Luke 10:25–37 . . . Bible Study Summary with Videos and Questions
The Lord's “Good Samaritan” Story
It's not Luke but Jesus who tells us the "Good Samaritan" story. In last week's study, Jesus said: "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children" (10:21b). In today's story, the "wise and learned" are exposed for what they are or aren't. It'll become clear that "these things" — the gospel, the truths of the kingdom of God — are hidden from them. The Samaritan isn't a wise and learned scholar, but he's the hero of our text.
Our text has two basic structural divisions, each of which is prompted by a question. The first part of the story is in answer to the question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" The second part deals with the question, "Who is my neighbor?"
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?" (vv. 25–28)
The man who comes to Jesus is a lawyer; not a courtroom lawyer but an expert in the Old Testament law, which is contained in the first five books of the Bible. We might say that this person is an Old Testament scholar, specializing in the Law of Moses. Our text tells us that this "lawyer" asks a hypothetical question to test Jesus. He appears to be a seeker, but isn't seeking to be taught by Jesus; nor is he interested in finding the way to eternal life. He believes that he understands all these things and doesn't believe that Jesus, an uneducated man (so far as Judaism viewed him), could possibly teach him anything. Feigning respect for Jesus as a teacher of the Law, he seeks only to test Jesus by alleging that Christ's teaching isn't consistent with Moses' Law.
Notice how Jesus responds to this man's question. First, Jesus doesn't relinquish his claim to authority; nor does he respond with false humility saying, Well, of course, you're the scholar. Instead, he says to the scholar, "You have answered correctly," retaining his authority as teacher, and dealing with him as the student. The answer the lawyer gives Jesus is absolutely correct! Jesus then responds, Good answer; now do it. If you really want to know the answer to the question, 'How does a man attain (that is, earn) eternal life,' the law says, 'Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself, and do it habitually.'
Our Lord's "Do this and you will live" reply is based on a scriptural quotation. Although the New International Version (NIV) doesn't quote the referenced Leviticus 18:5, the NASB does: If you would attain to eternal life by the keeping of the law, then keep the law. Do it and live and keep on doing it and living. The words of the Law, cited by the lawyer, go even further. They not only require that one keeps the Law, but keeps the whole Law perfectly. You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind. You must not simply love your neighbor, you must love him as yourself. This certainly isn't what this lawyer wanted to hear.
It's at this point that our expert in the Law becomes downright uneasy. Jesus hasn't yet told this man anything new. He simply asks the man how he reads the Law, and the man reads it exactly as Jesus does. Then Jesus says, All right, you know what the Law says; do it! It's important to understand this: Jesus isn't teaching "works as a means of salvation" here; he's actually teaching that doing good works (Law keeping) cannot save anyone, because no one can keep the Law perfectly. Both the Law and the lawyer are on the spot. He asks, How can I be saved? Jesus answers, You tell me, according to the Law. The man responds, One can be saved by perfectly and persistently obeying the whole Law, with one's whole heart, soul, mind and strength. Sadly, the system that he's trying to defend can't save anyone. Attempting to condemn Jesus, the lawyer has just condemned himself and the whole world.
“Who is my neighbor?" (vv. 29–37)
Initially trying to put Jesus on the defensive by forcing him to justify himself, now, suddenly and unexpectedly, the lawyer is perplexed, feeing obligated to justify himself. He attempts to do this by asking Jesus a second question. You'd think that this guy would be uneasy, struggling to imagine how he might be able to love the Lord, his God, with all of his heart, soul, mind and strength. Instead he seems more worried about the command to "Love your neighbor." Why? Possibly, when we realize how difficult it is for us to test our love for God, we look elsewhere. After all, how do you assess your attitudes, devotion, meditation, or relationship with God? You can't. It's probable that the reason the lawyer is so uneasy about the command to love his neighbor is because he knows that his love for his neighbor is deficient.
This Old Testament Moses' Law specialist now begins to do what some lawyers do quite well — he looks for a technicality in the law that might excuse him from obeying it. In his scholarly mode, as it were, he asks this deep theological question: "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus doesn't allow himself to be drawn into a debate with this lawyer, which is fortunate for the lawyer.
