The parable of the Good Samaritan is generally understood to be an ethical teaching of Jesus that challenges us to love our neighbor better. Most teachings on the parable are moralistic, leaving the impression that the imperative to “go and do likewise” is the sole aim of what Jesus is attempting to accomplish in telling the story.
But have we missed the greater lesson of what Jesus is impressing upon the hearer in this well-known story? Is the parable simply intended to press upon us the responsibility to love better? To answer this question, there is required a careful reflection of the context into which this parable comes. The parable is a surprising response to someone who understood well the demand of the law to love, but had failed to see how far he missed the mark of love in his own life.
An Issue of Justification
Luke 10:25–37 records for us that a certain lawyer approached Jesus to test him about how one can obtain eternal life. The lawyer specifically asks Jesus what he must “do to inherit eternal life.” When Jesus answers specific questions posed to him in the synoptic gospels, it is important to reflect carefully on the question that is being asked of Jesus. If the question being posed is not understood, the exegesis that follows will be faulty.
In this case, the lawyer asks the very same question of the rich young ruler, “what must I do to inherit eternal life”—two verbs. This is an entirely different question than those who asked Jesus for mercy, as with blind Bartimaeus, or others who, as in the book of Acts, asked what they must do to be saved. Humble approaches to Jesus by those who asked for mercy and deliverance from sin received compassionate responses. This lawyer, however, was asking Jesus how, through his own efforts, he could achieve eternal life, not salvation.
…Jesus Tells a Story
The glaring omission in the dialogue, unlike that of the rich young ruler who openly said he obeyed the law, is the silence of the lawyer with regard to his own performance of love. The problem, as much of the rabbinic tradition evidences, is that a neighbor was only understood to be a fellow Jew. The question is whether Leviticus 19:8, in its command to love one’s neighbor, only intended love to be exercised for a fellow Israelite, as the Rabbinic writings indicate, or did it demand love for all peoples. To answer this question, Jesus now tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. Read more»
Chris Gordon | “Have We Misunderstood the Parable of the Good Samaritan?” | Jan 21, 2022
- How To Subscribe To Heidelmedia
- The Heidelblog Resource Page
- Heidelmedia Resources
- The Ecumenical Creeds
- The Reformed Confessions
- The Heidelberg Catechism
- Recovering the Reformed Confession (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008)
- Why I Am A Christian
- Support Heidelmedia: use the donate button
- What Happens When We Turn The Good News Into Bad News?
- Resources on the Law/Gospel Distinction (Updated)
- “Letter and Spirit: Law and Gospel in Reformed Preaching,” in R. Scott Clark, ed. Covenant, Justification and Pastoral Ministry: Essays by the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2006), 331–63.
I’m reading the parable of the Good Samaritan using the three uses of the law but I think I’m seeing this as a much darker passage than most. Since the lawyer asking the questions is not a believer and was trying to justify himself, I wouldn’t interpret Jesus’ exhortation to “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37) as the encouraging third use kind.
If redemption is concealed in the OT and revealed in the NT, my thought here is that Jesus is actually still concealing himself. He doesn’t say here that he is the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus doesn’t say “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in front of you” or “The water I give will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Some preachers frame the antagonism between Jews and Samaritans as primarily an ethnic conflict, but it’s possible that Jews looked down on them as unsaved Gentiles as in Ephesians 2:12. Perhaps the Samaritans had violated God’s laws against marrying unbelievers by intermarriage with Babylonians.
Any hypothetical sin of the Samaritans would not justify Jewish contempt, but the historical cultural and religious context could give us insight into Jesus’ response. The lawyer tries to justify himself with the law and the point of Jesus’ parable could be something like “Look, even the Gentiles have the law,” as in Romans 2:15.
We are quick to see conflict in social terms. But if the Samaritan identity is religious rather than social then “Go and do likewise” is much more complex. It could be somewhat ironic. We could read this as “Go be like the pagans.”
This would be consistent with Jesus’ complex (and somewhat ironic) advice to the rich young ruler in Mark 10:21.
And Mark 14:6 when Jesus praises his anointing over ministry to the poor, subordinating works to beatific vision.
It would be also be consistent with the sections of Luke that come before and after the parable of the good Samaritan. Jesus had just explained that no one knows the Father & Son except those to whom it is revealed (Luke 10:22), and then explained how valuable this revelation is (Luke 10:23). Now in this parable he demonstrates what he’d just said: kings and prophets – and now lawyers – who want to know cannot.
And immediately after the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus does not emphasize or encourage Martha’s service, but clearly subordinates her work to Mary’s faith. He’s not saying that the law or moral imperatives or works are bad. Only that the Gospel is a better portion.
Am I wrong to read Jesus’ exhortation to “Go and do likewise” as a rebuke under the first use of the law?