And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and testing Him, 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.” (Luke 10: 25-37 NKJV)
A certain lawyer asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor.” Centuries later, we continue asking similar questions. Does charity need to start at home? Should we reach out to help people across the world? Do we need to help refugees? Maybe we shouldn’t help others until we’ve dealt with our own house. Yes, still today, we keep asking, “Who is my neighbor.”
This conversation between Jesus and the lawyer all started when the lawyer asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. The very question contradicts what Jesus taught. Eternal life is a gift we gain through salvation and relationship with God; it’s not something we earn at all. Jesus answers the lawyer with a question of his own, asking him what was written in the law. He answered Jesus, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
While he may have been attempting to prove that eternal life required individuals to fulfill the Law, his answer actually trapped him, so he pulled out another question. “Who is my neighbor.” It’s important to understand that in the current Jewish culture, Jews only considered fellow Jews to be their neighbors. They didn’t consider Gentiles to be their neighbors, which meant the lawyer was implying with his question that he had fulfilled the Law by treating fellow Jews kindly and with respect, earning eternal life.
However, Jesus had an answer to this question in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Understanding the Historical Context of the Good Samaritan Parable
To fully understand the significance of this parable, you have to understand the historical context of the story. First, Jesus chose the road between Jerusalem and Jericho, which was a dangerous path to drive in the time of Jesus. In fact, it was so dangerous that it was often simply called ‘The Bloody Pass.’ Robbers attacking travelers and leaving people to die was pretty commonplace, so it was a terrifying journey to take.
Perhaps it was the danger of the road itself that included the Priest and Levite to continue on their way instead of stopping to help. Knowing the location, they may have thought the robbers were still around, that the man was dead, or that maybe he was faking it to try to trick them and rob them if they got too close.
It’s interesting that Jesus chose three unique characters: the Samaritan, a priest, and a Levite. And the Samaritan was quite a controversial figure among an audience of Jews who hated Samaritans. At this point in history, Samaritans were considered by Jews to be low-caste because they didn’t obey Jewish laws and had intermarried with pagans. Even their land was considered unclean by the Jews, and they’d often take a longer route to avoid even entering Samaritan territory. And this hatred was mutual – the Samaritans hated the Jews, too, likely because of how they were treated. But Jesus pulls out these unlikely examples to deliver his message.
Who is our neighbor? By using the Samaritan as an example, Jesus shows that there are no conditions to who is our neighbor. Take a look at the roles of the three men who passed by the man left for dead along the road. First, the priest saw him, and he passed by on the other side of the road. He avoided even going close enough to get a good look. At that point in history, priests couldn’t touch anything unclean like a dead body or even blood. So, the priest stayed well away from this source of “uncleanliness.” Perhaps the Levite felt the same way because he too refused even to get close to this man. But among everyone else, Jesus chooses a Samaritan to be the compassionate, helpful man who comes by and helps the half-dead man, who very likely was a Jew.
Now remember, the Jews didn’t like the Samaritans, and the Samaritans felt the same way about the Jews, yet the good Samaritan not only stops, he cleans up the man, takes him to a nearby inn, continues to take care of them, and then arranges more care when he has to leave. He didn’t consider that the man was likely a Jew or even think of whether they were enemies or friends. He stopped, had compassion, and took care of this man who was in desperate need.
Applying the Good Samaritan Parable to Our Modern Lives: Important Lessons
So how do we take the parable of the Good Samaritan and apply it to our modern lives today? What can we continue learning from this story right now? Here are a few of the valuable lessons we should learn from the tale told by Jesus.
Lesson #1 – The Good Samaritan Took a Chance and Got Involved
It’s not easy to get involved in the lives of others. Why? Because it costs us something. But you can quote all the Bible verses on the love of God, yet if you’re not willing to really get involved with people, you cannot love them the way God commands us to.
Both the priest and the Levite chose not to get involved. They stayed as far away from the situation as possible. But the Samaritan didn’t shy away from getting involved. He walked over, was filled with compassion, and he took care of the man and ensured he was taken care of until he was well.
It’s pretty easy to go to church on Sunday, put some money in the offering plate, and donate to special charities around Christmas or send a few dollars to missionaries in far off lands. But getting involved with people, that’s hard.
We don’t make an impact on the lives of other people by walking by as far away from their mess as possible. Instead, it’s when we have compassion and get involved in their lives that we truly are showing the love of God to them. Winning people to Jesus is more than handing out tracts or telling people you’re a Christian – it’s living it by building relationships and truly getting involved in the lives of others that makes the difference.
