The Parable of the Good Samaritan – Part 1

Luke 10. 25-37.

The central issue raised by the Lord Jesus in His parable is that of our attitude towards others. In His story, He identifies four different ways in which we can look at those around us.

Running our eyes quickly through the characters, it is not difficult to identify four categories. They are: the robbers; the priest and the Levite; the innkeeper; and, of course, the Samaritan.

The injured man is regarded differently by each of these characters and groups. To the robbers, he is a victim to be exploited; to the priest and the Levite, he is a nuisance to be shunned; to the innkeeper, he is a business proposition; but to the Samaritan, he is a neighbour needing help.

Putting it another way: the robbers createthe problem; the priest and the Levite ignoreit; the innkeeper treats it professionally; and the Samaritan solvesit.

And each character or group in the story has a different motto and philosophy of life. Simply stated, the motto of the robbers was 'Yours is mine if I can get it. That of the priest and Levite was 'Mine is my own if I can keep it. That of the innkeeper was 'Mine is yours if you can pay for it’. And the motto of the Samaritan was 'Mine is yours if you need it’.

The setting. First, the Lord painted the scene. He began His response to the lawyer’s question by referring to the road which went down from Jerusalem to Jericho; which it did quite literally by over 3,000 feet.1 This road was a desolate, uninspiring sort of place. And I suspect that the Lord chose such a scene for his story intentionally. For here there would be no audience, no spectators. Each of the key characters was therefore free to act naturally. And already we learn that our Lord would challenge us through His story as to how we respond to a ‘neighbour’s’ need when there is nobody around to look over our shoulders and no point in pretending to be what we are not.

But this particular road wasn’t only lonely; it was downright dangerous. It stretched for the best part of 20 miles, and by far the longest section of it passed through a rocky gorge bracketed by barren and bleak mountains. With its many rocks and caves, this wild region lent itself naturally as a resort for bandits and brigands. The name of the gorge in Arabic means the ‘Ascent of Blood’, a name which may well derive from the acts of violence once regularly committed there.2 Having set the scene, the Lord introduced the first of our four categories.

Enter the robbers. They weren’t ‘thieves’ as suggested by some Bible translations. These men didn’t pilfer or steal. They were robbers, outlaws; they plundered and took by force.3 That is, they were of the Barabbas type (‘Now Barabbas was a robber’, John 18. 40 – the same word), not the Judas Iscariot type (‘he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it’, John 12. 6). They represent the nasty type of person who looks somebody else up and down and asks ‘what can I get out of him?’ ‘What use is he to me?’ To characters like these, other people are simply tools to be used and exploited for their own selfish purposes.

In this connection, we should note that these robbers stripped their victim before they wounded him. It wasn’t therefore that their greed compelled them to an act of violence. It wasn’t that they were required, reluctantly, to disable the man to obtain his garments. Indeed, they took the precaution of removing his clothes, before they injured the poor man, that his garments, which were an allimportant part of the spoil, wouldn’t be torn or stained with blood. It was only then that they ‘wounded’ him (literally, ‘they laid blows on him’), either to ensure that he wouldn’t be able to follow them or for the sheer fun of it!

Before leaving the robbers, I need to stop and ask, ‘Is there nothing of the robber character in me?’ Am I never influenced by what I can get out of others? Do I never feel a sadistic sense of satisfaction and pleasure when somebody I dislike suffers in some way? Do I never wish ill on others – for any reason?

Exit the robbers and enter the priest. Jesus introduced this character to us with the words, ‘by chance a priest was going down that way’. In other words, it was by sheer coincidence that the priest happened to be passing that way. And such words may well sound strange to those of us who believe in divine providence. But, by these words, our Lord emphasized at least two things. First, He stressed the loneliness of the road. The wounded man lay in an isolated spot, and might easily have lain there too long for help to arrive. And, second, our Lord stressed the casualness of the meeting, emphasizing that there was nothing special or exceptional about the encounter. For He wants us to know that it is our response to the ordinary, everyday situations of life which best reveal our character.4 We are to ‘do good to all’, we are told, ‘as we have … opportunity’.5

We should note that Jesus didn’t dispute either the orthodoxy or the knowledge of the priest. We can assume therefore that our Lord was happy for us to believe that the priest was fully versed in all the temple ritual. No doubt, the priest could have put others right on any matter of the ceremonial law. And yet he was blind to the practical implications of the very law which men sought at his mouth.6 For his own law required him to assist his brother in lifting up a fallen beast, ‘You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fall down along the road, and hide yourself from them; you shall surely help him lift them up again’.7 And this was no donkey or ox which the priest spied by the road; it was his ‘brother’! It was his ‘neighbour’.

