The Good Samaritan
What does it mean to be a good neighbor? Are you a good neighbor? As you think about the answer to those questions, let us study the parable of the good Samaritan and the situation that caused Jesus to deliver it in the first place.

Luke 10:25-37 reads:

"And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him (i.e., Jesus), saying, 'Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?' He said to him, 'What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?' So he answered and said, '"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind," and "your neighbor as yourself."' And He said to him, 'You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.' But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?' Then Jesus answered and said: 'A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, "Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you." So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?' And he said, 'He who showed mercy on him.' Then Jesus said to him, 'Go and do likewise.'"

In Luke 10:25, a lawyer (or scribe) raised up and tested Jesus. This man was an expert in the Old Testament. He stood up to attract attention and to give emphasis to his question. Although the language doesn't necessarily imply a malicious intent, the lawyer's motivation seems to be less than honorable based on the context (cf. 10:29). His purpose in asking the following question isn't to learn the truth but to test Jesus. "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" The Greek tense used here suggests that he thought that perhaps a single deed or action would be sufficient.

Jesus answered the question with a question. He inquired what the man's interpretation of the law was on the issue of salvation. The lawyer was probably surprised by Jesus' question. He likely looked upon Jesus as one who despised tradition and broke the Sabbath. To that extent, he probably expected Jesus to set forth some new teaching on this matter, not refer him to the Old Law.

In 10:27, the lawyer answered the question by stating two great laws that are the essence of all other laws. He referred to Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18; that is, man must love God with the totality of his being--physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually--and he must love his neighbor as himself.

Jesus endorsed the man's answer (cf. Matt. 22:37-40) and then added this comment - "Do this and you will live." The Lord used the word "do" in the present tense, which meant "to practice as a habit."

Even today there are those who think like this lawyer. They deceive themselves into thinking that eternal life can be inherited through one act. While it is true that when a penitent believer is immersed in water for the forgiveness of sins, he becomes saved, but he must then live faithfully unto death if he expects to actually receive the crown of life (Rev. 2:10).

In Luke 10:29 the lawyer responded, wanting to justify himself - "And who is my neighbor?" Why would this man want to "justify himself"? It seems most likely that although he knew the truth concerning what needed to be done to inherit salvation, he evidently knew he wasn't living up to the ideal, especially regarding loving his neighbor as himself. Thus, he is looking for a loophole. He could justify his conduct if the word "neighbor" was defined in a very restrictive way. For example, a common Jew considered no Gentile to be his neighbor; the Pharisees went even further and would only consider other Pharisees their neighbors. Perhaps this man is hoping that Jesus will soothe his conscience (i.e., justify him) by telling him that his neighbors only consist of other religious leaders like himself and that he may continue living as he had been.

Jesus did not answer the man's question directly. Instead he used a parable to get the man to answer his own question in precisely the way that he didn't want to answer it!

In the parable, a man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. It is implied that this man was a Jew since his nationality was not specified. Also, the lesson Jesus taught here would not be nearly as powerful if the man were not a Jew. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was often called "The Bloody Way" because it was so dangerous; robbers loved to viciously prey upon people traveling this road. The man was attacked by robbers who stripped him and beat him, leaving him near death.

In 10:31, a priest came down the road. He saw the victim but passed by on the other side. One might wonder what a priest was doing on a road like this. There were reportedly thousands of priests dwelling in Jericho at that time, and their work in Jerusalem would necessitate much travel on this road.

Second, a Levite came by. He apparently investigated a little closer than the priest did (i.e., he "came and looked"), but he too passed by on the other side and did not help the man in any way. Both of these men showed themselves to be selfish and indifferent. They both acted in a manner unbecoming humanity; they should have been models of true religion! After all, the priest was a descendent of Aaron, and he officiated in the worship ceremonies of the temple. The Levite, descended from the tribe of Levi, performed secondary tasks necessary for the temple service. Surely the lawyer to whom Jesus was speaking saw himself in the priest and Levite, for they, like him, knew the law but did not practice it concerning this matter (cf. I John 3:17; Titus 1:16)!

There are many excuses that the priest and Levite perhaps could have offered for the neglect of the wounded man (e.g., danger, haste, expense, etc.), but Jesus didn't consider any of them to be valid or worth mentioning. Some today have even suggested that the priest and the Levite were on their way to the temple and perhaps they thought the man was dead. Thus, they hurried by on the other side in order to prevent being defiled by a dead body (cf. Num. 19:11). This theory is clearly false for the text plainly says that they were going "down" the road (10:31; i.e., away from Jerusalem). Additionally, even if they had been coming to Jerusalem to perform duties at the temple, God never intended for ceremonies to get in the way of mercy (cf. Hos. 6:6; Matt. 12:9-13; 23:23; Exo. 23:4,5). These men both should have looked more closely and did what they could have to assist the man, even if such meant becoming ceremonially unclean.

Finally, a Samaritan who was traveling that road came to the place where the man had been robbed, beaten, and left to die. He was moved with compassion for the man. It did not matter to him that this man was a Jew and that Jews generally didn't have any social dealings with Samaritans (cf. John 4:9). The man was in need and this Samaritan intended to help him (though of all the men in the world to do a "neighborly" act, a Jew would not expect this of a Samaritan and vice versa).

In 10:34, the Samaritan first ministered to the man's wounds. The wine and olive oil were probably used to cleanse the wound, soothe, and help in the healing process. He then set him on his own animal (probably a donkey) and brought him to an inn. He then stayed with the man that night and took care of him--perhaps even denying himself of needed rest and sleep.

Before the Samaritan departed the next day, he first paid the innkeeper to take care of the man. The amount he gave should have been enough to cover expenses for about two to three weeks. More money would be given to the innkeeper, if necessary, when the Samaritan returned again.

It is easy to see that this Samaritan had many noble qualities: (1) He was sympathetic (i.e., he had compassion on a fellow human, even though he was a natural enemy). (2) He was courageous (i.e., he feared neither the return of the robbers nor the scorn of his peers). (3) He was helpful (i.e., he applied medication and bound up the wounds). (4) He was unselfish (i.e., he set the wounded man on his own beast of burden). (5) He was generous (i.e., he paid for the man's care at the inn). (6) He was one who went the "second-mile" (i.e., he promised additional funds if needed). (7) In essence, he was a neighbor!

Jesus asked in 10:36 - "So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?" There is no way that the lawyer could answer this question incorrectly. He could not say that the priest or the Levite acted neighborly toward the wounded man; such an answer would have shown him to be lacking in intelligence before the people. He had to answer it correctly for there was no way to evade it. This lawyer had tried to ensnare Jesus, but now he is entangled in his own net.

The lawyer answered correctly by stating - "He who showed mercy on him" (10:37). Although he answered the question correctly, it is most likely not an accident that he avoided using the term "Samaritan," a word that he probably felt was distasteful to his lips.

Jesus then exhorted the lawyer to "Go and do likewise." Now that the man understood who his neighbors were (i.e., everyone in which he comes in contact), Jesus commanded him to love them as he knew he should (cf. James 1:22; 4:17).

Friends, we today are obligated to do good to all as we have opportunity (Gal. 6:10), even our enemies (cf. Rom. 12:20; Matt. 5:43,44). This is what it means to be a good neighbor and to practice the "Golden Rule" (Matt. 7:12). Thus, being a true neighbor has nothing to do with where you live or who you are, but how you treat others whom you come in contact with. Are you truly a good neighbor? Are you doing good to all as you have opportunity?

Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.