Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
(Luke 10:25-37 Teaching Outline)
by Keith Throop
Introduction: Jeff Miller, pastor at Trinity Bible Church in Richardson, Texas, asks some penetrating questions regarding the application of this parable:Do you look upon people as an inconvenience or an opportunity to serve? In your mind, are people obstacles to fulfilling your God-given purpose, or do people serve a central roll in God’s purpose for your life? Depends on how your day is going, right? In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus offers penetrating insights into what it means to be someone’s neighbor. He provides His own commentary on the second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He describes two religious individuals who choose to ignore the needs of people on their way to accomplish their tasks. He then describes one individual who sets aside his infinitely-less significant tasks in order to serve another person and so fulfill this second greatest commandment. This week, which description will best fit you? (From an abstract of an online sermon entitled, What’s Your Hurry?)I hope you will keep these questions in mind as we examine the Parable of the Good Samaritan today. But in order to properly understand what Jesus intends to say in this parable, we need to understand it in its context, because this parable is actually part of an exchange between Jesus and a lawyer who was questioning Him. In the exchange between them, we will see two rounds of questions and answers, with the parable used by Jesus to answer one question and to ask another.I. The First Question (vss. 25-28)Here we will examine both the question and the answer given by Jesus, and we will see that Jesus’ answer includes a counter-question.1. The QuestionThe question is found in verse 25.Here we have an account of an expert in the law seeking to test Jesus with a question. So his motives are immediately in question, aren’t they? He is not genuinely seeking Jesus’ answer so that he can know what to believe. Rather he is challenging Jesus. But the question he asks – “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” – is an important one. In fact, it is one of the most important questions that anyone can ask! It has to be kept in mind, however, that it is a religious man, one who is an expert in the law and thus would be assumed to know better, who is asking the question here. And this is crucial in understanding why Jesus answers the question the way He does.2. The AnswerThe answer is found in verses 26-28.KJV Luke 10:26 "He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?"Since this man was known to be an expert in the law, he ought to have been able to answer his own question. So Jesus turns the tables and asks him about his own understanding of the law on the matter. And, as the next verse indicates, the lawyer readily answers Jesus’ counter-question.KJV Luke 10:27 "And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.”Here the lawyer cites a pair of key Old Testament texts which were often cited together as a summary of the Law:KJV Deuteronomy 6:5 "And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might." [Note: The addition of the phrase “and with all your mind” in the lawyer’s citation was apparently in order to stress the idea that the Hebrew term lēbāb– heart – included an emphasis on the mind, thus clarifying the meaning of the command and avoiding misunderstanding. That Jesus approved of this is clear from His own citation of the passage on another occasion – see Matt. 22:37 and Mark 12:30.]KJV Leviticus 19:17-18 "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. 18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.We see Jesus’ response to this citation of the Old Testament in the next verse.KJV Luke 10:28 "And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live."Jesus affirms that the lawyer has correctly understood the importance of these Old Testament commands. But when He goes on to say, “do this and you will live,” He alludes to yet another text with which the lawyer would have been familiar:KJV Leviticus 18:5 "Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the LORD." [Emphasis mine.]Now, it is important to remember the covenantal relationship to God that should have been assumed here, along with the Old Testament stress on the need for God’s mercy and for a substitutionary sacrifice in order to be forgiven. But the lawyer has not mentioned such concepts. He instead appeared to be operating on the assumption that works could somehow earn salvation. He correctly cited the demands of the law, as Jesus observes, but he did not think through what he was saying. It is certainly true that – if someone is going to seek salvation through law keeping – that he must do so perfectly, but it is also certainly true that no one can do so. I think Bob Deffinbaugh gets this right when he states:It is at this point that our expert in the law becomes downright uneasy. Here is where beads of sweat must have started to form on his brow. Jesus has not yet told this man anything new. He simply asks the man how he reads the law, and the man reads the law exactly as Jesus does. Then Jesus says, “All right, you know what the law says; do it.” This is where it gets uncomfortable for us too, isn’t it? The law commands us to do what we cannot and persistently do not do. If you want to be saved by your works, by law keeping, then you must be saved by keeping the whole law; not most of the time, but all of the time; not in most of its commands, but in all of its commands. This is when beads of sweat should begin to form on all of our brows as well.It is very important that we understand this: Jesus is not teaching works as a means of salvation here; He is actually teaching that doing good works (law keeping) cannot save anyone, because no one can keep the law perfectly. This man asks the question, “How can I be saved?” Jesus answers, “You tell Me, according to the law.” He responds, “One can be saved by perfectly and persistently obeying the whole law, with one’s whole heart, soul, mind and strength.” The lawyer is now on the spot. The system he is seeking to defend is a system that cannot save anyone. In seeking to condemn Jesus, the lawyer has just condemned himself and the whole world.Jesus’ response, then, is intended to drive home to the lawyer the implications of what he has just said. If he is going to seek life through law keeping, then he is going to have to perfectly love God with all his heart and mind and soul and strength, and he is going to have to perfectly love his neighbor as himself. But there is no way he could ever do this! And this should have led him to seek God’s grace. Indeed, this is one of the primary purposes of the law, which Jesus knew full well. You see, one of the main purposes of the law is to help us see our sin and thus our need for salvation by God’s grace. For example, as the Apostle Paul says:KJV Romans 3:20 "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin."KJV Galatians 3:21-25 "Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. 22 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. 24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster."Yet, instead of admitting just how sinful he was and how much he was in need of God’s mercy, the lawyer went on to ask a second question, one designed to evade the very implications Jesus wanted him to see.II. The Second Question (vss. 29-37)Again we will examine both the question and the answer. And again we will see that Jesus’ answer includes a counter-question.1. The QuestionThe question is found in verse 29.KJV Luke 10:29 "But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?"Notice the motive given for asking this question: the lawyer sought to justify himself rather than admit his failure! He obviously sensed his own inadequacy to keep the law, but instead of admitting his failure to live up to what the law really requires, he tried to make excuses for himself. Sound familiar? Isn’t this a tendency we all have aside from God’s grace in our lives and the convicting work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts?Anyway, the manner in which the lawyer sought to justify himself was to ask a second question designed to limit the application of the command to love one’s neighbor and thus to make it easier to fulfill. But Jesus turns the tables on this expert in the law with his answer.2. The AnswerWe will see that Jesus’ answer is given in the form of a parable that is followed by a counter-question.The ParableThe parable is found in verses 30-35:KJV Luke 10:30-35 "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."The key to getting why Jesus responded with this parable is to understand the Old Testament context of the passage from which the lawyer cited the command to love one’s neighbor:KJV Leviticus 19:33-34 And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. 34 But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God."The lawyer should certainly have known this command to love the stranger every bit as well as he knew the command to love one’s neighbor (Leviticus 19:17-18). After all, it occurs just a handful of verses later in the same passage! But he didn’t want to acknowledge this command because he didn’t really want to follow it.
