The Good Samaritan is one of the more well-known parables in the Bible. Buy why was he called “good?”
The question that I would like to pose is this: Are you a good person? Am I a good person? Not “good” the way the world defines it, but “good” as an attribute defined by the word of God.
In Luke 10 we are introduced to a familiar character not only well known by students of the Bible, but also well known by many who are not religious.
We don't know the answers to any of those questions. The Bible does not tell us. He is only known as the Samaritan. And we think of him as the “Good Samaritan” although the Bible never calls him that. In fact nowhere in the Bible do we ever find him being referred to as good. But we know him as the “Good Samaritan.” Why do we call him good?
Let’s take a look at this parable of the “Good Samaritan.” Let’s give some thought to the setting which compelled Jesus to tell this parable. Let’s also consider the message contained in the parable -- the moral of the story. We will look at the parable itself as we consider the particulars in this parable. Finally, we will make some applications as we examine ourselves to see if we are good like the Good Samaritan.
In the setting leading up the parable of the Good Samaritan, a lawyer came to Jesus with two questions. In New Testament times, a lawyer was a scribe. If we were to turn to Matthew’s account, he is also described as a lawyer (Mat. 22.35). However, in Mark’s account it says it describes him as a scribe (Mark 12.28).
A scribe is one who gave a great deal of time to the study of the Law of Moses. He was a lawyer because he was an expert in the law. A scribe or a lawyer would read the law and then interpret that law placing regulations on the Jews based on how he interpreted it. He would read the law, interpret the law, and then write a series of traditions, not based on the law, but on their interpretation of the law. He would then bind those traditions on the Jews.
A scribe or lawyer was not only an expert
on the law, but he made himself a lawman.
He would put these traditions in force based on his interpretation and
bind them on the rest of the Jewish nation, but he would also enforce these
laws and, with the Pharisees, by threatening to cast out those who did not keep the
It also says that this lawyer came with a certain motive in mind. Notice again in Luke 10.25: “A certain lawyer stood up and tested Him.” The word “test” carries the idea of “to tempt thoroughly.”
This lawyer was not a friend of Jesus. He was not interested in the truth. This man studied the law and developed his own traditions based on his interpretation of the law. He then goes around seeking to enforce those traditions. This is the man who came to Jesus to thoroughly tempt Him.
This man who has studied the law and who is considered an expert in the law, asks Jesus what He believes is the key to obtaining eternal life. Anything that Jesus would answer would be contrary to the variety of opinions and thoughts that were in circulation -- just it is today. This man presented this question to trip Him up, to thoroughly tempt Him.
How did Jesus respond? He took the question, and He turned it around.
How wise it was to take this question asked by a scholar with the intention of catching Him at His words, and turn it around. Jesus essentially said, “You want to know how to obtain eternal life? You’re the expert. You tell me. What does the law say?”
If this lawyer had answered it any other way than what he did, then he would have been in conflict with the law. The lawyer answered that eternal life comes when you love God and love your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus then said in Luke 10.28: “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”
Notice how this conversation went from the lawyer trying to condemn Jesus by His answer to Jesus commending this lawyer by his answer.
It is not interesting that this lawyer went from a question in which he was trying to test Jesus to a question where he was trying to justify himself? He asked, “If I am to love my neighbor as myself, then who is that person that I am to love?” It is this question that launches the parable of the good Samaritan.
Let's examine the parable itself and find out exactly happens as the story unfolds. The parable of the Good Samaritan divides into three sections.
Those involved in this first scene of the Good Samaritan are the thieves.
In verse 30 we read of a man who came down from Jerusalem to Jericho. If you look on a map and locate Jericho and then locate Jerusalem, you’ll discover on the map that Jericho is north of Jerusalem, not south. So from looking at the map one would not come down from Jerusalem he would come up from Jerusalem. Here the text says that he came down from Jerusalem to Jericho.
The answer is that the writer is referring to elevation. From an elevation standpoint, Jerusalem is much higher than Jericho. So this man was walking downhill all the way.
This was a treacherous road, and it was known for being a road where it was likely one might be robbed. In fact, secular history reports that this road had a nickname: “The red and bloody road.” In the story, the thieves stripped him, wounded him, and left him half dead. They took what this man had and lived by the philosophy that I will gratify myself, and I don’t care who it hurts.
Would anyone consider these thieves good? Were they servants? Not at all!
Those involved in the second section are the religious leaders.
Verse 31 refers to a priest who came down the road.
A priest was a descendant of Aaron of the tribe of Levi. If we were to turn to the Old Testament and read Exodus 28.1, we would read these words concerning the priesthood: “Now take Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister to Me as priest, Aaron and Aaron's sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar.”