But if our Lord didn’t challenge the priest’s orthodoxy, neither did He accuse him of doing any active harm to the unfortunate man lying on the roadside. The priest didn’t go across to inflict further injury on the motionless form, nor to steal any goods which the robbers might have missed. His was altogether a sin of omission, consisting entirely in what he failed to do. James captured the spirit of it at the close of his fourth chapter, ‘to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin’.8

We pause for a moment to ask, ‘Do we never, indifferent and uncaring, walk past those in trouble? Do we never deliberately look the other way and heartlessly ignore their plight?’ Ah, but then we usually manage to come up with some good excuses for doing so. And before we dare ‘point the finger’9 at the priest, we ought perhaps imagine some of the very plausible – and perhaps uncomfortably familiar – excuses which he could have offered.

He might have argued, for example, that he couldn’t spare the time just then. Jericho was a very attractive location, spoken of repeatedly in the Old Testament as ‘the city of palms’.10 Indeed, there are occasions in the year when others can be shivering in the snow in Jerusalem while you bask in the sun in Jericho! It is hardly surprising therefore that Jericho was one of the main country residences of the Jerusalem priesthood. I understand that about half of Israel’s priests in our Lord’s day resided there. And it is quite likely that our priest was on his way home after finishing his work in the temple.

It is estimated that there were tens of thousands of priests in Israel at the time.11 With only one temple, the whole priesthood was on duty at the festivals of the Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. Dating back to the days of King David, the priesthood had been divided into 24 courses, each of which served at the temple for two weeks in the year.12

I imagine that this priest had just finished his round of temple duty. His wife knew what time to expect him home, and would, no doubt, have a fine meal ready for him. If, therefore, he delayed to help the robbers’ victim, his meal would be ruined, his wife distraught with worry, and, likely as not, his life not worth living when he finally arrived home! Indeed, given the choice, on balance he would probably have rather faced the robbers!

Again, the priest could have pleaded that he wasn’t suitably dressed. Surely it was unthinkable that he should get his splendid robes either stained with the blood of the man or soiled with the dirt of the road.

He might have pleaded also that for him to help could easily have interfered with his own spiritual life and service. Remember that our Lord described the man as ‘half dead’. For all the priest knew, the prostrate figure might have been that of a dead man, or, if not, he might soon die. This would have proved a calamity for the priest if he had touched the body. For, according to the books of Leviticus and Numbers, the priest would have then been ceremonially defiled and unclean for seven days.13

And then he could have argued that the risks involved in stopping to assist were far too great. Clearly the man lying there had not been knocked down by a passing chariot! And the unsavoury characters who had recently waylaid the poor fellow might well still be lurking around, just ready to pounce. Indeed, for all the priest knew, they might even have left the man’s body lying there to lure other unsuspecting souls to the spot. Surely, there was no sense in risking his own life for that of a man about whom he knew nothing at all. For him to do so could well have meant that within five minutes or so there would have been, not one, but two men lying ‘half-dead’ by the side of the road, and one of them a very valuable clergyman from the Jerusalem temple!

And, yet again, he could have argued plausibly that he was not the right man for the job. The poor fellow on the roadside evidently needed proper medical care and attention, and he, the priest, was neither trained nor skilled to give this. Now if the man had only wanted a lecture on the tabernacle …! Or if he, the priest, had only been the author of this Gospel, who was ‘medically qualified’, that would have been different!14

And then the priest had one final excuse: he could see a Levite coming along behind. This case was surely more in the Levite’s line than his. After all, were not the Levites supposed to perform the more menial tasks? Had not God appointed them to minister to the needs of the priesthood?15 Surely, it would therefore be more appropriate for ‘the servant’ to stop and assist the robbers’ victim than for ‘the master’ to do so. Yes, this was definitely more up his street.

And have we never excused ourselves from helping someone in need on similar grounds? Do the following ring any bells? ‘In other circumstances I should have been only too glad to help, but I'm afraid it isn’t convenient right now’. ‘It’s a pity, but I just happen to have my tidy clothes on at the moment’. ‘I have set aside this morning for Bible study and I can’t let my neighbour’s crisis interfere with my spiritual life’. ‘Frankly, the risks are too great’. ‘There are others far better qualified than me to help’. ‘I can safely leave it for somebody else’.

And so, the priest gingerly picked his way around the man, passed on, and passed out of our Lord’s story.