Lesson #2 – We Shouldn’t Count the Risk or Reward When Doing Good
When doing good, we shouldn’t count the risk or the reward. The priest and Levite both counted the risk and determined that it was too risky to help out, and so they walked on by. The Samaritan didn’t. It takes getting outside of our comfort zone to show mercy and compassion to others, and sometimes there’s risk involved, but God calls us to love others despite the risk.
The Samaritan risked his own safety just by stopping to help out. He didn’t know if the robbers were hiding just waiting to attack him, too. But he risked his safety by stopping and taking the beaten man along with him. He risked his reputation as well. What would people think about him when he came into town with this badly beaten man? How could he explain everything? Maybe people would think that he was the one who robbed this man. It was risky to help, but he did it anyway.
On the other hand, we shouldn’t count the reward when we do good for others. Reward shouldn’t be the reason we do what we do; compassion should be. Yes, loving others is one of the things we must do if we want eternal life, but if you only consider the reward when showing mercy, you’re trying to earn it. Don’t have ulterior motives when you’re helping other people. The love of Jesus should be what draws you to show mercy and love to your neighbor.
Lesson #3 – The Good Samaritan was Willing to Sacrifice
Mercy requires sacrifice. Both loving God with all our hearts and loving our neighbors as ourselves come with sacrifice. The good Samaritan was willing to make a sacrifice. Are you?
Remember, the Samaritan was traveling somewhere, too. He likely had somewhere he needed to be. But he stopped anyway. He had his own business to attend to, but he rearranged his priorities to help out the injured man on the side of the road. Perhaps he missed an important business meeting. Maybe he’d already been away from his family for days, and taking the time to show compassion cost him a few more.
Beyond sacrificing his time, he also sacrificed his money. He reached into his own pockets to come up with the money to pay for that inn, and even when he had to leave, he made sure that everything was paid for until he came back. He wasn’t afraid to dig deep into his own finances to help someone out.
Sometimes loving others requires us to sacrifice our time and our money. And we also have to be willing to sacrifice ourselves something of ourselves – a living sacrifice – just like Jesus did for us.
Lesson #4 – Don’t Get Too Busy to Show Mercy and Compassion
We live in such a busy society today. We’re all busy doing something. And it’s so easy to get too busy to show mercy and compassion to others. Perhaps you donate food to your local food bank to help the poor, but when was the last time you took time out of your busy schedule to help someone in need? The priest and Levite were both busy people. In fact, part of their job probably included distributing resources to needy people, yet they were too busy to help someone in serious need.
Ask yourself this question: Would you have stopped to help the man half dead along the road? Or would you have been too busy? Perhaps you might have thought that surely someone else would come along who had more time. Completely altering your schedule would be difficult. You’re busy, after all. Don’t let all the busyness of life get in the way of doing what Jesus called us to do – show mercy, compassion, and love to others.
Lesson #5 – The Good Samaritan Didn’t Let Prejudice Get in the Way
Remember, Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along. There was a lot of prejudice on both sides. However, the good Samaritan didn’t allow prejudice to get in the way of helping out the man he found injured on the side of the road. At that moment, he put aside any shallowness to care for his fellow human being, and that’s an important lesson we need to remember today.
It’s so easy to be affected by prejudices, even today, whether that’s a prejudice about the color of someone’s skin, where they’re from, or even what they believe. But just as the Samaritan did, we need to rise above them and show compassion for our fellow human beings, no matter our differences.
Lesson #6 – Don’t Count the Cost Before Extending Compassion
Everything comes with a price in our society. And mercy can be costly. The Samaritan shouldered the financial costs associated with caring for the wounded man. He paid for the supplies needed to care for him, as well as for his lodging at the inn. And then he paid for continued care and shelter when he had to leave.
The good Samaritan didn’t stop to think about what it was going to cost him before he showed compassion to that man, put him on his animal, and took him to the inn. He simply acted without counting the cost. If you genuinely want to show mercy and love, don’t count the cost.
Conclusion: Go and Do Likewise
At the very end of the parable, Jesus asks the lawyer which of the three men acted as a neighbor to the injured man. And, of course, the lawyer had to answer, “He who showed mercy on him.” The Samaritan. Then, Jesus tells the lawyer – and us – “Go and do likewise.”
It’s not enough to read this story in the Bible, talk about how incredibly compassionate the Samaritan was, and the lessons we can learn from the parable. No, Jesus tells us to go and do likewise.
Go extend compassion to everyone, even those people who are different or who don’t believe the way you do. Go take a chance and get involved in the lives of other people. Show mercy, no matter the risk or reward. Be willing to sacrifice and be prepared to take time out of your busy schedule to help.
Go and do likewise!