Summary: Looking at the question that generated the story of the Good Samaritan
This story that Jesus told has so ingrained itself into our psyche that there is even an organisation that has taken the name. The Samaritans are there to help, to provide a listening ear for the most desperate people who have nowhere else to turn. That's the power of simple stories with a clear point and Jesus was the master story teller, so it is no wonder that his stories stick in our minds.
At the most basic level the story is simply one of compassion. Someone is beaten, robbed and left for dead. Those you might expect to help – in this case a priest and a levite – walk by on the other side of the road to avoid and contact. It is the Samaritan who goes to his aid, and makes the extra effort required to save his life.
I am going to look at the circumstances around the story to try to understand its deeper meanings, but we will look at the story too as there are some important lessons in it for us.
Jesus told the story for a reason. Luke is the only one of the gospel writers who has this story. Both Matthew and Mark make the same points, but the story is not included. It is placed after a private discussion with the returning 72 who had been out on a mission to local villages, so we don't know exactly where the story took place. It must have been in public, and Jesus must have been speaking to many people, because the story starts with the Lawyer standing up to ask a question. We are told that his intention was to 'test' Jesus. It doesn't imply that he was hostile, just that he was trying to assess Jesus' theology. Is he OK, or might he be a heretic? So the question he asks is
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” - What a strange way of phrasing the question! If his question had been “What must I do to inherit great aunt Maud's collection of grand masters?” then perhaps you could understand the use of the word 'inherit'. You only inherit something when it's owner dies. Perhaps without realising it he was on to something! His question though is centred on himself. - “What must I do?”
Jesus is having none of it and turns the question back on to the expert in the law. “What does the law say?” he asks, “How do you interpret it?”. The answer is easy for the expert, indeed it would be easy for any Jew.
The passages he quotes are Deuteronomy 6:5 – Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. and Leviticus 19:18 Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the LORD.
Both these verses are use as a regular part of Jewish worship. They are very well known. Jesus has used these quotes before, when he was asked which commandments are the most important.
Mt 22:35 One of them, an expert in the law, i tested him with this question:
Mt 22:36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Mt 22:37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 96 j
Mt 22:38 This is the first and greatest commandment.
Mt 22:39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 97 k
Mt 22:40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” l
So it is no surprise when Jesus says “Correct – Do this and you will live”.
No doubt at this point there were some in the crowd who thought “That was a bit too easy!. You'd have thought he could come up with a better question than that! He's supposed to be an expert” Perhaps there were even murmurings or groans. Maybe it was just the experts own view. He was expecting a debate and he got answered in a couple of short sentences. Perhaps he just wanted to complicate things – as some experts like to do. Whichever is was he felt the need to justify himself, so he asked a supplementary question.
“Who is my neighbour?”
and Jesus tells his story.
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins 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.’