The Parable of the Good Samaritan - Part 2
Malcolm Horlock, Cardiff, Wales
Luke 10. 25-37
In the previous article we considered the setting of the parable, together with the roles played by the robbers, the priest and the Levite. We pick up the story at the point where our Lord introduced the hero of His story.
You can almost sense the shock and horror felt by the lawyer when Jesus used the word ‘Samaritan’. The more so as, unlike with his introductions of the priest and the Levite, the word ‘Samaritan’ is emphasized by its position at the beginning of the Greek sentence.
One commentator claims that the words ‘as he journeyed’ signify that the Samaritan ‘was a commercial traveller’.1 This man, unlike the wounded man, the priest or the Levite, may not have been going ‘down’ from Jerusalem. For his sacred site was Mount Gerizim in Samaria, not Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. Indeed, not to put too fine a point on it, the Samaritan was a heretic!
From what I can tell, the Jews and the Samaritans had three main things in common. They had both worshipped in temples (albeit very different temples), they both accepted the five books of Moses as inspired by God, and they both spent half their time cursing each other! John’s Gospel tells us that the Jews of our Lord’s day had ‘no dealings with Samaritans’, John 4. 9.2 Scholars claim that relations between the Jews and the Samaritans were especially bad at the time,3 the situation not being helped because, according to the apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus, the Jews insisted on calling the Samaritans that ‘foolish people that dwell in Shechem’, one of the central cities of the Samaritans.4
So, this Samaritan had no shortage of ready-made excuses for continuing on his way. He was exposed to at least the same risks as the priest and the Levite. Indeed, if he were a commercial traveller, he might well have been carrying samples of his wares with him, which would have made it all the more dangerous for him to have stopped. He would have been an obvious target.
In addition, the wounded man had no claim whatever on him by way of national ties; he was, after all, the member of a hostile race. And the Samaritan would have known that, had their situations been reversed, and he been lying on the road, the Jew would have cheerfully passed by, and would probably have chuckled to himself all the way to Jericho. It was well for the injured man, therefore, that the Samaritan did not live by the rule, ‘Do to others as you think they would do to you’. How wonderfully different was the ‘golden rule’ of Jesus, ‘Just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise’, Luke 6. 31.
And the Samaritan also knew that he was most unlikely to receive any thanks for kindnesses shown. It is claimed that Jews were forbidden by their Rabbis to accept works of charity from anyone of another race – especially from a Samaritan.
There was also every possibility that any action taken by the Samaritan would be misinterpreted and the finger of suspicion pointed directly at him if he were found anywhere near the body. After all, he was now on foreign soil. And any Jew would have taken great delight in accusing the Samaritan to the proper authorities.
But, without stopping to frame any excuses, this good man, Jesus informs us, ‘had compassion’, v. 23. There is a fascinating incident recorded in 2 Chronicles chapter 28 in which men from Samaria clothed some 200,000 naked Jews, anointed them with oil, and carried the weak and feeble on donkeys to ‘Jericho, the city of palms’. Yet those men from Samaria did this only because of the stern warning sounded by one of the Lord’s prophets, Oded by name. But there was no Oded on the road in Jesus’ story! The actions of this Samaritan in Jesus’ story were entirely spontaneous; he did what he did out of ‘compassion’.
The words quoted by the lawyer, ‘You shall love . . . your neighbour as yourself’, v. 27, formed part of the Samaritan scriptures also, and, without stopping to debate, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ (Are you listening, Mr. Lawyer?), this Samaritan set about acting like one. Our Lord said that the priest, the Levite and the Samaritan each ‘saw’ the wounded man, Luke 10. 31-33.5 But the Samaritan ‘saw’ the robbers’ victim through very different eyes to those of the priest and the Levite.
And so the Samaritan set about performing what simple first-aid he could. He bound up the wounds of the injured man, presumably either with some of his commercial wares or with strips of cloth torn from his own garments.
He poured oil and wine on the man’s wounds; the oil to soothe the pain and inflammation, and the wine, acting as a disinfectant and antiseptic, to cleanse the wounds. Doctor Luke would have readily appreciated this.
Clearly, the Samaritan carried the wine for refreshment, but we in the West may wonder why he carried oil. But it was common practice for travellers in the Middle East to carry gourds of oil at their waists that they might anoint themselves to stop their skin from blistering under the blazing sun.6 The oil was therefore a very important item in the Samaritan’s travel kit. Yet, without a moment’s hesitation, he expended both his oil and his wine on the injured man.
He then sat the wounded man ‘on his own animal’. It may be that the Samaritan traveller had two beasts, one on which to ride and one on which to carry his wares. But, whether this was so or not, he now chose to walk the distance from the scene of the robbery to the nearest inn.
And when they arrived at the inn (in all likelihood at or near Jericho), the Samaritan didn’t immediately leave the man and continue on his way. He saw personally to the needs of the injured man; he ‘took care of him’, v. 35.7 Only on the following day, when compelled to leave, presumably on account of business commitments, did he commit the injured man to the care of the innkeeper. And then, with commendable foresight, knowing that the man had been stripped and therefore had no money of his own, the Samaritan made ample financial provision for him, taking out two denarii from his girdle, or purse, to give to the innkeeper.
