David Rogers Ministries

The Good Samaritan
An examination of Luke 10:25-37

Luke 10:25-37 is part of the “travel narrative”, in the central section of Luke’s Gospel (Luke 9:51 – 19:44). In this section Jesus is depicted as moving steadily towards Jerusalem. Luke has structured the passages as an exchange between a Jewish Lawyer and Jesus. It starts with the lawyer attempting to test Jesus’ knowledge of the law but it finishes with Jesus presenting a challenge to the lawyer.

Analysis of Luke 10:25-37
The exchange between Jesus and the lawyer starts with the statement, “The lawyer stood up” (v25), giving the impression that the lawyer had been sitting listening to Jesus teach.
The lawyer asks, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (v25) There is a difference between life in this world and eternal life in God’s kingdom. The question is phrased as if the lawyer was asking for personal direction.

In reply Jesus asks, “What is written in the law?” How do you read it? (v26) He is asking this question with obvious reference to the Mosaic meaning of the law, given by God to the people (Exodus 20:1-17). Jesus by asking the Lawyer for his interpretation must have been aware that the person asking the question was a lawyer and the lawyer would have been obliged to answer. The lawyer answered (v27) “You shall 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 your neighbour as yourself.”  The lawyer was focusing on love of God and neighbour, in accordance with the decrees of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18. These texts were regarded as summing up the whole of the Jewish law by which the people of God conducted their lives, as all those present would have recognised. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 sets out the basic principles on the law of love, and ends with the instruction, “this shall be upon your heart.”

In response to the Lawyer’s answer Jesus says; “You have answered right, do this and you will live.” (10:28) Luke says “the Lawyer desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus “Who is my neighbour?”” (v29) By asking the question “Who is my neighbour?” the Lawyer was seeking perhaps to confirm that the Jewish understanding that his neighbour was his fellow Jew and was also the understanding of Jesus. He may also have been prompted to do this because he found himself in the position of being challenged instead of challenger. Whatever the reason why the lawyer asked the question, it led Jesus to explain the law with a story which had features that were likely to stir a number of reactions in his listeners.

In his introduction Jesus says, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, leaving him for dead.” (v30) The parable focuses the attention of those who were listening to Jesus, on the plight of the injured man and the response of the people who pass by. Luke is careful to record that the first character in Jesus’ story is referred to simply as “a man”. He has no name, his background, and character is unknown. Jesus, by not identifying the injured man, prevents associations being made and allows for the possibility of the reader seeing him as a symbolic figure.

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho provides the location for Jesus’ parable. The details Jesus gave are clearly important and the people listening would have been aware that the road from Jerusalem to Jericho went through wild country in which robbers operated.

The Priest
The first person to come down the road by chance is identified clearly as “a Priest.” Priests were important people in Israel’s religion and society. The Priests served in the Temple the position being hereditary. They came from one of the original twelve tribes, the tribe of Levi. Moses and Aaron, his brother, were of this tribe (Exodus 2). Aaron was the first Priest. His male descendants were Priests, (Exodus 28:1, 41; 29; Leviticus 1:5; Numbers. 1:47-54; 8; 18; and I Chronicles 24).

How could he ignore the man?
The reasons why the Priest ignored the man have been the subject of a great deal of debate over the centuries. Although Luke does not give the reason why he passed by on the other side, to try to come up with a reason would be pure speculation. The simple fact is that the story tells us he passed by a man in need of help when he ought to have stopped and helped.

The Levite
The next person who came down the road was a Levite. The Levites assisted the Priest. The Levite and Priest shared a common heritage; coming from the tribe of Levi. (Exodus 2) While Aaron’s direct descendants were Priests, the other males of the tribe of Levi were simply called the Levites, being the lesser clergy. (Exodus 28:1, 41; 29; Leviticus 1.5; Numbers. 1:47-54; 8; 18; and I Chronicles 24). The Levite’s position in the Temple was like the Priest, hereditary.

The closeness of the relationship between the Priest and the Levite means that the comments made in the earlier paragraphs regarding the Priest are equally applicable to the Levite.

The Samaritan
The third person to come down the road was the Samaritan, here again the reference is quite deliberate. There was animosity between the Jews and Samaritans, so when Jesus identifies him as the individual who came to assist the man, those listening would almost certainly be astonished and perhaps even disturbed (V33). The animosity between the Jews and Samaritans can be traced back to the schism that divided the nation after Solomon’s reign when the people split into the Kingdom of Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Jesus’ choice of the Samaritan as the person who helped the man would have caused surprise to some of those listening.

The Samaritan’s actions are carefully detailed by Luke. When he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds pouring on oil and wine; then set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The Samaritan’s actions were without prejudice, ignoring culture division to help a human being who was in need of help.  He used oil and wine to treat the injured man. (v34) Oil and wine we use for their healing qualities and they also have a symbolic meaning, in the Old Testament all the best of oil and wine being offered to God. (Numbers 18:12) The inclusion of oil and wine therefore indicates the Samaritan’s generosity toward the injured man and his willingness to make a personal sacrifice to help his neighbour. The Samaritan took the man to an inn, cared for him over night and paid for his care. (v35) This act provides another example of the Samaritan making a personal sacrifice and placing himself in danger to help another person.

Jesus, having told the story, makes his point by first asking the lawyer “which of these three proved to be the neighbour?” (v36) This is a different question to that asked by the lawyer, “who is my neighbour?” (v29) The lawyer could not bring himself to acknowledge it was the Samaritan, but indirectly identifies him as “the one who showed mercy.” (v37) If the Lawyer had acknowledged that it was the Samaritan who fulfilled the Law, he too would have fulfilled the Law, but by not fully acknowledging the Samaritan he was not putting into practice the very law on love of neighbour which he recited in verse 27. Instead he was in a way behaving like the Priest and the Levite in the parable.

In reply Jesus’ command, “Go and do likewise” is not just a radical shift to the Jews’ understanding it is a revolutionary instruction with implications far wider in its application than the Jewish community. He was in fact confirming that there are no boundaries to God’s love and there should be none when it comes to love of neighbour.

Caring for the victims and helping people in trouble is what the Samaritan’s action demonstrated. The teaching in the context of the Good Samaritan was radical in a world governed by man made rules and prejudice. The Samaritan’s actions are those of Jesus and demonstrate how he would have responded to the injured man. Luke’s description of the action of the Samaritan, he saw him, had compassion, went to him, bound his wounds and took care of him throughout, these are all actions associated with God’s care for his people, shown through Jesus. The passage started with Jesus declaring the essence of the Law and the importance of love of neighbour. By the end of the text it is clear that to love our neighbour, who can be any person in need, is not easy to implement because of man made prejudice and discrimination.


Copyright David William Rogers 2015