Lessons learned from the Parable of the Good Samaritan

The parable of the good Samaritan is one of the most often told, preached, and loved parables. It is a parable that has some difficulties of application in our “modern” world because so many people have a fear of communicable diseases, some of the predatory people who unfortunately roam our streets, and other risks. However, if you really think about it, those type of people roamed the streets and byways of the ancient Middle East as well and they had their risks and dangers, so the parable really does apply well today despite the natural caution people have.

Luke 10:25-37
25  On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26  “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27  He answered, “‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28  “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29  But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30  In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.
31  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.
32  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
33  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
34  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.
35  The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36  “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37  The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

As was the custom of the day, Jesus did not answer the question in verse 29 except with a story and a question of His own. Rather than discuss the details of the parable, let’s just jump right to the points made by Jesus and the lessons to be learned.

Lessons for the church and for believers

There are a lifetime of lessons in this parable for the believer and for the church.

The first lesson, the Samaritan’s willingness to spend money on a stranger

It is most often easier to be generous with people you know than with complete strangers. There are billions of hurting people with needs around the world and no one has enough to help them all, so most people do most of their giving towards known charities and not-for-profits. But in this story the Samaritan gave generously to help a total stranger and for that he is commended by Jesus as the only one of the three men passing by who could be called a good neighbor.

There was no likelihood the injured man would ever know who had helped him, be able to thank him or repay him. This was not about getting thanks, recognition, or repayment; it was about doing the right thing, regardless of cost or risk or lack of “return on investment.” So many people want to ask first, “What’s in it for me?” The correct question is either “what’s the right thing to do” or “What’s in it for God?”

The second lesson, the lesson of the excuses

The lawyer who asked the question was almost certainly looking for a definition of neighbor so he could limit his concern for others. Jesus did not give him or anyone else any easy escape from caring for others. There is a long list of possible excuses that stand out here, including at least these four:

The excuse of safety. The same robbers might have been waiting for another victim. In fact, the injured man might have been a fake, lying there to draw in a real victim.

It is relatively easy to answer this excuse by noting that there is no reason for anyone to think that everything they do for the Lord will be safe – life isn’t “safe” and neither is service. The real issue isn’t safety but trust in God. See Proverbs 3:4-5. We are to trust Him with all of our hearts and not just when our senses confirm that everything is safe and secure. We have to do the right thing.

The excuse of holiness or purity. There is the issue of religious purity or holiness. We cannot tell if the injured man was moving or making any noises. He may have appeared to be dead. If dead, he could not be touched by a priest, Leviticus 22:4, and stopping for him would have been of no assistance. Or, the man may have been so seriously injured that he would die while the priest or Levite was helping with the same result.

But the idea of religious purity flew in the face of God’s call for mercy, even mercy upon a stranger.

Psalm 9:18
18  But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish.

Psalm 35:10
10  My whole being will exclaim, “Who is like you, LORD? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them.”

Proverbs 21:13
13  Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor
will also cry out and not be answered.

Isaiah 1:17
17  Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.

Isaiah 58:7-8
7  Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8  Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
The same would have held true even if the injured man had been an enemy and not just a stranger:

Proverbs 25:21
21  If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat,
If he is thirsty, give him water to drink.

Exodus 23:4-5
4  If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it.
5  If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it.

The laws of religious purity were intended to prevent unworthy worship, not to create opportunities for coldhearted neglect or a cheap excuse not to help a suffering person.

Instead, the call of God is for mercy upon those who are suffering and struggling. The word translated as “mercy” here is the Greek word eleos. In the New Testament, eleos draws on the Hebrew concept of hesed, faithfulness between individuals that results in human-kindness and mercy. Hesed is a rich and deep word and means this is far more than a feeling or a mood, it is a quality of life that should be God being shown in the lives of believers. We are reflect God’s faithful compassion and caring in how we address those who have fewer financial and physical blessings.

God has told us that mercy is required of us, see, among many others, Isaiah 58:6-7 and Hosea 6:6. Jesus commanded his disciples that because the Father is merciful, we are to be merciful as well:

Luke 6:36
36 “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

The excuse of time

The priest and the Levite may very well have been on the way to a scheduled meeting or religious service. If they stopped, they would be late, they would get filthy and have to bathe and clean us and be even later still.

The Excuse of Cost

There is the excuse of cost, an excuse already addressed by Jesus when He commended the Samaritan. What is the value of a human life, even the life of a stranger? Ask God for that answer. Even better, ask Jesus.

The third lesson is the lesson of identity

The man lying injured in the parable isn’t given a name by Jesus. He isn’t identified as a Jew, a Samaritan or in any other way, other than as being a person in great need. The reason is obvious. Jesus wants you to insert your name into that role (as well as into each of the other roles) and then re-consider the parable. If you are the person lying injured on the side of the road, it is easy to say who the real neighbor is, just as the lawyer did.

There is another element of this parable that Jesus used for the shock value well. The listening Jews would doubtless have expected the third passer-by to be a common Jewish person. Instead Jesus inserted a Samaritan, a person disliked by Jews and considered to be a half-breed with whom a clean Jew could not even speak, much less associate. Even then, the answer to the question, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor?” was easy.

The fourth lesson, Christ is there

I especially love the way Dr. J. Vernon McGee analyzed this parable:

“Then we are told that a certain priest passed by on the other side. He represents ritualism and ceremonialism which cannot save a person. Someone has said that the reason the priest passed by on the other side was because he saw that the man had already been robbed! Next a Levite came by, and he too passed by on the other side. He represents legalism. Neither ritualism, ceremonialism, nor legalism can save. Then a “certain” Samaritan passed by. Whom did the “certain Samaritan” represent? He is the One who told the parable. When ritualism, ceremonialism, legalism, and religion could not do anything to help man, Christ came. He is able to bind up the broken-hearted. He is able to take the lost sinner, half-dead, lost in trespasses and sins, and help him.”

It is hard at times to find Christ in the difficulties and pain of our complex world. He is there; He is always there.

The final lesson, obedience

As usual, the final lesson is essential, and it is obedience; obedience by both the individual believers and by the modern church. Too many believers have a schedule and an agenda and cannot pause, not even for an act of mercy, too many churches are more focused on their budget and their programs than their mission.

All the lessons and all the learning in the world will do no good unless the listeners heart is changed and love for God and then for one another becomes paramount.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, and Ezekiel the prophet were both troubled by people who heard God but did not obey.

James 1:22
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

Ezekiel 33:31-32
31 My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain.
32 Indeed, to them you are mothering more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for thy hear your words and do not put them into practice.

As a result, the instruction from Jesus was inevitable, “Jesus told the lawyer, ‘Go and do likewise.’ ” Luke 10:37.

God’s heart is filled with compassion – and ours should be as well. Those final words from Jesus are a valuable set of words to every follower; “Go and do likewise.” They were spoken for me. They were spoken for you. They were spoken for the church today.

About the Author

John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus.  He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016.  He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.

This is the fifteenth in a series of articles on financial and other issues facing the American church in this no longer very new millennium. These articles represent the personal thoughts and reflections of the author and are not necessarily a statement of The Idlewild Foundation. These articles are based upon parables told by Jesus and stories from the gospels on events in His life, applying His life and teachings to the lives of believers and to the church as a whole and not to any one church in particular.