Discover salvation and sin in the parable of the Good Samaritan with Pastor Phil Rigdon’s insight.
Setting the Scene
At the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, the United States men’s hockey team bested its Soviet Union counterpart to advance to the gold-medal game. Two days later, the United State went on to defeat Finland to claim gold. Given that the Soviet Union had won gold in men’s hockey in five of the previous six Winter Olympics, the United States was not expected to win. Yet they did. The match marked one of the greatest upsets in sports history.
Upsets and reversals occur frequently in the Bible. The parable of the Good Samaritan is one example. No one present with Jesus would have expected the priest and Levite to pass by the waylaid man or for a Samaritan to come to his aid. Jesus uses this parable to elucidate the meaning of the Old Testament Law and present Himself as the fulfillment of that law.
Mining the Gems
Our text begins with a question a Jewish lawyer posed to test Jesus. He asked what he should do to inherit eternal life. Instead of simply providing an answer, Jesus asked a question of the lawyer: “What is written in the Law?” (Luke 10:26). The lawyer responded: “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 neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Although Jesus said that if the lawyer did this, he would live, the lawyer wanted to justify himself by limiting the definition of the word neighbor. The lawyer then asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor” (Luke 10:29). The Greek τίς ἐστίν μου πλησίον includes the word πλησίον for “neighbor.” We come to understand that by “neighbor,” Jesus means everyone. Significantly, the Jews understand πλησίον to mean anyone who is part of the Hebrew nation and commonwealth. In other words, a Jew. This becomes important when Jesus presents the parable, which includes a Samaritan. Samaritans were biological descendants of the Hebrews of the Northern Kingdom, Israel, and their invading captors, the Assyrians. This sad legacy created conflict between the Samaritans and Jews, the latter believing the Samaritans to be sinners, biological and spiritual half-breeds.
Jesus explains that after a priest and Levite walked past the poor man, a Samaritan came to the place where the poor man lay. In Greek, we have Σαμαρίτης δέ τις ὁδεύων (Luke 10:33), which means, “but a Samaritan as he journeyed.” Notice that in Greek, the word Samaritan comes first. Placing a word first in a sentence or phrase is done to add stress and significance. Jesus wants His hearers to recognize that this man was not just anyone but a member of an ethnic group traditionally scorned by the Jewish nation.
Later in the parable, we learn that the Samaritan places the injured man on his own animal and takes him to an inn, paying the cost himself. The word for inn in Greek is πανδοχεῖον (Luke 10:34), a product of two words that together literally convey “welcomes or receives all.” It is noteworthy that the English word inn is found only two times in the New Testament, and this parable is the only instance where the Greek word πανδοχεῖον is used. One wonders if Jesus intended this word, πανδοχεῖον, to reflect the nature of God’s love.
Considering the three who came upon the man who fell among the robbers, we speculate the priest, while his behavior is no less excusable, likely passed by supposing the injured man to be dead. To take part in temple activities, all Jews, and especially priests, were forbidden from touching a dead body. To do so would render the person ritually unclean. Likely for the same reason, the Levite also passed by. Levites, slightly lower than priests in the temple hierarchy, would rarely challenge their behavior by acting differently. The Samaritan was praiseworthy for his courage. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho is in a region dominated by Jews, who are at odds with Samaritans. This seventeen-mile path of winding, crag-filled ascents and descents would be ideal for ambushing a lone Samaritan. The Samaritan also ran the risk that those at the inn would assume he had injured the man.
When the lawyer responds to Jesus’ original question with “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 neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27), he is quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Jesus wants the lawyer to take the passages at face value. Our Lord upholds the Law. The lawyer’s sin is pride. First, he thinks there is something that he can do to inherit eternal life. Were the lawyer able to meet the expectations outlined in the Law, he would not need a savior. Second, the lawyer asks a question he already knows the answer to. Lawyers were educated in the Law and understood from the Torah that everyone is a neighbor and that we are to love as God does.
While the Lord wants us to love Him and our neighbor as ourselves, it would be a mistake to conclude that this parable is merely an injunction to servanthood. There is something deeper. Keep in mind that Jesus came to fulfill the Law. Where we fail miserably to love the Lord and our neighbors, Jesus does so perfectly. Jesus loves His heavenly Father fully, demonstrating that love in obedience to take on human flesh and dwell on earth among sinners. He loves His neighbors, which is all others, even to the point of suffering a criminal’s death on the cross. Finally, this parable is about Jesus rescuing sinners. The Samaritan is Jesus, and we are the man who fell among robbers. In our sin, we lay dead on the road. Jesus places Himself in danger (recall that the Jews called Jesus a Samaritan) to rescue and restore us at His own expense, namely, His perfect life and innocent death. Just as the Samaritan administered oil and wine, Jesus administers His body and blood in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, sustaining our faith until the day He returns to take us to heaven.
Continue diving into Luke with Luke 9:1–24:53, Concordia Commentary by Dr. Arthur A. Just Jr.