The Parable of the Good Samaritan
Luke 10:25-37 (focal: vv36-37)
One of the most well-known of all the parables is the parable of the good Samaritan. Even many people who do not profess Christianity have heard of it and think of it as a heartwarming story. They are impressed with the caring outsider, who surpassed the ‘insiders’ in tangible love. Gerald Bilkes in his helpful book on the parables, Glory Veiled and Unveiled, concludes:
“Some who hold to a social gospel point to this parable as a summary of what they believe. ‘It’s all about making this world a better place,’ they say. Many believe the moral of the story is simply that we should love others without prejudice and without limit. But when we look at the parable carefully, we see that Christ is describing for us a true heart of mercy.”
One day, as Christ was traveling toward Jerusalem to accomplish the purpose for which he had come to this earth, a lawyer (law-expert) emerged from the crowd gathered around him (v25). During this time, lawyers were people who were educated in the law of Moses. They were trained in schools of the rabbis to read and interpret the law of God and apply it to life and society. This lawyer would have been very used to both asking and answering questions. “Today, however,” notes Bilkes, “he would ask a question of the one of whom the whole roll of the law spoke. And not only that, he would also receive an answer from the one who had the law written upon his heart.” He asked Christ this question: ‘Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ (v25).
Along with others, Bilkes notes that there is something commendable in the lawyer’s question. He clearly realized that this earthly life is not an eternal one. Many today give no thought to anything beyond this life. They are content to live their earthly lives, acquiring all there is to ‘inherit’ now. By contrast, the lawyer’s question assumes that this life is not all there is. There is such a thing as eternal life.
This lawyer also seemed to realize that eternal life does not simply fall into everyone’s lap. Again, many imagine this to be the case. They assume that, with the rare exception, everyone is heading to heaven. They never doubt whether they will have life after death. But this lawyer does not presume like that. Again, Bilkes is helpful here as he points out that this law-expert’s “study of the law of Moses has taught him at least two things: there is such a thing as eternal life, and not everyone has it – or a right to it.”
When we take a closer look at this lawyer’s question, however, we see that there is also something ‘not commendable about it.’ He asked, ‘What shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ (v25, emphasis added). He was after an inheritance, and he wanted to know what he needed to do to obtain it. “You could say he was ready to climb the ladder of actions, at the top of which he saw an inheritance to be earned. He doesn’t even ask, ‘What must I do?’ He says, ‘What shall I do?’ He was poised, ready and willing to make the climb.”
Many people are like this lawyer. Bilkes writes:
“They are motivated to go after what they desire and may even have an exemplary self-discipline that pushes them along. Isn’t it true, however, that we think of success as going upward? But someone has said, ‘Many think of this world as a ladder to climb. And so it is. It’s a ladder to climb down.’ But this did not seem to enter into the lawyer’s mind at all. He aspired to ascend, not descend. By nature this is what we all desire.”
Luke tells us two additional things about this lawyer and his motives: he wanted to put Christ to the test (v25), all the while justifying himself (v29). In other words, he wished to scrutinize Christ’s words, all the while shielding himself from any scrutiny. Isn’t that a picture of our natural tendency as well, especially as religious people? Instead of justifying God and putting ourselves to the test, we are prone to do the exact opposite. We have so much respect for ourselves as law-abiding people.
This becomes especially clear with the lawyer’s second question to Jesus: ‘Who is my neighbor?’ (v29). He asked this question in a self-justifying way, Luke says (v29). He wanted, as it were, to draw a line around those he must love, not holding himself responsible beyond that. We get the idea that the fewer people he needed to consider neighbors, the better.
As the searcher of people’s hearts, Christ showed what is fundamentally wrong in this lawyer’s religion. He knew nothing of gospel mercy. Now, Christ could have said this bluntly to the man. But instead, Christ tells the parable of the good Samaritan to make the lawyer see what was missing and to show us this truth as well. How does Christ accomplish this through this parable?
Join us this coming Lord’s Day as we look at the parable of the good Samaritan. You may be surprised by what you learn from Christ’s story. I hope to see you this Sunday.
In Christ’s love,