Weekly Bible Reading Reflection (Week 8): The Good Samaritan

Today our Bible reading plan has us in Luke chapter ten. As with most chapters in the book of Luke, this chapter is long, not as long as chapter one, but still long. Sometimes I actually wish I could talk to the man who divided the New Testament into chapters and verses so I could ask him why on earth he made the chapters in this particular book so long, but since that will never happen I suppose it’s pointless to hope for such things. Since this chapter is so long, I’m going to focus on one particular part of the chapter: The Parable of the Good Samaritan.


Most of us, especially if we grew up in church, have heard this parable all our lives. The application usually goes something like this: “The mean old lawyer didn’t want to love his neighbor as himself, neither did the priest or the Levite. Don’t be like them, be like the Good Samaritan.” Now, not all of that is completely wrong,[1] but I do think that it misses some key facets of the story. First, it’s not that the lawyer didn’t want to love his neighbor. It’s not that he was unwilling to do what the man in the story did. He sees Jesus’ point right away, and he never argues when Jesus tells him to “go and do likewise.”


This man’s problem is found in verse 25, at the very beginning of the account. He asks Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” This man is seeking to earn his salvation before God by what he does. And the same error comes back up in verse 29, “But he, desiring to justify himself…” When he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” he’s not trying to weasel his way out of what he should do, he genuinely wants to know the rules…so that he can keep them…so that he can earn his own righteousness.


Second, the priest and the Levite didn’t think they were too “good” for the man who fell among robbers. It wasn’t a matter of elitism, or, as the Veggie Tales version of this story put it, being too “busy.” Both the priest and the Levite had a legitimate concern that kept them from helping the man lying on the side of the road that day: they didn’t know if he was dead or alive. Jesus says as much when he describes the man as “half dead.” If the priest or the Levite came into contact with a dead body, they would become ceremonially unclean. If they were ceremonially unclean, they couldn’t serve in the temple. It’s not that they were unwilling to help. They just didn’t know if they could help, and they didn’t want to risk touching a dead body if there was nothing they could do anyway.


Yet the Samaritan was willing to become unclean in order to help the man as good as dead. You might even say that the Samaritan was willing to “become a curse” in order to save him. This Samaritan was despised and rejected. In fact, the man lying on the side of the road probably hated him, but the Samaritan was moved with compassion for the man. He carried him to safety. He paid for his care. He doctored his wounds. This wasn’t a loan. The Samaritan wanted nothing in return. It was simply a free gift given to someone who didn’t deserve it.


Now who does that sound like? If you said, “The person telling the story,” you’re correct. You see, the lawyer probably thought that he needed to be the Samaritan. That’s how most people interpret the story. “Be the Samaritan, not the priest or the Levite.” Yet we miss the obvious: we’re the man lying on the side of the road half dead. We’re the man who knew he shouldn’t have gone that way but went anyway, and as a result of his own decision was left incapable of saving himself. We’re the ones who were helpless, “dead,” Scripture says, “in trespasses and sins.” Christ is the Samaritan. We’re just the helpless beneficiaries of his grace.


And knowing that we have received so great a grace as this, we can seek to “go and do likewise.” But we don’t do this, as the lawyer said, “to inherit eternal life.” That’s a gift of God’s grace alone. We go and do likewise because we know the immensity of the great gift given to us in Christ. We go and do likewise because we have the Spirit of him who loved us and gave himself for us. We go and do likewise because the Father has called us his children, and that’s what his children do. They love their neighbor.


So, Christians, go and do likewise. Go and love your neighbors with the love that you have been given in Christ. Bear witness to this great love with which he has loved us in how you treat those around you. In this way, you show forth the beauty of the gospel to those around you, and so prove to be his disciples (John 15:8). Don’t be like the lawyer, thinking that you earn God’s favor by what you do. But neither should we think that we can say we follow Christ without seeking to walk as he walked. You were once dead in trespasses and sins, without hope apart from the compassion of Christ for you. So go and show compassion to others in his name.[2]

[1] Don’t you just love it when pastors give statements with multiple qualifiers like that?

[2] I must give credit to a Lutheran pastor for much of what I said here. I believe the man’s name was Bill Cwirla, and his sermon on The Good Samaritan has stuck with me ever since I first heard it years ago.