Even if you have never read the Bible I would guess that you have at least heard about the Parable of the Good Samaritan (read Luke 10:30-37). It is one of Jesus’ most famous and beloved stories. In it He tells about a man who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho when all of a sudden he is beaten and left for dead. Meanwhile, two very religious men pass by and don’t pay any attention to the man. He would have died had it not been for the “Good Samaritan.” The Good Samaritan treats his wounds, picks him up, and takes him to a local inn so he can recover. The Samaritan is heroic and the prototype of everything moral. Entire organizations have been started, speeches given, and good deeds carried out all because of this parable. It is a wonderful story, but I would guess most people miss Jesus’ point.
Let’s back up.
In order to understand what Jesus is saying we must put this story in context. Luke says a lawyer (Bible expert) stood up and asked Jesus how he could attain eternal life?” (V.25), to which Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The man’s answer was right on—love God and love your neighbor as yourself (V.27). So Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live” (V.28). Now here comes the defining moment in the story. “But [the lawyer], desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (V.29)
Here is what is going on. The lawyer doesn’t really want to know truth. Luke clearly tells us this man was testing Jesus (V.25); something the religious leaders did all the time. He was seeing how Jesus would respond. This is why when asked how to be saved Jesus tells him to obey the law. Jesus knows this lawyer’s motives, and He knows the law doesn’t save. It can’t save anyone, but the lawyer doesn’t know that. The lawyer believes he is righteous because of his obedience to the law. So, desiring to justify himself, the lawyer asks “who is my neighbor.” This is when Jesus tells him the story of the Good Samaritan.
Why does Jesus tell the story at this time? Is it so the man can love his neighbor, obey the law, and be saved? I don’t think so. Remember, the law cannot save (Gal. 2:16). The lawyer is self-righteous. He believes he has obeyed the law; which means he believes he has loved God and loved his neighbor as he should. This man has no clue how far he has fallen short of God’s standards and how desperately he needs mercy. So before Jesus can get this man to a point where he knows he needs God’s forgiveness He must first show him how far he has missed God’s standards.
Now enter the parable.
First we have two religious men. These are men the lawyer identifies with since he himself is a religious leader. He would expect that the priest and Levite would help the man in need. But they selfishly pass by. In comes the Samaritan. Samaritans were hated by the Jews, but he’s the one who helps. He has compassion on the dying man. He bound up his wounds, put him on his animal, took him to an inn, and paid large amounts of his own money to care for this man. And he was willing to pay more if needed. When Jesus is done with the story He asks, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” [The lawyer] said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise” (V.36-37).
For the lawyer to “do likewise” is an impossible task. Jesus is not telling this man how he can be a better neighbor so he can obey the law and be saved. No one can obey the law and be saved (Rom. 3:19-20). He is telling him that this story represents what it looks like to love your neighbor as yourself, and the lawyer has never done that; not even one day in his whole life. He’s a lawbreaker and needs forgiveness.
In fact, that’s the point for us too. No one (besides Jesus) has ever showed such sacrificial, compassionate, love towards another individual like the Good Samaritan (who doesn’t exist by the way). Sure, maybe you know someone who has done things like this before, but you don’t know anyone who lives this way all the time. That’s what the law of God requires. It requires that we perfectly love God and other people every day of our lives (Jas. 2:10), and there is no way we can do that. All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Rom.3:23).
What’s the point of “The Parable of Good Samaritan”? Is it to teach others how to be good people? No. The point is that no one can meet the standards that God demands of His creation. We all need mercy. We all need forgiveness.
Friends, this is why Christ came. He came to die for sinners, like this lawyer, and like you, because we cannot obey the Law of God. None of us can love God and other people like the Lord demands. But Jesus did. He loved the Lord His God, and He showed compassion to His neighbors every single day of His life. And then He died on the cross, and rose again, so that whoever trusts in Him will be counted righteous before God. Now we can be shown mercy, reconciled to God, and forgiven of our sins. Then, and then only, can we even attempt to love our neighbors as ourselves. And when we fail (because we will) we have Christ who is willing and able to give grace in our time of need.