Nor is this sum as trivial as might first appear. Some thirty years before, in the days of Caesar Augustus, the pay of an ordinary soldier in the Roman army was only 225 denarii for a whole year’s military service.8 Two denarii therefore represented about three days’ pay for an ordinary soldier. And we know from another of our Lord’s parables that two denarii also amounted to two days’ generous wages for an agricultural worker, Matt. 20. 2.9 I understand that such a sum would have provided up to 24 days’ basic board and lodging. And then, as if this were not enough, the Samaritan undertook, should it prove necessary, to cover any additional costs on his return; effectively giving the innkeeper a blank cheque. And we should remember that the Samaritan had little or no prospect of ever being recompensed by the wounded man. But this he never stopped to consider.
Leaving our Lord’s model of compassion and kindness, let us briefly consider the innkeeper. This man wasn’t violent or bad like the robbers. He wasn’t neglectful and indifferent like the priest and the Levite. He was a businessman who provided his services for a fee. There is no suggestion that the innkeeper of our Lord’s parable was anything but scrupulously honest, and all his dealings above board. But he wasn’t the hero of the parable. He was prepared to help, but only if there was adequate payment for his services. As we noted, the Samaritan handed him two denarii and offered to make good any extra costs the innkeeper incurred in caring for the wounded man.10 But at no point did the innkeeper offer to share the expense involved.
When it comes to helping others, do we never consider whether there will be anything in it for us – even if only the praise and the approval of others or the possibility of the favour being returned one day.11
And, finally, we should consider the lawyer, whose question about inheriting eternal life had given rise to the parable, v. 26.12 Our Lord had immediately cornered him, asking, ‘How do you read?’ This was a technical term, constantly used by the Jewish scribes and lawyers, who, when consulting one another about some point of the law, would ask, ‘How do you read?’
In effect, the Lord told the lawyer that he had no need to ask his question at all. As a ‘lawyer’ his business was ‘the law’, and he should therefore have known the answer!13 All he needed to do was to practise what he preached, loving God with his all and his neighbour as himself. The lawyer, not wishing to look foolish, and attempting to evade the force of God’s commandment, replied that it was not as simple as all that.
As far as the requirement to love God was concerned, there could be no doubt who God was. But there was every doubt, the lawyer argued, as to the meaning of one’s ‘neighbour’. And he was unable to observe this particular commandment until its meaning had been clarified. And, indeed, there were many Jewish teachers of the day who claimed that ‘neighbour’ applied only to Israelites and to full proselytes and that it most certainly did not extend to Gentiles14 or to Samaritans.15
But, in responding to the lawyer, the Lord pointed out that his question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ v. 29, had been wrongly formulated. His question was itself defective. And I note that the word translated ‘answered’ in verse 30 is not the usual word for ‘answering’ in the New Testament, which word occurs over 200 times in the Gospels alone, including in verses 27, 28 and 41 of our chapter. The word our Lord used here means properly ‘to take up, to catch up’,16 and is used, for example, in a literal sense to describe our Lord’s ascension; ‘when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight’, Acts 1. 9.17
In other words, Jesus didn’t ‘answer’ the question – he ‘took up’ the lawyer for ever asking it. And our Lord made it clear that the lawyer’s concern should have been, not how to ‘define’ a neighbour, but how to ‘become’ one. Indeed, the Saviour’s question was literally, ‘which of these three became neighbour to the one who fell among the robbers?’ v. 36.18
The right question for us to ask therefore is not, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ but, ‘To whom can I become a neighbour?’ The fundamental issue isn’t whether I am able to define a neighbour, but whether I am willing to behave like one to any needy people who cross my path.
The lawyer had, seemingly, choked on the obvious answer to our Lord’s question, and so, deliberately avoiding the (to him) detested word ‘Samaritan’, he grudgingly answered, ‘the one who did mercy to him’, lit., v. 37. To which our Lord responded, ‘Go and you do likewise’ – using, I note, the present tense, ‘do it habitually, not as a single action but as your lifelong course of action’. In effect, our Lord was saying, ‘The priest, chancing on the man, walked past him – and the Levite did likewise. But the Samaritan, chancing on the man, did mercy to him – you do likewise!’
With this exhortation Luke abruptly ends his story. What, we may wonder, became of the lawyer? We are not told. For it seems clear that the Holy Spirit’s purpose in recording this particular incident was not to entertain us nor to satisfy our curiosity. But rather to leave us face to face with the demand of our Lord Jesus, ‘Go and do likewise’.
There can be no doubt that, ‘To whom can I become a neighbour?’ was the question which our Lord Jesus asked Himself as He ‘went about doing good’, Acts 10. 38.19
It seems likely that this parable was spoken in the synagogue of Jericho for Luke tells us that the lawyer ‘stood up’ to address Jesus, v. 25, and records the next stop as being Bethany, v. 38.20 If our Lord was indeed speaking in the synagogue at Jericho, He was Himself about to travel up the very road He chose as the setting for His parable.
