Summary: On the surface the Parable of the Good Samaritan appears to be a simple story about being kind. It’s actually much deeper than that. This story is designed to show each of us how sinful and selfish we really are and that our only hope of going to heaven
Knowing Our Neighbors
Rev. Brian Bill
The story of the Good Samaritan is one of the most well-known parables of Jesus. There are hospitals named after him and his name has become an idiom for unusual kindness and extraordinary care for the hurting. The “Good Sam RV Club” provides campground discounts and its members help one another. We also have “Good Samaritan Laws” that protect from liability those who choose to aid others who are injured or ill. To call someone a “Good Samaritan” is to pay them a great compliment.
While this parable is popular it’s not always correctly understood. That reminds me of the little boy who came home from Sunday School after learning about the Good Samaritan. He told his mother the story in great detail. He had all the facts straight and all the people in their right character roles. The mother then asked, “What’s the purpose of the parable? What’s it supposed to teach us?” The young boy replied, “It means that when we’re in trouble, others should come to help us!” Not exactly.
It’s common to just skim a story, especially when we’re pretty familiar with it. This morning I’m going to take a different angle in the hopes that we’ll encounter the parable’s purpose in a fresh and moving manner.
Putting the Text in Context
Before studying the story, let’s back up a bit and look at the text in context. Please turn in your Bibles to Luke 10. There are two basic structural divisions, each of which is prompted by a question.
1. What must I do to inherit eternal life? In verse 25 we read: “On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” This law expert was adept at understanding the Old Testament and wanted to put Jesus to the test, hoping he could trip Him up so the people would stop listening to Him. Specifically, this sophisticated Scripture scholar was “heresy hunting” by attempting to discredit Jesus. Do you see the contradiction in his question? He’s wondering what he must do in order to inherit eternal life. An inheritance is not something that we work for; it’s a gift.
As Jesus often did, He turned the question back on the person who asked it in verse 26: “‘What is written in the Law?’ he replied. ‘How do you read it?’” Notice that Jesus took Him to the authority of the Bible, which is something we should do as well. The man answers correctly by citing Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. All he had to do was pull up his shirt sleeve and read the answer that was written on his phylactery, a small leather box: “‘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.’” Our students have this memorized as well. LGLO: Love God, Love Others.
In verse 28 Jesus affirms him for giving the right answer (the word is “orthos” from where we get orthodoxy, which means “correct belief”) and at the same time flips the tables to show that He’s the authoritative expert. Jesus then adds these unsettling words: “Do this and you will live.” This is “orthopraxy,” which refers to “correct behavior.” Is Jesus advocating a works-based theology? Not at all. He’s saying that if you want to use the Law as leverage to get into heaven, then you better follow everything in it by always loving God every second, every hour, every day with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind from the day you are born until the day you die.
The phrase, “do this” means “to keep on doing this forever.” The word “love” is in the present tense, meaning constantly and continuously. That also includes loving your neighbor perfectly, all the time. That’s the standard that God sets. If you want to get in, then be perfect. One slip up and you’re out. This legal beagle is condemned by the very Law he quoted.
The purpose of the Law is to show us that we can’t keep it. Listen to Romans 3:20: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” The Law not only shows us our sin, Galatians 3:10 shows us that if we don’t keep every part of it, all the time, then we are cursed: “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’” To fall once is to fail forever. James 2:10: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” Galatians 3:24 states that the aim of the Law is to lead us to Christ: “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” The Law then points out that we’re sinners and that we’re in desperate need of a Savior.