The expert in the law was correct in defining the key characteristic of this man as having mercy. A very famous prophecy or text, in the Old Testament from the prophets in Hosea 6: 6 has God saying these words to the people of Israel,

‘For I desire mercy not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.’

Hosea 6:6, NIV

The priority of merciful attitudes to our fellow human beings, is made very clear by the prophet Hosea. Jesus picks up this theme in his teaching and emphasises the importance of mercy elsewhere. We've had a look at this teaching earlier on in our studies but I want to go back to this and connect it here because this word ‘mercy’ is a very important word. Jesus twice quoted this verse from Hosea 6: 6, about mercy and sacrifice, and the contexts are interesting: in Matthew 9: 9 - 13, we have Jesus having a meal with Matthew the tax collector and all his tax collector friends and other sinners, as they're described - irreligious people, prostitutes, men who were black marketeers and that sort of thing. The Pharisees look on; they're agitated. They wondered why Jesus is giving time to such people. Jesus, on hearing their agitation, his answer was,

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew 9:12-13, NIV

Jesus here is being merciful to the irreligious in this particular context and he encourages the religious people to see that mercy should be given to the irreligious. In Matthew 12, we have another example where the disciples are eating grains of corn on the Sabbath day and the Pharisees, and others, claim that they are breaking the law which they're not in fact. In Matthew 12: 7 Jesus said,

‘If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.’

Matthew 12:7, NIV

They were hungry and the kind and merciful thing to them is to allow them to eat the food they need and not to falsely criticise In the incident in Matthew, we see Jesus goes on to heal somebody straight afterwards. In summary, Jesus applies the Old Testament emphasis on the word 'mercy' as a priority from God into three different contexts; mercy on unworthy, irreligious and selfish people; secondly, mercy to people who are hungry; and thirdly mercy to people who have some sickness and need healing. That's how he applied the priority of mercy, and it's a very important theme in the New Testament. It comes up again here, that mercy is important.

Finally, Jesus concludes by saying to the Teacher of the Law, ‘Go and do likewise.’ He is inviting this man to have a change of attitude. His attitude was that he is looking for people to be fitted into religious boxes and to very specifically obey all the Laws of Moses and he's very keen to criticise people who don't fit into those categories and boxes. That's the mentality of the Teachers of the Law and Pharisees, which we see time and time again in the Gospels. Jesus encourages him to consider human need and to consider the command ‘to love your neighbour as yourself’ and to adapt his life accordingly.


My reflections, in conclusion, on this amazing and wonderful story is that Jesus is making a fundamental redefinition of loving your neighbour. No longer is it ethnically specific - just about the people you're close to, or the people in your ethnic group, or the people in your immediate community. No, the neighbour in Christian thinking and in Jesus' approach, is that human being who you have the opportunity and resources to help. That person could be in your community but they could be anyone; they could be any race; they could be any type of person. It's an indiscriminate love that Christians are called to have. This is a definition of Jesus' understanding of mercy. It extends to all of humanity. Jesus is pointing out here that the religious duty to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength cannot be separated from the priority of loving your neighbour as yourself. Mature Christians are those who have a very clear priority on loving God - focusing on him, his word, worship, community, prayer - but also they have a very clear priority of using their resources and their time to help people in need, as far as they have an opportunity to do that. Jesus was making a prophetic challenge to Judaism and inviting the Jewish religious establishment to become much more compassionate and merciful to people in need.

He was also, in this parable, paving the way for the culture of the Church that was shortly to be born from the day of Pentecost onwards. This culture can be summarised by the words of Peter when he spoke to Paul. The apostle Peter speaking to the apostle Paul, as recorded in Galatians 2: 10, when they had a meeting to discuss their different missions and how they linked together and how their messages were to be connected together. Peter and his colleagues, according to this verse, said to Paul and his colleagues,

‘All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.’

Galatians 2:10, NIV

‘Remember the poor’ - that becomes part of the fundamental DNA and culture of the New Testament Church. In this amazing parable, we have an explosive and powerful truth concerning what the characteristic of the Church should be. The Jewish man on the side of the road was apparently a hopeless case. He was apparently dead but it was the Samaritan who reached out to him. He crossed the barriers of race and culture in order to bring God's mercy. That's what the Church is called to do.

Study Questions

The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.

  • Exploring Faith
    Exploring Faith
    1. What could you be doing to remember the poor?
  • Discipleship
    1. Jesus changes the meaning of ‘neighbour’. Who are the people you have the opportunity and resources to help?
  • Further Study
    Further Study
    1. Remind yourself of the cultural and spiritual differences between the Jews and Samaritans. Are there the same differences in your country? How could this parable be represented in your country?
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