Here is a religious leader, and it says that when he saw this man, he passed by on the other side.
Verse 32 refers to a Levite who came down the road.
A Levite was someone who was of the tribe of Levi. Levites were priests as well. But they were different than the descendants of Aaron. The priests were involved in the service of God, offering sacrifices, and interceding for man. The Levites were there to assist the priests. They were the errand boys.
He was a religious leader as well. It says that when he came upon the man, he stopped and looked, then passed by on the other side.
The priest and the Levite, both religious leaders, did the same thing. They both saw this man who was overtaken by thieves. They both passed by on the other side.
The Greek phrase that is used here for “passed by on the other side” is “Anti Perer Chomai.”
Put it all together and here is what it means. These two both saw this man and they went to the opposite side of the road. They were not traveling on the opposite side, and seeing him were not able to get to him because he was somewhere they couldn't reach. They saw him and went out of their way to avoid him by crossing the road and walking by on the opposite side of the street.
These men were good people who helped others to serve God. But on this occasion, were they good? On this occasion were they servants? Now we don’t know about their home life. We don’t know about their character. We don’t know about their personality. We don’t know if they were going through something at the time, their circumstances. We don’t’ need to know any of that. Just from their actions, were they good at that moment? Absolutely not.
Why didn't they help the injured man? We don’t know. Some suggest that they did not want to defile themselves by touching something that might be unclean. Some suggest that they were in a hurry to some worship and didn't have time. It doesn't matter why. The point is they had an opportunity to help someone and they didn't
A Samaritan was reviled and abhorred by the Jews. In the gospel of John, Jesus was saying some things that the Jews did not agree with. They thought He was crazy, and they accused Him of being a Samaritan with a demon (John 8.48).
Calling someone a Samaritan was to insult him. But Jesus made this man who was despised the hero of the story, into the Good Samaritan.
It says that this man did the same thing as the priest and the Levite. He came and saw the man just as they did. But instead of crossing to the opposite side of the street, it says that he had compassion for him. His heart went out to him. He put himself in his shoes and did for him what he would want someone to do for himself.
This Good Samaritan had compassion for this man’s past encounter with the thieves. He was concerned about his present condition, and he was concerned about his future condition as he asked the inn keeper to keep tending to his needs.
What do we call the Samaritan who did this? We call him the “Good Samaritan.”
Jesus asked him which one of these three was a neighbor to him who fell among the thieves. And of course the answer is the one who had shown mercy. Jesus said to go and do likewise. Go and do what this Good Samaritan did. Be good as he was good.
What lesson are we to take away from this parable of the Good Samaritan? From this parable we learn that if we are going to love our neighbor as ourselves the way we are commanded to do, then we need to help those who are in need. But how are we supposed to do that? There are two suggestions.
To be good like the Good Samaritan, we must have compassion on others. We must feel what they feel. Notice again how the Good Samaritan reacted to the man who fell among the thieves.
In the original language, the word “compassion” means literally, “from the bowels.” It carries the idea of feelings that originate from deep inside, even the very pit of your stomach. It means to feel pity and sympathy.
What did Jesus say was the second greatest commandment? According the Luke 10.27, “Your neighbor as yourself.” Here is this Good Samaritan who looked upon this victim of thieves, and he loved him as he loved himself. He had pity and sympathy for him.
In Matthew 7.12, Jesus taught that “whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them.” This is what this Good Samaritan did. He treated him the way he would want himself to be treated. He put himself in the place of the victim. The victim’s pain became his pain.
If we want to be good, then we have to have compassion on others and treat them the way we would want to be treated. God left us an example of mercy and compassion even by the very example of sending forth His Son. We read in Ephesians 2.4,5: “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)”
How many times do we read of Jesus Christ having compassion?
Is that not what love is? To love is to not seek your own but to seek the other’s well-being. This Good Samaritan loved his neighbor and because he did, he had compassion on him.
If we see someone in need and we do not help him, then we are not showing love. Is that not also what the apostle John said in 1 John 3.17,18? “But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?”
The priest and the Levite saw the victim and passed by on the other side. The Samaritan saw the victim, had compassion on him and did something about it.
Are you going to be like the priest and Levite? Are you going to see someone in need and pass by with indifference? Or are you going to be like the Samaritan and have compassion and do something about his needs?
Three times we find a two letter word indicating action.
Who was good? It wasn't the priest. It wasn't the Levite. It was the Samaritan who did something.
God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. God cared, and He did something. That’s love. Jesus loved us and gave Himself for us (Gal. 2.20). Jesus cared and did something.
Are you good like the Good Samaritan? Do you care about others and are willing to do something for them? That’s how you love your neighbor as yourself. That’s what made the Good Samaritan good. And that’s how you are good like the Good Samaritan.