It's important to look beyond that one verse (v. 29). First, we're told elsewhere in the Law that God defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow and he loves the alien (Deuteronomy 10:18), whether Israelite or Gentile. But in the Jewish mind, the Law belonged to the Jews; no one else. However, God says: The law applies equally to Jews and non-Jews, and you'd better not interpret it differently. Jesus doesn't take apart this man, although it would have been easy for him to do so; he simply responds to the lawyer's second question by telling him the story of the Good Samaritan.
While Jesus makes it clear in vv. 30–33 that the two travelers (the priest and the Levite) are Jewish and that the hero is a Samaritan, we aren't told the victim's racial origins: It doesn't matter! Only one thing matters about that man: he's badly hurt and he needs help, because he'd been mugged by robbers who overtook him, beat him badly, and stripped him of his clothes, leaving him lying by the road, half-dead. It doesn't matter if he's a Jew or Gentile; he needed help desperately.
Jesus tells that two of Judaism's finest specimens saw the injured man as they walked along the same road, apparently by chance (vv. 31–32), having no pressing business that might have hindered them from stopping to render aid. The priest and the Levite belonged to an elite Jewish class who were expected to carry out Old Testament Law.
The priest was the first to come upon the injured victim. Rather than get involved, he deliberately walked on the other side of the road, far from the battered victim. The Levite was no different than the priest: He came upon the injured man after the priest had; his actions were a virtual replay of the priest's; he passed the suffering traveler on the other side of the road to avoid feeling obligated to help him. The Samaritan comes upon the scene. Before we consider his response to the injured traveler, we need to realize the strained relationship that Jews and Samaritans shared, since Samaritans were a half-breed Jew-Gentile race.
You can imagine the response of the Jewish lawyer, when Jesus introduces the Good Samaritan into his story. Two Jews, holding highly esteemed religious positions in Israel, have deliberately ignored the needs of a helpless, half-dead robbery victim. Rather than help him, they chose to look away. Then, approaching the crime scene, comes a Samaritan, the lowest possible rung on the Jewish social ladder. Unlike the priest and the Levite, the Samaritan has a reason for his journey: travel. If anyone could have excused himself from getting involved, it would have been this Samaritan. But when he saw the victim lying by the road, he reacted very differently; unlike the two religious Jews, the Samaritan felt genuine compassion for the victim (v. 33). He drew near to him, rather than away from him. He treated the man's wounds and bandaged him, placing the wounded man on his own mount and taking him to an inn where the man received care. Our hero had to continue his journey, but he nevertheless provided much-needed care for the injured traveler. Paying in advance for the victim's room, the Samaritan saw to it that the innkeeper looked in on the recovering victim and promised to return and fully reimburse the innkeeper for any additional expenses. There's nothing more the Samaritan could have done to minister to (a.k.a. love) the man for whom he had compassion.
Jesus concludes his story, asking the Jewish lawyer a final question: "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The lawyer likely chokes on his words here, unable to find it in himself to even pronounce the word "Samaritan" when he answers, "The one who had mercy on him." Twice, Jesus has been asked a question by the lawyer; twice, Jesus asked the lawyer a question in response; twice, Jesus responded to the lawyer's answer by telling him to "take action." When the lawyer reluctantly identified the Samaritan as the "good neighbor," the Lord told the lawyer to "do good" as the Samaritan had.
Jesus sought to show this self-confident lawyer that by his own definitions, Law-keeping wasn't the pathway to eternal life, because no one is able to live up to the demands of the Law. The story of the Good Samaritan teaches some very important lessons to those law-keepers who wrongly supposed they could earn eternal life by doing good works. It also teaches us that those in the highest offices of Judaism are guilty of a lack of compassion, which is at the heart of what the Moses' Law required (see Matthew 9:9–13).
[You can see in Warren's commentary on the Parable of the Good Samaritan who our neighbor is and how we should respond to his or her needs.]
God doesn't want us to give him a "textbook definition" of loving our neighbor; instead, he wants us to "demonstrate our love" for our neighbor today, by showing compassion to those in need as the Good Samaritan had.
- Q. 1 What grade would you give yourself this week for loving God wholeheartedly? For loving others?
- Q. 2 How are we to emulate the Good Samaritan by "doing likewise"?
New International Version (NIV)
[To view it in a different version, click here; also listen to chapter 10.]
† Watch this passage-specific video clip from Jesus Film Project titled "Parable of the Good Samaritan."
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25On 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?"
27He 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."
29But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
30In 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. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He 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. 35The 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?"
37The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."
Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."