᛭ INI ᛭
Jesus is the master story teller, and this parable, in my opinion, is Jesus’ masterpiece. This isn’t just based on the content of the parable, but also why Jesus tells the Parable in the first place.
Now, you can flatten this parable into a moralistic tale about loving those around you. Sadly, this is what most people (even some Christians) do with Jesus’ magnum opus of a parable. They do this by ripping it out of its context. And so, because so many people mishandle Jesus’ best parable, we’re actually going to make our way through all it, today.
((Context, vv. 25–29))
So, why’d Jesus tell this parable? Well, it’s pretty familiar, but we don’t want to gloss over it. We don’t skip ahead to the parable, otherwise we will misunderstand the parable, like so many do. Now, a lawyer shows up, and he wants to ask Jesus a question. Now, “lawyer” here means an expert in the Law, or rather the Torah of Moses, the first 5 books of the Bible. (Now, he would’ve been an expert in all the Old Testament Scriptures as well.)
He comes to Jesus with evil motives. He’s not asking innocent questions. He shows up “to put Jesus to the test.” And what he asks Jesus is actually a question about salvation: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” That salvation question sets the stage for everything else in our Gospel lesson.
In typical Jesus fashion, Jesus answers with a question of His own. “What’s written in the Torah? How do you read it?” Now, the Lawyer does give a correct answer. “Love God perfectly.” “Love your neighbor perfectly.” To this answer, an answer that comes from a mindset that’s focused on behavior, well, Jesus piles more Law on top of Law. “You’re right! Do that, and you’ll live.”
The Lawyer wasn’t satisfied, though, because he wanted to justify himself. That means He wants to be right with God based on his own behavior, his good works. His questions aren’t neutral or innocent. His first question wasn’t. It’s about salvation itself! His next question wasn’t a neutral one either. “Who’s my neighbor?”
Now, many Jews back then would’ve wanted to know the answer. In their minds, fellow Jews were certainly “neighbor,” as well as Gentile converts to the God of the Scriptures. But Greeks weren’t. Neither were Romans. And Samaritans?—certainly not!
So, Jesus sets out to answer the lawyer’s salvation questions, the human mindset about behavior, and the common thinking about neighbors. To do all that, Jesus builds His parable based on our Old Testament lesson (especially the last verse). A story the lawyer and Jesus’ hearers would’ve known very well.
((The Parable in depth.))
Jesus’ parable starts with a very common picture. If they had news outlets back then, there would’ve been headline after headline like this “Man, going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, fell among robbers.” Traveling in Jesus’ day was dangerous, especially when you were alone.
We all know what happens next: A priest and a Levite come by, but when they see him, they pass by on the other side.
Now, the priest isn’t a bad guy. He’s traveling alone—very dangerous! He’s traveling home to Jericho, a city where a lot of priests lived. He was going home after His two-week stint of serving in the temple. (Individual priests weren’t at the temple 24-7; they served on a rotation.)
He sees a guy naked, unconscious, maybe even dead on the side of the road. Now, what goes through his mind? Well, besides the fact that the robbers could sill be around, he doesn’t know who this guy is. He can’t tell if he’s an Israelite or not. (His clothes and accent would’ve helped figure that out.)
Besides that, if the priest gets too close and the guy’s dead or dies while the priest is helping him, well, the Priest would become ritually impure. He wouldn’t get to go home. He would’ve had to turn right back around to Jerusalem and go through a complicated seven day process serve as a priest in a god-pleasing way. That way he could continue to receive offerings and food for himself and his family in a god-pleasing way.
So, he looks at this situation and does what the Lord commanded priests to do: “You are to distinguish… between the unclean and the clean.” “Dead guy is unclean.” So, He “passed by on the other side.”
Now, the Levite comes along and does what the Priest does. Not surprising to Jesus’ hearers, actually. They knew, because of the layout of the road, that the Levite maybe saw the priest pass by. (He could tell he was a priest based on his clothing.) The Priest was his spiritual superior and his boss. Who was he to disagree the priest? So, he also “passed by on the other side.”
Now, what happens next is very surprising.
“ But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.  He went to him…
Jesus’ hearers would’ve expected Him to say “an Israelite.” That was the typical three-fold division of the people of Israel: Priest, Levite, Israelite. Instead, Jesus puts someone into the story the Jews hated, and makes him the hero of the story! The Samaritans were hated for a lot of reasons, but Jesus does this to drive His point home. And it’s because of what that Samaritan does.
The Samaritan does God-like things. He’s really the Christ-figure of the story. The Samaritan “has compassion.” This isn’t human compassion or mercy, in the Gospels, “compassion” only ever applies to Jesus or to the God or Jesus figure in a parable.
Besides that Jesus applies language to the Samaritan from Hosea 6 and Ezekiel 16, words that only apply to Yahweh. In those texts, Yahweh “comes” to the one who’s left for dead. He “binds up.” He “heals.” “He revives after two days, and raises up on the third.” Hosea 6 also talks about priests and robbers, and hints about Samaritans, too. (The Lawyer wouldn’t have missed any of this.)
After His story, Jesus finally asks a question to show that it’s not about who your neighbor is, but rather a neighbor is someone who shows mercy. The Lawyer again gives a correct answer. (Couldn’t bring himself to say, “Samaritan,” though.) Jesus’ final word serves as a final crushing weight of Law for a lawyer who wanted to save himself by his behavior. “Go and do likewise.”
So, to summarize, Jesus tells a parable rooted in 2 Chronicles 28, and overtop that layers themes and language from Ezekiel 16 and Hosea 6. He does this to show emphasize that the Samaritan in the Parable is, well, Him! The simplest answer to the Lawyer’s initial question, “What must I do to be saved?” Is Hosea 6:6, “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” The Lord’s steadfast love for you, not sacrifice from you. Knowledge of God (faith in Him!) rather than what you do for Him.
The Lord bookended this Gospel parable with crushing law. Why? To show the Lawyer that he wasn’t on the right path. He wasn’t just in need of a little pick me up, a little direction, a little pep talk. No, he’s the man in the ditch, and he doesn’t even know it! But Jesus is there to save Him. For the Lawyer, Jesus’ questions and parable are a call to repentance and faith.
What about for you? If you want it to be a law parable, well, okay. Then Jesus’ questions are for you. Be a neighbor. Perfectly. No excuses because a neighbor isn’t someone in your daily life, but you who is merciful to the people in your daily life. Family. Friends. Enemies. Doesn’t matter. A neighbor is someone who always puts the other person first. No grudges. Free forgiveness. Free mercy. Time, money, blood, sweat, tears—all for the other person. That’s what it means to be a neighbor.
The Gospel truth is that Christ is true neighbor. He came to raise you up from the ditch of sin and death. He went into the ditch after us, bearing our sin, going through death at Calvary. We aren’t called to be the Samaritan. We’re called to confess that we’re lost without Jesus, dead without Him, that we don’t have any good to offer Him or others apart from Him saving us, apart from our faith in Him.
And when we’re saved, well, the good fruit abounds. We’re set in new relationships. Innkeeper to the man; man to the innkeeper. Innkeeper and man to the Samaritan. Each of us to each other; each of us individually and all together to Jesus—joined together and together with Him in His body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
It’s masterful. A parable to show what Hosea 6:6 is all about. “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” The Lord’s steadfast love for you, not sacrifice from you. Knowledge of God (faith in Him!) rather than what you do for Him. It’s what the Lawyer needed to believe to be saved. You, too.