After the great Galilean ministry, Jesus began to travel outside the province. His journeyings to preach the Gospel took Him to the north to Caesarea Philippi (Matt. 16:13), and then back to Galilee again. Later He went south to Judea and Jerusalem (John 7 and 8). This period is generally called the later Judean ministry by commentators. At some point during this Judean period, Jesus gave the parable of the good Samaritan. If you have studied a little of the history of Israel, you will recall that the northern 10 tribes of the house of Israel were taken captive by the Assyrians in the years 721 to 718 B.C. The bulk of the house of Judah (with parts of Benjamin and Levi) did not go into captivity until the Babylonians conquered them in the year 585 B.C. After the northern house of Israel had been carried away, the Assyrians replaced them with gentile peoples from five cities of the area of Babylon, "And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof" (II Kings 17:24). These gentile peoples still populated Samaria in Jesus' day. They were called Samaritans. They adopted many of the religious customs of the Jews and even claimed to be descended from Joseph — when it was expedient to do so (see Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 11:8:6). A spirit of antagonism developed between Jews and Samaritans. This spirit is reflected in John's account of Jesus' discussion with the Samaritan woman whom He met at Jacob's well. She said to Jesus: "How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans" (John 4:9). Obviously there was little or no social contact between the two groups. With this understanding, we may now look at the parable of the good Samaritan. The subject in question here is, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 10:25). The question had been asked by a lawyer — a man expert in Mosaic law. But the lawyer had no practical interest in the question. To him it was a theoretical test question — he was, in a sense, baiting Jesus. He was testing His theology.
Law divided into two parts
Jesus knew the man was familiar with the Scriptures, so He responded by asking the lawyer a common rabbinic question: "What is written in the law? how readest thou?" (verse 26). The lawyer then paraphrased from the Torah or Pentateuch — the first five books of the Bible, commonly called the Law. He 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." This was somewhat loosely quoted from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. This simple statement summed up the entire Law, which was divided into two parts, 1) love toward God and 2) love of neighbor. Jesus confirmed that the lawyer had indeed answered correctly. But the man wanted to vindicate his own stand, which obviously did not square with the latter aspect of the commandment. He tried to imply that the answer was not as simple as Jesus had indicated. He then presented a technicality. "But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?" (verse 29). This was the crux of the whole situation. To the religious Jew of that day, this was a crucial technicality. What if one had to deal with a gentile, a Samaritan, a publican or a sinner? There were many classes of people with whom devout Jews would have no dealings. But Jesus trapped the lawyer at his own game. He then launched into the now-famous parable of the good Samaritan.
The good Samaritan
Christ described the story of a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. Possibly he had sold some goods there and was now returning home with the money. The journey to Jericho was a lonely, dangerous 21 miles of desert road. Bandits frequented the route hoping to rob those traveling alone. The man was attacked by thieves, who even took his clothing. Left badly beaten by the side of the road, the man was half dead and urgently in need of help (verse 30). By coincidence a Jewish priest came by where the man lay. He would have been familiar with the law quoted earlier, but perhaps he justified himself with the same technical question, "Who is my neighbor?" This is what might be called the legalistic approach to avoiding the demands of the higher law of love. Rather than stopping to help the wounded man, the priest merely looked and then quickly passed by on the other side. He didn't want to get involved. Shortly after, a Levite came by, stopped, looked at the suffering robbery victim and also passed by on the other side. Neither of these Jewish religious leaders wanted to take the time and effort to assist the injured man. But then a gentile Samaritan came along. When he saw the injured traveler he was immediately moved with compassion for the man. His reaction was spontaneous. He rendered assistance by disinfecting the man's wounds with wine, keeping them moist with olive oil and binding them up with bandages. The Samaritan then put the man on his own beast and took him to an inn for much-needed rest and recuperation. The particular type of inn being referred to here did not charge for lodging, only for food and sometimes entertainment. The Samaritan gave the host enough money (two pence, about two day's labor, compare Matt. 20:2) to pay for the victim's food until he himself returned. He left strict instructions that the injured man was to be properly cared for in the meantime. Should the amount exceed what the Samaritan had given the innkeeper, he promised to make up the difference upon his return. This was a shining example of compassion on a fellow human being. The Samaritan certainly went above and beyond in caring for the man. He did more than would normally be expected. With this indicting example burning in the mind of the lawyer, Jesus then asked the penetrating question, "Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?" (verse 36). What could the lawyer say? The priest and the Levite had rendered no assistance whatsoever. Only the Samaritan had shown any concern, and he had gone overboard to help the man. But even at that the lawyer still didn't want to say the word Samaritan! He merely replied, "He that shewed mercy on him" (verse 37). The lawyer was now completely cornered. He had no comeback, no legal technicality upon which to fall back. And while he was in that position, Jesus administered the coup de grace, "Go, and do thou likewise" (verse 37).
What this parable should mean to you
This parable is not merely a quaint and interesting story of a first century put-down. It conveys one of the most important lessons of Christianity. It is axiomatic to real Christianity that the true Christian must be compassionate and impartial in rendering assistance when it is needed. Paul said, "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith" (Gal. 6:10). And, "See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men" (I Thess. 5:15). God is no respecter of persons. He is not partial to one race or the other when it comes to showing compassion, hearing prayers and rendering help. God inspired Paul to write, "There is neither Jew [typical Israelite] nor Greek [typical gentile], there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). With God there is no racial prejudice, no status or social caste system, no male chauvinism. All people of all races, sexes and social levels may be Christians. And it is the duty of all Christians to help all people who need help, whenever they have the opportunity to do so. The meaning of the parable of the good Samaritan may be summed up by simply quoting a single proverb, "Withhold not good from them to whom it is due [your neighbor], when it is in the power of thine hand to do it" (Prov. 3:27). In short, a true Christian gets involved!