Exit priest and enter Levite. The Levite could, of course, have offered similar excuses as the priest. There was, however, one obvious difference. Because, rather than seeing somebody coming along behind, he could see a familiar figure up ahead. It was that of the priest, disappearing over the horizon as quickly as his legs could carry him. ‘Well now’, the Levite might have said to himself, ‘I had thought at first of stopping to help this poor man, but, in all honesty, I fail to see how this can be at all necessary. For that worthy priest, at whose mouth men seek the law, has just passed him by. So he evidently didn’t look at it that way. Apart from which, for me now to stop and help would, in effect, be to accuse the priest of heartlessness and indifference’.

But let us examine our own ways. Have we never shirked our duty towards a neighbour on the ground that others have been content to pass by and do nothing?

Yet it is a serious matter to ‘pass by’ someone in need. In verses 11-14 of the prophecy of Obadiah, the prophet traces a progression in the attitude and behaviour of Edom at the time of the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Before ever the Edomites appropriated some of the spoils, v. 13, or actively prevented the fleeing Jews from escaping and handed them over to the Babylonians, v. 14, he has first stood aloof and indifferent when their ‘brother’ needed their help, v. 11.16 And Obadiah makes it clear that the person who, when he has the opportunity to do so, neglects to come to the help of someone who is abused is, in God’s sight, as responsible for that person’s suffering as is the person who abuses, ‘In the day that you stood on the other side … even you were as one of them (the Babylonians)’.

It is at this point that Jesus introduces His hero, the Samaritan.

Our Lord could, of course, have contrasted the religious leaders with one of the common Jewish people. Yet there is something exceedingly noble about the way in which our Lord cast the star role in His story. For it had been only a short time before that a village of Samaritans had refused to receive Him.17 The ‘Sons of Thunder’ (James and John18) had rumbled loudly that day! They were all for calling down fire from heaven on the village, just as Elijah had twice called down celestial fire on men who came from Samaria.19 Yet, in spite of the insult and slight which He had recently received from the Samaritans, Jesus chose a Samaritan to be His personification of goodness and generosity.

To be continued.



A road from Jerusalem to Jericho had probably existed from ancient times. It is possible that David had escaped along this road, 2 Sam. 15. 23, and that King Zedekiah of Judah had fled on this road when attempting to escape from the Chaldeans, 2 Kgs. 25. 4-5. Josephus tells us that the Tenth Roman Legion followed this route on their way to besiege Jerusalem in AD 69, Wars of the Jews, Book V, Chapter II, paragraph 3.


It corresponds to the Hebrew translated Adummim (’the ascent {or ‘pass'} of red’), Josh. 15. 7; 18. 17. Adummim means ‘something red’, and may originally have referred to the red rock found in the area. But Jerome, the socalled Church Father (342–420), interpreted the name as related to the shedding of blood there.


In his Gospel, Luke uses the Greek word for ‘thief’ as well as that for ‘robber’. He uses the first (klept – es, from which we derive the English word ‘kleptomaniac’) in both Luke 12. 33 and 39. Occurring 17 times in the Septuagint and 16 times in the New Testament, this word describes a non-violent offender who committed his crimes in secret. Luke uses the second word (l – est – es) here in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Occurring nine times in the Septuagint, used 42 times by Josephus and 15 times by New Testament writers, this word describes armed bands who are intentionally brutal and violent when they committed their crimes, See R. C. TRENCH, Synonyms of the New Testament, xliv.


Compare the words of the French philosopher Blaise Pascal, ‘A man’s virtue must be measured, not by his extraordinary efforts, but by his usual course of action’.


Gal. 6. 10.


Mal. 2. 7.


Deut. 22. 4; cf. Exod. 23. 5.


James 4. 17.


Cf. Isa. 58. 9.


Deut. 34. 3; Judg. 3. 13; 2 Chron. 28. 15. Jericho received only eight inches of rain a year.


‘Over and above those that were scattered in the country and took their turn, there were not fewer than 24,000 stationed permanently at Jerusalem, and 12,000 at Jericho’, Smith’s Bible Dictionary, article ‘Priest’.


1 Chron. 24. 3-19; Luke 1. 8. See also J. JEREMIAS, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, pages 198-207. The priest did, however, have other responsibilities; cf. Mal. 2. 7.


Lev. 21. 1-4; Num. 5. 2; 19. 11.


Col. 4. 14.


Num. 3. 6, 9; 18. 6.


The words translated ‘stood on the other side’ in Obadiah 11, are translated ‘stand aloof’ in Psalm 38. 11, ‘my friends stand aloof from my plague, and my kinsmen stand afar off’ KJV.


Luke 9. 51-55.


Mark 3. 17.


2 Kings 1. 2, 9-12.


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