Who do you identify with in the Parable of the Good Samaritan?
We usually like to think we are more like the Good Samaritan than the other characters in the story. But sometimes we play the part of the other folks in the story.
If you could ask Jesus a question, what would it be? What do you think his answer would be?
Every time I think about this, I realize Jesus would have been able to see what the real issue was behind my question and respond to what was deep in my heart.
Have you ever noticed how Jesus rarely gives a direct answer to a question? Sometimes he responds with a question of his own. Sometimes he refocuses the conversation to bring out an important lesson or rebuke.
This is exactly what happened when someone asked Jesus what he needed to do to have eternal life.
The set-up for the Parable of the Good Samaritan
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ [Deuteronomy 6:5]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ [Leviticus 19:18]”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” Luke 10:25-28 NIV
There’s no way to know the exact motive of this fellow. Some translations use the word tempt instead of test. But it’s not necessarily a negative motive here. It could be a sincere desire to hear Jesus’s perspective.
Sometimes people of faith, then and now, like to quote Scripture back and forth to each other just to reassure themselves about something they believe. It could be just that or perhaps he was seeing if Jesus really knew his stuff.
But the point is that Jesus turned it back on him and actually gave him an opportunity, which it seems he was happy to take advantage of, to expound on two of the most important teachings from the Bible, loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus was actually showing a lot of respect to this man in asking him how he would answer the question.
It’s not just about quoting the right Scripture
When the man quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, Jesus acknowledges his correct answer. But then points out it’s not just about knowing and quoting the right Bible verses. He says “Do this and you will live.”
How does this apply to you and me today?
How often do we judge our own faith or someone else’s by what Scriptures we quote, the words we say, and the doctrines we believe? Jesus makes it crystal clear, that to experience eternal life, action is required. We have to do what’s in those Two Great Commandments.
Jesus had already pointed out in the Sermon on the Mount why our actions are important.
just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. Matthew 7:20 NLT
When you obey these two commandments to love God and your neighbor as yourself, people can’t help but notice because of how you’re acting.
What does it really mean to love your neighbor as yourself?
Now, the guy questioning Jesus was probably as conscientious as he knew how to be in loving God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength. And he probably thought he was loving his neighbor as himself as well. But the Bible says he wanted to make sure that he was doing it right, so he asked Jesus another question.
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:29 NIV
So here’s the question behind the question Jesus is really going to address. It’s what this man really needed to hear. And Jesus shows him, and this lesson is a reminder for you and me today, what it actually means to love your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus’s answer is called the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
Now, I know you’ve heard and read this parable too many times to count, but I’m going to read it again and as I do, think about which character in the story you identify with the most. If you’re like me, you may have played all the roles in this parable at one time or another. But think about who you are and where you are right now.
Who are you in the Parable of the Good Samaritan?
So, in response to the question, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii [a denarius is a day’s wage for a laborer] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:30-37 NIV
There it is again, being a good neighbor, loving your neighbor, involves doing something, not just thinking or quoting Bible verses.
Are you the Good Samaritan?
So, who do you identify with the most in this story?
We’re usually quick to think we are acting like the Good Samaritan, always willing and able to help those in need. But when I look closely in the mirror at how I have responded, over the years, to people in need, all too often I’ve been more like the priest or the Levite, full of religious ardor but not wanting to get involved or get my hands dirty.
There have certainly been times in my life when I was more like the Good Samaritan. In fact, on a previous episode of The Bible Speaks to You Podcast, I share an experience I had many years ago when I lived in Boston. I met a man on the streets begging for money and responded with love. It was a beautiful experience and both of us were blessed. It was all the way back on Episode 4: Are You Afraid to Love as Much as Jesus Did?
But there have also been many times when I have been like the priest or Levite, seeing someone’s plight and walking by, or worse, making some glib remark that wasn’t helpful.
Sometimes it’s harder to be the Good Samaritan
And I just have to say, at least for me, sometimes it’s been easier to be a Good Samaritan when I’m all by myself. When I’m with other people who are in a hurry, or aren’t inclined to help someone, or frankly don’t even notice them, it’s really hard to stop and minister to some stranger in need. Once in a while when this happens, I’ve slipped someone a few bucks just to show a little compassion. But I know that won’t solve their problem.
Now, it’s one thing to help someone you know, and that’s not always easy, by the way. That’s probably what the man of the law might have been thinking, that he was loving to his friends.
But to meet a total stranger that has been either literally or metaphorically robbed and beaten half to death, and help them to the degree the Good Samaritan did, makes a completely different demand on your heart.
Have you ever been the priest or the Levite?
Just imagine for a minute if you had been the priest or the Levite in this story. Why wouldn’t you have stopped to help? Well, why don’t we stop to help folks today who have been robbed, beaten up, and discarded by society?
It wouldn’t take long to come up with a long list of reasons we don’t help people in distress. And frankly, sometimes we may not be the right person to help someone.
Here are just a few things we say to ourselves:
- I tried to help someone like that once before and they just took advantage of me.
- I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to help them.
- I don’t have the resources to make a difference in someone’s life.
- I’m in a hurry. I don’t have time to get involved.
- I have enough drama of my own. I can’t afford to get involved in someone else’s drama.
- It’s beneath my dignity to help someone like that.
- It’s too dangerous to stop. Someone might attack me too.
- He should just take responsibility for himself and he wouldn’t be in this mess.
- I’m on my way to church and can’t be late.
- Someone else will help him.
- I’ll pray for him.
- It’s his own fault he’s in that mess.
- People will think I’m a fool if I stop to help this person.
- It’s too late anyway. He’s too far gone for anyone to help.
