The Context: The Question
In order to properly understand Jesus’ parable, The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), we need to understand the context in which he tells it.
Jesus had been teaching, and when he finished, there was an opportunity to ask questions. A lawyer stood and asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” But it wasn’t an honest question. The text tells us he asked it to test Jesus. He was, it seems, looking to trip Jesus up, to trap him in an error. And Jesus, of course, knew this. But it didn’t matter. It was still an important question, and Jesus responded to it regardless of the lawyer’s questionable motives.
Jesus’ approach wsa to lead the man (and the rest of the crowd) toward the answer, and he began this by asking the lawyer question. He asked him about the Law. It seems a strange place for Jesus to start. The Law can’t save us. The Law does not lead to eternal life.
But Jesus wanted to illuminate the problem before providing the solution. He wanted to address what was keeping the lawyer (and ever other human) from inheriting eternal life. Then he could show them the solution to that problem. And that is the purpose of the Law. The Law shows us that we’re sinners. It reveals to us that we have failed to measure up to God’s righteous standard. And that is why we won’t inherit eternal life — if something doesn’t change.
When asked about the Law, the lawyer responded that the Law is summed up as ““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.” And Jesus affirmed that he had answered correctly.
But Jesus seems to have tweaked his conscience, at least a little. He felt some need to justify himself. He seems to have recognized that he hadn’t loved others the way he should have. So he asked, “Who is my neighbor.” And that’s when Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan.
The Parable: The Good Samaritan
Jesus’ point in telling the Good Samaritan parable was not what you might have been taught in Sunday school. It’s not simply that we should try to be more like the Good Samaritan. The point is to help us recognize that we are nothing like the Good Samaritan. We cannot make ourselves truly love those who have hurt us. We certainly can’t make ourselves make the kind of sacrifices the Good Samaritan made for the sake of our enemies. We can bring ourselves to care as much about the welfare of strangers as we care about ourselves. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we must admit that we don’t even love our friends and family perfectly and consistently and God’s demands.
The solution for this lack of love for our neighbors (as well as our failure to love God as he requires) is not to simply try harder. It’s not to redouble our efforts and endeavor to be more like the Good Samaritan. The solution is the gospel. The gospel applied every day to lives. The gospel applied to our failures. The gospel as our only hope to please God and meet his righteous standards.