This morning we come in our study of the Gospel of Luke to what is commonly called the Parable of the Good Samaritan. This good Samaritan is called good because he showed mercy and compassion to a man in need. It is because of this parable we have the phrase “Good Samaritan” which we use to refer to anyone who does a selfless, merciful act for someone in need. It is widely believed that Jesus told this parable to remind us to be kind to those around us. While this is an important aspect of the parable, we will discover that the main focus is to expose the lawyer’s lack of love for his neighbor and God and to show that he needed God’s love in order to inherit eternal life.
How do I inherit Eternal Life?
In verse 25 we read that a lawyer, teacher of the Law, “stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’” (25) While the question is asked to try to put Jesus to the test is it nevertheless a very good question. Jesus responds to the teacher of the Law by asking, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” (26)
Notice that Jesus immediately takes the lawyer to the Scriptures and thus demonstrates the priority and authority of the Scripture. The lawyer, being a good lawyer, gives the correct answer from Deuteronomy 6:5 “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 Levititcus19:18 “and your neighbor as yourself”(27). Jesus commends the lawyer for having the correct answer, and also adds, “Do this, and you will live” (28). Jesus tells the lawyer that only those who love in this way shall inherit eternal life.
Who is my neighbor?
We read that the lawyer “desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (29) The lawyer wanted to know who qualifies as his neighbor. In other words, who meets the criteria of being worthy of his love. He had hoped to justify himself because his definition of a neighbor only included pious Jews like himself. Jesus, knowing this, replies with the parable of the Good Samaritan. He told this parable to show that the proper question is not “Who meets the criteria of being worthy of my love?” (29); but rather “Who needs my love and compassion?”
A man was beaten by robbers and left half dead on the road. A priest, one who ministers in the temple, saw the man and “passed by on the other side” (31). A Levite, an assistant to priests, did likewise. Finally, a Samaritan “had compassion” (33) on the man and tended to his wounds. The mention of a Samaritan was intentional because Jews hated Samaritans. In fact, one of the worst insults a Jew could use was to call someone a Samaritan. Jesus was insulted in John 8:48: “The Jews answered him, ‘Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?’” The lawyer was no friend of Samaritans. Jesus then asked a probing question: “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (36) The lawyer reluctantly replied, “The one who showed him mercy” (37). The lawyer’s attempt to justify himself failed because he knew that it was the Samaritan who loved his neighbor as himself. Jesus says to the teacher of the Law, “You go, and do likewise” (37).
What must a person do to inherit eternal life? He must love God above all else and love his neighbor as much as he loves himself. His neighbor is anyone who is in need regardless of whether or not he likes them. How can one love like this?
It is important to note that Jesus was not telling the lawyer that he needs to start loving better and then he can earn God’s grace through his love. Rather, Jesus is exposing the man’s lack of love and seeking to drive him to repentance and confession. Jesus knows that only those who love God shall inherit eternal life and one cannot love God until they receive God’s love through Jesus. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us”; therefore our love for God is rooted in God’s love for us. God’s love for us is demonstrated through the cross of Jesus Christ. While we were dead in our sins “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us…made us alive together with Christ” (Eph 2:4-5).
Jesus exposed the lawyer’s lack of love for others and thus exposed his lack of love for God. The Samaritan proved to be a neighbor while the priest and Levite did not. A person who does not love others does not love God. A person who holds a grudge demonstrates a lack of understanding of the forgiveness offered through Christ. A person who refuses to forgive demonstrates a lack of understanding the freedom forgiveness brings.
A person who refuses to love someone based on race, nationality, or ethnicity fails to recognize that all humans are created in the image of God. God abhors racism because it is in direct contradiction with the Great Commission to “go…and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19).
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus used a Samaritan as an example of loving your neighbor because he wanted to expose the lawyer’s lack of love. By exposing his lack of love for his neighbor, he exposes his lack of love for God. Jesus graciously does this to show the lawyer that he needed God’s love in order to inherit eternal life.
Let us examine our love for others. If we have a selfish love then we do not have God’s love. God’s love is not selfish because God “shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). It is important to remember that the type of love described in our passage is only possible through Jesus Christ.
Questions for Reflection
- Do you love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind?
- Do you love your neighbor as yourself?
- Do you strive to prove to be a neighbor to all that are in need?