“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” — Luke 10:36-37
Generally speaking, the typical man in the street dislikes those who come across as “holier-than-thou.” He has little time for “do-gooders,” but he usually has a warm place in his heart for a “Good Samaritan.” He likes the idea of Boy Scout-style behavior that helps old ladies across the road and runs errands for shut-ins. But is this really what Jesus had in mind when He told what is arguably His most famous story, the parable of the Good Samaritan? Hardly!
The context of the story is critical. “An expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: ‘Teacher, what must I do to receive eternal life?’” (Luke 10:25). The Good Samaritan story was prompted by a question about eternal destiny and life in the hereafter, about eternal communion with or separation from God. Jesus responded by asking the expert for his understanding of Moses’ instructions to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (10:27, see also Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18).
The clear implication was that the way to eternal life is through absolutely meticulous and perfect fulfillment of the law. The legal expert retorted— because he wanted “to justify his actions”—“And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). In response, Jesus told His story about the Good Samaritan. Jesus made it clear that the Samaritan was the model of neighborliness.
The expert in the law had, no doubt, tuned in to rabbinical teaching that conveniently limited the definition of “neighbor” and “neighborliness” to a select group of associates. Jesus widened the definition to show that anyone can be a neighbor, and that neighborliness should be shown to everyone. Bleeding victims in the ditch are neighbors, and so are despised and ostracized Samaritans.
More significantly, Jesus pointed out that human efforts—at neighborliness or anything else prescribed by the law—fall far short of meriting eternal life. Understanding this, a man is driven to grace—his only hope of life eternal. Jesus insisted, in His run-ins with the legalists, that he had not “come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (5:31).
There is a pervasive idea in Western culture that a “good life” in the here and now merits eternal life in the hereafter. But the parable about the Good Samaritan contradicts this dangerous misunderstanding. A clear word from the apostle Paul puts the matter beyond doubt: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23, emphasis added).
Eternal life is about a free gift, not about a good life. But those who receive the gift will have a deep desire to live a good life. Just like the Samaritan!
For further study: Luke 10:25-37
Content taken from The One Year Book of Devotions for Men by Stuart Briscoe. Copyright ©2000. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.