No incident is recorded on that particular journey, but one is recorded on the next and last time that Jesus travelled that way. Matthew provides the details in the closing section of chapter 20 of his Gospel. On that later journey, when leaving Jericho for Jerusalem, the Lord encountered Bartimaeus and his unnamed companion, who, Matthew informs us, ‘heard that Jesus was passing by’, v. 30 (compare the language our Lord used to describe the actions of both the priest and the Levite), and who cried out for ‘mercy’, v. 31 (the word of Luke 10. 37).
‘Jesus’, we read, ‘had compassion’, v. 34 (the word He used to describe the response of the Samaritan), v. 21. And our Lord didn’t ‘pass by’ on the other side, as everyone expected Him to do,22 even though He had every reason to do so at the time – for He was then on His way to Jerusalem to save the world! And so to this degree the Lord Jesus was the Samaritan of whom He spoke.
But surely none of us can leave our study of this parable feeling completely at ease. For, like it or not, each of us is in the parable somewhere, and we need to ask constantly:
Do I make trouble for others, and enjoy doing it? Do I conveniently bypass the needs of others? Do I help only if there is something in it for me? Or, Do I help because it is the right thing to do?
Each of us has to decide ‘What is my motto?’ ‘
Yours is mine if I can get it’; ‘Mine is my own if I can keep it’; ‘Mine is yours if you can pay for it’; or ‘Mine is yours if you need it’
- J. A. FINDLAY, Jesus and His Parables, page 63.
- John 4. 9.
- See JOHN BOWMAN, The Parable of the Good Samaritan, Expository Times, volume 59 (1947-48), page 152.
- Ecclesiasticus 50. 27-28 – which also speaks of them as ‘no nation’. The Jewish Testament of Levi also calls Shechem ‘a city of fools’. Shechem was located in the narrow sheltered valley between Ebal on the north and Gerizim on the south.
- Luke 10. 31, 32, 33.
- This is why, for example, Jacob at Bethel had oil available to pour on the top of his stone pillow, Gen. 28. 18.
- This is the word used by Paul, ‘if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?’ 1 Tim. 3. 5.
- TACITUS, Annals, 1. 17.
- Matt. 20. 2.
- Indeed the ‘I’ in ‘I will repay you’ is emphatic.
- Compare Luke 14. 12-14.
- I see no reason to believe that the lawyer was trying to trap Jesus – that he came with any sinister motive. It seems more likely to me that he wished to test this unauthorised Galilean teacher to see if He would give the right answer.
- The nomikos should have known the nomos.
- ‘Interpretation of Leviticus 19. 18 in Jewish tradition suggests that “neighbour” is the Jewish person who shares the same Jewish religious values. Also included in the category of “neighbour” were Gentiles who observed the “laws of the sons of Noah”, rules ordained by God for non-Jews according to Jewish tradition, or Gentile proselytes to Judaism who practised some of the Jewish mitzvoth (laws, or commands). Jews and Gentiles who lived according to the will of the Almighty, therefore, were “neighbour”, whereas pagans, because of their idolatry and immoral conduct (in the eyes of Jewish observers) were not considered to be “neighbour”’, J. POULIN, ‘Loving-kindness towards Gentiles according to the Early Jewish sages’, Théologiques 11/1-2 (2003) pp. 89-112.
- The Baraitha (extra-Mishnaic Tannaitic teachings) says of Exodus 21. 35, ‘If the ox of an Israelite has gored the ox belonging to a Samaritan there is no liability’. This brought the Samaritans into line with the Gentiles. (Compare JOHN BOWMAN, ‘The Parable of the Good Samaritan’, Expository Times, volume 59, 1947-48, page 248). There was even a tendency on the part of some Pharisees to exclude the ordinary Jewish people from their definition! When summarizing the Law for a wouldbe convert to Pharisaism, Hillel (who flourished 30 BC to 10 AD) loosely paraphrased Leviticus 19. 17, ‘That which is hateful to you do not do to your Haber (a member of the Pharisaic Haburah)’, T. B. SHAB. 31a. The Qumran community declared that anyone who did not belong to their own group was ‘a son of darkness’ and should be hated. The lawyer's question clearly implied that a limit could be set on one’s duty - that there were nonneighbours. This idea may well lie behind the words of Jesus, ‘You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy’, Matt. 5. 43.
- See W. E. VINE, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, article ‘Answer’, hupolambanõ.
- Also from the pen of Luke.
- The Lord Jesus used the word ‘neighbour’ in an unusual way; in the Old Testament it was used to describe the object of the action, whereas He used it to denote the giver rather than the receiver.
- Acts 10. 38.
- Bethany lay on the way into Jerusalem from Jericho, Luke 19. 1, 28-29.
- All twelve occurrences of the verb ‘to have compassion’ in the Greek Bible are found in the Synoptic Gospels. Apart from three occasions when it is found on the Lord's own lips (Matt. 18. 27; Luke 10. 33; Luke 15. 20), it is only ever used of Himself.
- Hence the multitude telling the two blind men to be silent, Matt. 20. 31.