The Good Samaritan
The teaching found in Luke 10: 29-37 has endeared itself to many and is simply known as, "The Good Samaritan." Jesus is seen in a volatile setting with a Jewish lawyer attempting to try Jesus and justify himself (Lk. 10: 25, 29). However, Jesus was no stranger to controversy and debate, neither was he unfamiliar with the hypocrisy of many of the religious leaders of his day. In the "Good Samaritan," we shall see a number of key truths set forth. Such truths as a truer view of the Law of Moses and its practical application, a denial of Jewish exclusiveness, and the universal brotherhood of all men. It is in this teaching that Jesus irresistibly enunciated that neighborhood is coextensive with humanity. In a day and time when many move only within racially restricted boundaries and only selfishly think and act, the "Good Samaritan" is especially opportune. First, consider the teaching, beginning with the lawyer's posed question:
"29: But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor? 30: And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31: And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32: And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. 33: But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, 34: And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35: And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. 36: Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? 37: And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise" (Lk. 10).
Let us now engage in a brief exposition of the text and then we shall attempt to make application of the learned truths.
Verse 30. We are told that a "certain man" went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. The identity of the man is withheld, being nonessential. However, in all probability he was a Jew. Jericho was about 800 feet below sea level and Jerusalem was about 2, 500 feet above it; hence, Jericho was about 3, 300 feet lower than Jerusalem. The distance from Jerusalem to Jericho was about seventeen miles, by the shorter route known as "The Way of Blood." It was so known because of the highwaymen who abounded in the area. We are told that this man "fell among thieves." The expression in Greek (periepesen) means that these violent men circled the traveler (cp. vs. 36). The word "thieves" in the King James is from the Greek lestais and literally means "robbers" and not "thieves." The robbers of Jesus' day were men who were thieves in that they sought what did not rightfully belong to them, but they were also men of violence who would often operate in numbers and deprive their victims by effecting bodily harm. Josephus informs us that out of the 40, 000 men dismissed by Herod the Great from building the temple, a large part became highwaymen.
Notice and appreciate that the victim's condition is stressed by Jesus, not his religion, education, wealth, physical appearance or social level. He was a fellow human and, thus, needed the help of man.
Verse 31. There were about 12, 000 priests and Levites residing in Jericho at the time of Jesus' teaching. They would travel back and forth in their regular work in officiating in the temple in Jerusalem. When a priest came in the vicinity of the victim, one would think the man would have been graciously assisted. However, such was not the case. Jesus said, " when he saw him, he passed by on the other side." The priest had some means to help and was aware of the need, but he avoided the wounded and beaten man.
Verse 32. The Levites assisted the priests in the performance of religious duties. In the case of the religious Levite we are told, " came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side." Hence, the Levite was even more deliberate and cold than the priest. I say this because as the Levite had a better view of the victim than the priest, it would appear that even more hardness of heart was required on his part not to assist this fellow human in need. He, too, " passed by on the other side."
Verse 33. The third player in Jesus' story is not only unlikely, in view of Jewish thinking and proper protocol, but he is incongruous. Samaritans were a mixed people and were decidedly rejected by the Jews (cp. Jn. 4: 9). When the Jew sought to degrade another in one of the strongest ways possible, he would call him a "Samaritan" (Jn. 8: 48). Yet, there is a matter very different regarding the Samaritan Jesus mentioned as compared to the priest and Levite. Jesus said, " when he saw him, he had compassion on him." The Greek word for "compassion" is esplagchnisthe and means, "his heart went out to him." The priest and Levite lacked the compassion that the Samaritan possessed.
Perhaps we are being too hard on the priest and Levite, after all, they were probably on their way to do important work. Also, this victim may have caused his own problems by not being as alert as possible, it could be rationalized. I am reminded of just last week as I was travelling a busy route on the way to the church building to worship and teach a class. A motorcycle was travelling at a high rate of speed and suddenly overtook me and then recklessly passed me. In all the traffic, he found himself surrounded by other motorists and sought to pass them. It ended up that he collided with one of the cars. He was parted from his bike and went bouncing across the payment and came to rest in front of me. At first, it appeared that he had to be seriously injured. I had a decision to make: Was I to stop and assist this man and possibly be late for my important appointment? I did stop and keep the on coming cars from running over him, but I must admit, for a split second I did not want to get involved. Hence, Jesus' teaching is really fresh on my mind.
Verses 34, 35. Compassion just as biblical faith always manifests itself in the proper ways (cp. Gal. 5: 6, Jas. 2: 24). Hence, the Samaritan is seen making use of what he had, material to cover wounds, oil and wine, his beast, to assist his fellow human. He took him to an Inn and made arrangements for the man's care.
An application of Jesus' teaching. Jesus never simply filled space or time with pointless abstract platitudes. Jesus' pointed question is, "Which now of these three, thinketh thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves?" (Vs. 36.) After the lawyer was "forced" to answer, Jesus said, "Go, and do thou likewise" (vs. 37). However, even Jesus was not able to immediately remove the racial bias. Notice how the lawyer worded his answer, "He that shewed mercy on him" (vs. 37). It appears he was not able to say, "The Samaritan, he was the real neighbor!" (See addendum.)
The philosophy of the robbers was might makes right. The philosophy of life practiced by the priest and Levite was that every man must look after himself. Their religion was one of passivity and failure to live out belief in one's life. They committed the common sin of omission in failing to assist their fellow human being (Jas. 4: 17). In contrast, the philosophy of the Samaritan was to do good to others (Matt. 7: 12). The Samaritan made time to help and took advantage of what he had to assist the needy man.
Different attitudes are behind the different action seen regarding the priest, Levite, and the Samaritan (Prov. 4: 23). The lawyer's attitude was, "How may I tempt Jesus and try to find fault with him." The robber's attitude was, "What is thine is mine or I can take it by force." The thinking of the priest and Levite was, "What is thine is thine and what is mine is mine and I will not put myself out in the interest of others." The socially rejected Samaritan really stands out in thinking and action, "What is mine is yours if you need it."
In closing, Jesus is consistently seen as a clear and quick thinker, one able to handle all situations. He was not afraid of questions, however, he was the master of the situation (notice verse 29 and 36, how Jesus "turns the question"). Jesus was brave and challenging. He sought to challenge and also expose all error. It was not sufficient that he simply answer the lawyer's question, Jesus had to inject the "Samaritan" to further challenge their thinking. Too many today have the religion of convenience. We seek to avoid involvement and responsibility. Yet, we all have duties to all men, regardless of their national descent, wealth, education, and the many other considerations that often constitute bias.
Addendum: Loving our neighbor as ourselves is what prompted the question asked by the lawyer and Jesus' teaching regarding the "Good Samaritan" (Lk. 10: 25-37). Our neighbor can be the man who is robbed and left for dead, the man whom we do not even know. Regarding the Good Samaritan being a good neighbor to the destitute man, Jesus places a little different twist. Not only does Jesus illustrate what he meant by "neighbor" (the destitute man) but he also shows what being a neighbor entails (the Samaritan).