Summary: Jesus told this parable in answer to a lawyer on how eternal life could be gained - perfect obedience to the law of love - and when obtained how it is demonstrated.
Jesus once told a story - the Good Samaritan - which has been a favourite ever since. It’s a charming, human-interest story, but at the same time it carries a sharp message. All of us are guilty of committing many types of sin. There are sins of omission - things we don’t do which we should, and sins of commission - things we do which we shouldn’t. There are sins of the flesh and of the spirit, open sins and secret sins, and so-called "respectable" sins. It was a respectable sin that Jesus graphically pointed out in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
This parable has been given many treatments over the years. In the Middle-Ages, parables were given an allegorical interpretation. The events and the characters in the story were given some symbolic, spiritual meaning. The exposition would be on these lines: The wounded man represents Adam; Jerusalem from which he journeyed represents the state of innocence from which Adam fell. The thieves who beat him up are the devil who deprived Adam of eternal life; the priest and the Levite are Old Testament religion which passed by and couldn’t help him. The Good Samaritan, of course, is the Lord Jesus Christ, who comes to his rescue and the inn to which he was taken is the church. What is the meaning of the two silver coins that were given to the innkeeper! I leave that to your imagination!
Well, that allegorical interpretation can be fitted in, and it’s not unknown in present day preaching. Although it has some valuable insights to offer, but it doesn’t seem that Jesus intended his story to be understood in that way. But it is true to say that Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of the command which the Good Samaritan illustrates. That command is to love. But the real meaning of the parable is not only concerned with a way of life, but a way to life, and for that we will find a clue as we consider:
THE OCCASION OF THE PARABLE
As Jesus developed his earthly ministry, the religious authorities became increasingly hostile toward him. They found his teaching contradicted their interpretation of the Law of Moses. They resented Jesus because he associated with people whom they despised. In the end they could stand it no longer so they plotted to bring about his downfall by either disgrace of death. One of the methods they adopted was to try to trip him up by making some incautious statement which they could use in evidence against him. And who could be better qualified to do this than a lawyer! It’s not the first time and probably won’t be last that a lawyer phrased a trick question!
It was one of these experts in the Jewish law who came to Jesus to give him a test of his orthodoxy. "Teacher", he asked, "what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 10:25). What could be more innocent than that? It’s not the first time and probably won’t be the last time that a lawyer phrased a trick question. Jesus must have sized up his questioner very quickly. He sensed that, although it was put to him very respectfully and thoughtfully, the inner motive was not spiritual illumination. The inquirer wasn’t as genuine as he made out to be, as he was really trying to trap Jesus into making some wild messianic claim. But Jesus wasn’t falling for that! Instead, Jesus replies to him in his own terms by asking him a question, "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" (26). This leads us to think about:
THE WAY TO ETERNAL LIFE
When the lawyer was asked the question "What is written in the Law?", he must have felt confident because he was an expert in this field. He had no hesitation in replying with quotations from Deuteronomy and Leviticus, part of the Shema, a confession regularly made in Jewish worship: "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" (Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18). This was part of a confession regularly used in Jewish worship. And what’s more, her was right, at least in theory. The apostle Paul quotes Moses, "The man who does these things will live by them" (Romans 10:5; Lev 18:5). The trouble is that no-one ever succeeds in doing so! The lawyer was soon to learn how extreme those demands of the Law are. The thing is impossible. That is the real point of the story of the Good Samaritan.
Jesus heard the lawyer’s reply from Scripture with approval. "Excellent! You have answered correctly", Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live" (28). This tells us that Jesus didn’t deny the moral demands of the Old Testament law. The ceremonial and sacrificial systems were soon to pass away, having their complete fulfillment in Christ, but the moral law stands as God’s standard for all time.