Throughout Jesus’ ministry, He often encountered the Pharisees, the Sadducees, scribes, priests and members of the Sanhedrin, who were the religious leaders of Israel. There were a handful of humble men, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, but all too often these men were snobbish and self-absorbed.
If the lawyer in Luke 10:25 is the same man that is mentioned in Matthew 22:35, he was a Pharisee, well-versed in the Law of Moses. With the intention of testing Jesus, he asked, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” A common technique of Jesus was to answer a question with another question. Jesus asked him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” The lawyer certainly knew the answer, and effortlessly answered, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus said, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” But the lawyer, it says, wanted to justify himself, and still devious and antagonistic, asked, “And who is my neighbor?” The Following is one of the most poignant parables of Jesus.
“A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.'”
Jesus was deliberate in his choice of characters. The victim was without name or nationality. To the Pharisee listening to Jesus, to think of both a priest and a Levite avoiding the injured man possibly made him step back and raise his eyebrows. He might have also thought that both priest and Levite were understandably steering clear of dealing with this battered and bloodied person.
But when the hero of the story was introduced as a loathsome Samaritan, the lawyer’s ears might have perked up. The two so-called “holy men” couldn’t be bothered with the beaten man, but the Samaritan was moved with compassion. He changed his plans, and took time to bandage the man, using his own resources to properly dress the wounds. He put the man on his own animal, brought him to a safe, warm and dry place, and spent the night watching over and caring for the man.
The next day, the Good Samaritan paid the innkeeper extra and promised to return to cover any additional expenses. He went out of his way and completely inconvenienced himself for a total stranger, expecting nothing in return. Then came Jesus’ barbed and rhetorical question to the lawyer. “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” The lawyer may have got the message. He said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”
The parable of the Good Samaritan speaks as loudly today as it did 2,000 years ago. Jesus was moved with compassion every time He saw weary, weak, exasperated people, sheep without a shepherd. This compassion always motivated Him to action, to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, to help the blind recover their sight, to set free the bruised and battered.
Today, Christianity needs fewer self-centered legalists, and more caring and merciful Samaritans.