The Good Samaritan

by Ed Urzi

As you read through the Gospels you’ll find that one of Jesus’ favorite ways to teach people was to use something called a parable. A parable is a short, simple story that’s designed to communicate a deeper spiritual truth or moral lesson. Jesus’ parables often use something familiar to illustrate a deeper truth and they help make His teachings more understandable for people who are willing to listen. One of Jesus’ most famous parables has come to be known as the parable of the Good Samaritan…

“On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘What is written in the Law?’ he replied. ‘How do you read it?’ He answered: “‘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 neighbor as yourself.'”

‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live.’But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ In reply Jesus said, ‘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'” (Luke 10:25-30 NIV and following).

The 20 mile trip from Jerusalem to Jericho included some long, dangerous mountain passages

It was an 18-20 mile (29-32 km) trip from Jerusalem to Jericho with a tremendous difference in altitude between the two towns. Jerusalem was 2300 feet (700 meters) above sea level while Jericho was 900 feet (274 meters) below sea level. This meant that travelers were continually moving downward along desolate, mountainous passageways. In addition to the dangerous travel, people also had to be alert to the threat of thieves and wild animals along the way.

Given the dangerous reputation of this route, it’s not surprising that the unfortunate traveler in Jesus’ story gets mugged along the way. In fact, this man was robbed so thoroughly that the thieves even stole the clothes he was wearing. This powerful image of a bloodied, beaten, naked victim sets the stage for what happens next…

“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” (verses 31-32).

In Jesus’ day, a “priest” was the official minister who represented the people before God. He was also responsible for conducting various rituals to atone (or make up for) for their sins. The “Levites” were the descendants of Levi (one of the heads of the original 12 tribes of Israel) who served as assistants to the priests. The priests and Levites were very closely related since they both had Levi as their common ancestor but only the descendants of Aaron could be priests.

Now it’s important to remember that these verses specifically tell us that these people knew that there was a problem but did nothing about it. Fortunately for the injured traveler, that’s about to change…

“But a Samaritan, as he traveled, 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'” (verses 33-35).

Back in the early Old Testament times, the land of Samaria was occupied by the tribe of Ephraim and the half-tribe of Manasseh. When Israel was conquered by the Assyrians around 722 B.C., the Assyrians carted off everyone who lived there except the very poorest people. Over time, the people who were left eventually turned away from God by following other religions.

Because many Samaritans had intermarried and couldn’t prove their Jewish heritage, many people of Jesus’ day considered the Samaritans to be socially “lower class” and went out of their way to avoid them. In fact, some people were so intent on avoiding the Samaritans that they would travel extra distances when taking trips just to avoid going through Samaria. So it seems that there was a lot of racial prejudice that existed between the Jews and Samaritans of that time.

This is an important detail because the Scripture quoted above tells us that the Samaritan man had compassion on the wounded traveler. In other words, he didn’t say to the injured man…

  • “Our people don’t get along so I can’t help you”
  • “Too bad- next time be more careful”
  • “I’d like to help you out but I’m in a hurry”
  • “It might be a trap, I’d better keep going”

On the contrary, he voluntarily stopped to help someone who was in need. This man saw the problem but unlike the others, he did something about it. The Samaritan didn’t stop to consider the injured traveler’s race or nationality- he simply saw the need and addressed it with his own time and resources.

First he went to the injured man and offered some first-aid by pouring on oil and wine. The alcohol content of the wine would help to act as an antiseptic and the oil would soothe the wound just as people do today by putting a little petroleum jelly on a burn.

Next, the Samaritan man bandaged his wounds and put the injured traveler on his own donkey. This of course, meant that the Good Samaritan had to walk the rest of the way. Then he took the injured man to an inn and paid the expenses out of his own pocket. The two silver coins would have been enough to take care of someone for at least a week or so which would give the wounded traveler a good chance to recover. And if that wasn’t enough, the Good Samaritan left with a promise to the innkeeper to make good on any additional expenses that might be necessary. So it’s clear that the Samaritan traveler was extremely generous to someone who really needed help.

Now remember that the purpose of this parable is to drive home a spiritual truth. Now that the story is done, Jesus is going to make the application…

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (verse 36)

Can you see the brilliance behind what Jesus is doing here? Jesus is not going to answer the question- He’s going to make the lawyer answer his own question! Check it out…

“The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise'” (verse 37).

So according to this parable, who might fit the definition of a neighbor? Well, a “neighbor” could include…

  • Someone in need
  • Someone who might be considered as an enemy
  • Someone who can’t help themselves

Now this doesn’t mean that people are automatically responsible for meeting each and every need that might present itself. After all, the Good Samaritan didn’t go ahead and establish a roadside emergency medical center for assault victims. What he did do was show compassion and concern for the need that was in front of him- then he did something about it.

The great thing about the parable of the Good Samaritan is that it is just as relevant today as it was in the first century. The simple truth of this timeless parable shines though in every language and culture and Jesus’ advice to us remains the same today as it did 2000 years ago: “Go and do likewise.”