But Jesus powerfully drives home this point in the parable by making a stranger the hero of the story. It is the Samaritan who actually obeys the very command that the priest and the Levite fail to obey, for it is the Samaritan who, himself a stranger, loves the stranger as himself! And in doing so, he treated the stranger like a neighbor, which was the point of the Levitical command in the first place. But this is something that was forgotten by the priest and the Levite in the story.
The priest and the Levite both refused to take a closer look to see if the man could be helped. Instead they just passed by on the other side of the road! But the Samaritan not only took a closer look, he also made use of his own resources, money, and time to actually help the man. He didn’t stop to ask himself, as the lawyer had done, “Who really is my neighbor?,” thinking that perhaps he could get out of helping the man on some kind of legalistic technicality that would allow him to be as selfish as he liked and still think of himself as a law keeper! Indeed, Jesus obviously intends the Samaritan’s example as a rebuke to the lawyer in this regard.Application: The application to us is obvious, isn’t it? We must be willing to sacrifice our time and resources in order to truly love our neighbor. Indeed, our neighbor must be seen to be more important to us than our time and money, or we have not yet begun to really love him. In his guide to the parables, Klyne Snodgrass has commented on the various ways in which this particular parable has been applied:This parable has been applied to virtually every aspect of ethics. If compassion in the issue, this parable is applied most notably with regard to medical services and relief of hunger. Allen Verhey uses the parable as the means to discuss the scarcity of medical resources. Richard Hays applies it to abortion in relation to both mother and fetus: “Jesus, by answering the lawyer’s question with this parable, rejects casuistic attempts to circumscribe our moral concern by defining the other as belonging to a category outside the scope of our moral obligation.” In a world torn by war and genocide this parable will not allow us to be passive. A journalist commenting on the genocide in Darfur asked, “Where is the piety in reading the Bible and averting our eyes from genocide?” This parable is annoying, for it will not let us avert our eyes. (Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, p. 360)I wonder how many of us live our daily lives averting our eyes from the needs of others. I wonder how many of us seek to rationalize away our responsibility to love others, perhaps even citing the Bible out of context in order to do so! We need to realize that Jesus won’t allow such rationalizing at all! This is why He asks the following question.The Counter-QuestionThe counter-question is found in verse 36.KJV Luke 10:36 "Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?"Notice the way in which Jesus has turned the tables on the lawyer. Instead of focusing on the issue the lawyer wanted to focus on – who we may or may not regard as a neighbor – Jesus instead focuses on how each one of us is supposed to be a good neighbor to all! This was, after all, the real point of the commandments in Leviticus 19. This was something that the priest and Levite in the story – as well as the lawyer standing outside the story – should have known and lived every day. But they refused to obey the law in this regard. It is this very failure that Jesus seeks to help the lawyer understand. He is trying to help the man see that he has not kept the law because he has not obeyed it fully. And the lawyer’s response to Jesus in the following verse shows that he at least partially got the point of the story.KJV Luke 10:37 "And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise."Notice that this lawyer – like the typical Jew who hated the Samaritans and refused to acknowledge them as among their neighbors who were to be loved – couldn’t even bring himself to say, “It was the Samaritan who was the good neighbor to the man who fell among thieves.” Instead, he says simply that it was “he who showed mercy on him.”Here the real issue finally comes into the foreground, namely the need for mercy. When Jesus tells the lawyer to go and do likewise, He is telling him to be a merciful person, one who is merciful to all, allowing no class or race distinctions to limit the demonstration of his love and mercy toward others. But this also means that the lawyer has to understand what true mercy is, which would involve his taking time to learn about the mercy of God.In other words, I think Jesus has given this expert in the law a pretty important homework assignment! He has basically said, go and learn about mercy!Conclusion: I think this is a good homework assignment for all of us, isn’t it? To go and learn about mercy. But we must recognize that we cannot learn about mercy toward others without first learning that we ourselves need mercy because we are sinners who cannot possibly live up to God’s holy standard of righteousness. None of us can make ourselves acceptable to God. We all need His mercy. And we will never love others in a merciful way unless and until we have first received God’s mercy ourselves. The Apostle Paul later emphasized the same principle when he said, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32). We can love others and show them grace only when we ourselves have first experienced God’s grace through Jesus Christ. This begins by realizing our need for His grace, and this is the real lesson of the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
Keith Throop is the primary teaching elder of Immanuel Baptist Church in Bloomington, Illinois, where he has been since 1993. He received his B.A. in Biblical Studies from Columbia Bible College (now Columbia International University) in Columbia, South Carolina. And also received his M.Div. from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri.