The parable of the Good Samaritan arises out of a discussion between Jesus and a
Pharisee. Here is a religious lawyer and he is asking a question on the nature
of the law. The stage is set by Luke with these words: "Behold a lawyer stood up
to put him to the test." Well, it's not the first time and probably won't be the
last time that a lawyer phrased a trick question. It was the kind of question in
which any kind of an answer would pose still further problems. It was a test
question: "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life." Now right away we
know that this man was a Pharisee, because the Pharisees believed in eternal
life and the Sadducees did not. Jesus could tell that this man was an astute
student of the law so he asked him: "What is written?" In other words, use your
own mind to discern the essence of the law. Jesus, like a good discussion
leader, throws the question right back in his lap.
The lawyer had a good answer. He said: "You shall love the Lord your God with
all of your heart and soul and mind and strength and you shall love your
neighbor as yourself." This was a direct quote from Deuteronomy 6. It was part
of the Shema, a confession regularly made in Jewish worship. Jesus says:
"Excellent. You are correct." If he were a teacher I suppose he would have said:
"You get A+." I have no complaint with this says Jesus. Do this and you shall
live. You have not only penetrated to the essence of the law but you have worded
The question had been asked and the answer given. You would think that the man
would be pleased and go home. But lawyers are never happy. A lawyer's
responsibility is to define the limits of liability. "But he, desiring to
justify himself, asked ‘Who is my neighbor.'" In other words, where does my
responsibility stop? Who exactly am I responsible for?"
At this point, instead of further defining the question, Jesus tells a story. A
way of indirect teaching.
A certain rich man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho. We can surmise that this
man was probably a Jew because this was a road going right through the heart of
Judea. He had probably been up to Jerusalem to worship and now he's going back
to the City of Palm Trees. It was a very long serpentine road starting at
Jerusalem, the highest point, 2,500 feet above sea level, and going straight
down to Jericho, nearly 800 feet below Sea Level. The lowest place on the face
of the earth not covered by water--the deepest city in the world.
The Jericho Road was a notoriously thief-infested stretch of rocky mountain
road, a long, lonely seventeen miles crowded with caves and danger. Since the
road was so often traveled by religious pilgrims and businessmen and because it
was so crooked, robbers frequented the road often. In fact, the route was so
ripe for pillage that it had been nicknamed "The Bloody Pass". By the time you
rounded a bend the bandits were there and you really had no chance to escape. I
suppose if there had been newspapers it would not have been unusual to read
about the latest mugging on the Jericho Road.
And so, too, the particular traveler in Jesus story fell victim. He was
ambushed, robbed, beaten, stripped, and left to die in a pool of crimson red.
Now, the question in the story is who is going to stop and help? Who is it that
will not fall prey to the temptation to pass by on the other side?
The Priest Passes By
The Levite Passes By
The Samaritan Stops
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