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Why You are Not the Good Samaritan

  • Liz Kanoy What topic related to Christianity, faith, and the Bible is trending online and in social media today?
  • 2017 Apr 24

You’ve likely heard or read the story of The Good Samaritan in the Gospel of Luke. A man is robbed beaten and left to die; a priest and Levite see him but pass him by, and an unlikely hero, a Samaritan, stops to help. Maybe you’ve seen yourself in the priest or Levite who passed the man by or maybe you’ve seen yourself in the Samaritan who stopped to help—but have you ever seen yourself in the helpless man left to die?

The Good Samaritan is a parable told by Jesus to an expert in the law, which was later recorded by Luke in his historical gospel account. This expert in the law, asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, in order to test Him. The man would have known the law very well and likely strove to obey it as best he could. Jesus first answered the man with a question and asked him to state what was written in the law; the man’s answer resembled Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18:

“‘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.’ ”  -Luke 10:27

Jesus told the man he was correct and that by doing this he would live. But Luke tells us that the man wanted to justify himself so he asked Jesus another question, “who is my neighbor?” From the man’s previous statement concerning the law, “love your neighbor as yourself” would have been cited from Lev. 19:18, where the context of “neighbor” referred to “your people,” according to the NIV Study Bible. This would have meant that the man considered Jewish people to be his neighbors.

Jesus responded to this question with a parable. Even as the parable started, the man may have thought he knew the direction it was going in. But Jesus changed things up by including a Samaritan as the third person to find the half-dead man rather than a good Jew. Luke recorded the story in verses 30-35:

“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. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 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. 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.’” (10:30-35)

The issue for the priest and the Levite would have been a matter of cleanliness. Jewish law considered corpses to be unclean, and with the man being half-dead and likely bleeding, these men would have had to decide between keeping themselves pure for the temple or sacrificing purity to help their neighbor. They ranked purity higher.

The NIV Study Bible comments,  “A priest serves in the Jerusalem temple and is thus particularly sensitive to such a purity concern (Lev 5:2-6; 21:1-4; Num. 5:2; 6:6-8; Ezek 44:25-27). A Levite assists the priests in temple services (Duet 33:8-11; 1 Chron 23:28) and thus shares a similar concern.”

The Samaritan is the unlikely hero in the story, and it would have sounded particularly shocking since Samaritans and Jews despised each other. Jesus described one’s neighbor as reaching beyond ethnic and community lines. But there’s more to be gathered from the story.

Pastor J.D. Greear has written a devotional titled “You Aren’t the Good Samaritan” on Greear points out that Jesus did not use a character that the expert in the law could identify with. Instead of the story ending with “Be like the good Jew!” as Greear writes, Jesus chose a character that couldn’t be more different from the man.

What if we’re not supposed to identify with the Samaritan as much as we are with the man left to die on the side of the road? Greear explains,

And what if the Good Samaritan is Jesus, who put himself into the path of danger and took upon himself the suffering we had caused ourselves and poured out his own resources to save us?

Jesus is asking the man, “What if you were bleeding to death on the side of the road, and your only hope was an act of free grace from an enemy who did not owe you anything?”

The parable of The Good Samaritan did not give the expert in the law a new rule to follow; instead as Greear expresses, it gave the man a new reality. A reality of radical grace; we are the ones who need to be saved by this radical grace. Greear continues by saying it is only when we embrace and receive this truth that we can then turn and be givers of radical grace to others. The expert in the law would have understood that what Jesus was describing was not just a mere act of kindness but an emotional state; Greear expands,

The word that Jesus used for what the Samaritan felt toward the man on the side of the road is one of my favorite Greek words: splagma. We translate it as “compassion,” but in Greek it means “pity from your deepest soul.” Jesus is talking less about an action you choose and more about an emotion you can’t control. The word even sounds like what it means—a love so deep-seated that it comes from your gut.”

God doesn’t want His people to simply follow a list of rules; He’s after the heart, and He wants His followers to love others as He does. We are to respond to others as God would respond to them, just as the Samaritan responded to the half-dead man on the side of the road. AKA the way God responds to us when we are dead in our sins and in need of radical grace that can only come from Jesus. This kind of change can’t come from following the law and that’s what Jesus was pointing out to the man.

Jesus’ radical grace changes people and it produces in true believers a desire to be generous, compassionate, and as Greear words it “an insane ability to forgive.” Followers of Jesus will do things that seem hard to understand, ‘how could they forgive that person,’ ‘why would they sacrifice everything to save that person’s life,’ and so on in smaller circumstances as well. In our daily life, we are to love others as Jesus loves them. 

The best part of this story is that the man lying in the road didn’t have to earn anything to be given grace by the Samaritan. At the center of our faith is a man who died on a cross for the people who abused and hated Him; He rose again so that He could extend grace to those same people. Now we are lying on the road dead in our sins, and He extends His hand with free, radical grace—something that we could never earn or repay. And all we have to do is accept it.

As believers and receivers of this grace, will we go and love others likewise; will we help others without expectations of repayment or deserving character? Greear concludes,

Unlike the lawyer from Jesus’ story, we don’t love our neighbors because we have to do great things in order to be saved but because something great has been done to save us.”

To read Greear’s article in its entirety please visit

1 John 4:9 tells us,
“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”

Therefore, “We love because he first loved us.” -1 John 4:19

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Image courtesy: ©Thinkstock/Ruskpp

Publication date: April 24, 2017

Liz Kanoy is an editor for