This parable follows a conversation Jesus had with a teacher of the Law of Moses, or ‘lawyer’. They spoke together about eternal life, and the Lord directed him to the law. It must be remembered that ‘the law is spiritual’ (Rom. 7:14) and therefore in no way takes us away from eternal life. Instead it exposes our sin and ultimately leads us to see our need of Christ (Gal. 3:24).
Sometimes the words of verse 27 (from Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18) can trip off the tongue; yet do we really love God and our neighbour to the extent Christ intended? The lawyer desired to ‘justify himself’ (v. 29)—that is, he wanted to appear righteous.
The parable which follows is found only in Luke, yet is so familiar to us today that something of its impact can be lost. Jesus wanted people to identify with the wounded man, and so described a man who almost certainly was a Jew, undertaking a journey familiar to his hearers. It was a dangerous and solitary path, and the loneliness of this route can still be experienced by the modern traveler.
The man was set upon by thieves who left him in a terrible state, half-dead on the ground. Then two ‘religious’ Jews walked past. Here we feel the timeless quality of this parable, since people in all ages have walked past the needy lying in the road. Fear, embarrassment, helplessness all conspire to make people pass by. No doubt the priest and the Levite were in a hurry to do God’s work, yet they neglected the heart of the law—love for God and for one’s neighbour!
The Lord then, with great skill, cast a Samaritan in the role of heroic stranger. The Jews were no friends with the Samaritans, and regarded them almost on a level with demons (John 8:48). For a Samaritan to befriend the wounded man would have seemed unthinkable. Yet Christ’s kingdom would ultimately cross all boundaries of race, culture and class. The Samaritan, though apparently alone and unseen by others, showed great kindness. Too often, we are kind to others because we expect recognition and praise for it. The Samaritan could so easily have walked past, and let the man die. No one would have known, and therefore no one would have censured him. But he could not ignore the need.
He first ‘had compassion’ then bandaged the man’s wounds, pouring in oil and wine; the oil to soothe and heal and the wine to cleanse the wound. Next he put the man on his own animal and took him to an inn to care for him. The man paid money (equivalent to two days’ wages) to the innkeeper, and offered to pay as much as necessary for the man to recover fully.
The Samaritan had been the true neighbour. The answer to our Lord’s question was clear (v. 36) and his intention for his listeners was also unmistakeable: ‘Go and do likewise’.