I have pretty much used all these excuses for not stopping to help someone. And some of them may seem more legitimate than others depending on the occasion.
Don’t forget to love yourself
Now on the other hand, I know people who are always helping someone else. They’ll go out of their way to do something for someone, even people they don’t know. But they don’t really take care of themselves. They feel all virtuous that they’re doing their Christian duty to help others, but this isn’t necessarily what Jesus had in mind when he affirmed that we’re supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves.
To obey that command you have to love yourself as well. There needs to be a balance.
Maybe that’s why the Good Samaritan was able to help the man who got robbed. Could it be that he loved himself. He felt comfortable enough with himself that he could see beyond his own little world and include others with a sense of compassion and basic humanity.
Maybe then, Jesus is saying the priest and the Levite didn’t really know what love was. If they had really loved God with all their heart and loved themselves, they would have responded differently to the man lying in their path.
This is why Jesus was able to help people in a way no one ever had before. Jesus truly loved his heavenly Father with every fiber of his being. And he loved himself as the Son of God. He owned who he was and valued it. And he put this love into practice in the way he loved everyone as his neighbor. He practiced what he preached.
Have you ever been one of the thieves in the Parable of the Good Samaritan?
Now there are some other characters in this story we haven’t talked about yet, the thieves and the inn keeper, and if you really want to get technical, we could include the Good Samaritan’s donkey, who also played a role in the story.
Have you ever been the one who robbed someone’s joy or beat up someone’s faith and inspiration because they didn’t express it the exact same way you would?
I have to admit, I have been the thief on occasion. Not recently, thank goodness, but early in my faith journey, I could be rather inconsiderate of where someone else was on their faith journey, especially if it didn’t line up with what I thought they should be believing and doing.
All I can say to that is: Thank You God for being merciful to me and teaching me to be more merciful to others.
If you are struggling with a tendency to be judgmental or critical of others, ask God to fill your heart with the compassion the Good Samaritan had.
And let’s just stop here for a minute to remember that the Jews hated the Samaritans and considered them as inferior socially and religiously. Think of how the Jews, especially the expert in the Jewish Law who asked Jesus the questions, would have reacted just at the mention of a Samaritan as Jesus was telling the story.
Before Jesus got to the part where the Samaritan helped the wounded man, those listening would probably have felt disgust, disdain, and contempt for him. When it turns out the Samaritan is the hero of the story, the only one who shows compassion and does anything to help, I think those Jewish listeners were stunned.
And then when Jesus tells this expert in Jewish Law to follow the example of a Samaritan, it could almost be taken as an insult. But the way Jesus finishes the story in the context of the man’s original question about attaining eternal life, makes the lesson even more poignant and gives everyone plenty to think about, probably for days.
How would Jesus tell the parable today?
And here we are talking about it 2,000 years later. But there’s a difference. We’ve heard the story of the Good Samaritan so many times. We’ve heard or preached sermons about it, read books, listened to podcasts, and been in Bible studies where we dissected the story line by line.
But just try to imagine how it sounded to those folks listening for the first time. It was very radical and startling.
How would Jesus tell that parable today? It would probably depend on who he was talking to. Just for the sake of discussion, imagine Jesus telling this parable to long time Sunday School teacher in a church that thinks they are the only ones who have the correct theology and look with disdain and condemnation at people in other churches.
Can’t you just see Jesus replacing the priest and the Levite with the pastor and a deacon from that fellow’s church? And then for the Good Samaritan, he might substitute someone in a church the Sunday School teacher was most critical of. How do you think that Sunday School teacher would respond?
Let’s take this one step closer to home. How would Jesus tell this parable to you? Who would he have to have help the injured man to make you realize you needed a much deeper understanding and practice of what it means to love your neighbor?
I’ll let you think on that one for a while.
Have you ever been the innkeeper?
Now what about the innkeeper. Have you ever played that role? It’s sort of like being a nurse. You take care of someone in a very practical way. You tend to their needs as they recover from some trauma. You probably do this all the time with friends and family.
For the innkeeper, the injured man was a stranger, but he probably had a long term relationship with the Good Samaritan and trusted him.
Now, he was in the business of housing travelers, but not necessarily those who had been injured so badly. But he still responded with love.
When someone you know and trust asks for your help in caring for someone, who has been injured in some way, remember how the innkeeper responded.
Don’t forget the donkey’s role
Now there’s one more character in the story, and I had never really thought of his role until putting together this week’s podcast episode. It’s the donkey.
Think about the important role that donkey played in the story.
The injured man couldn’t walk. The Good Samaritan couldn’t have carried him all the way to the inn. The donkey is an unsung hero in this story. I’ve rarely heard anyone talk about how important this beast of burden is.
Have you ever played the role of the donkey when someone needed help?
I have and it is simply a supporting role. You’re not in charge. You don’t need to voice your opinions, good or bad. You don’t really have any opinions about what’s going on. In fact, it’s sometimes best if you don’t say much, if anything. You just do the job at hand of getting someone somewhere to be cared for, or helping someone in a quiet loving way.
As I said earlier, we usually like to think we are always the Good Samaritan in this story, but sometimes you may be the innkeeper or the donkey. All three are important and work together to bless the one who needs help.
And I just want to point out, sometimes you need to be a Good Samaritan, an innkeeper or a donkey to yourself, especially if you’ve been the thief, the priest, or the Levite to yourself.
Does the Parable of the Good Samaritan mean we have to help every single person in need?
So if we’re going to take Jesus’s parable to heart, does this mean we stop and take care of every homeless person we see on the streets or everyone who has been abused by society?
There’s really no way one person can do it all. But when you have the love in your heart the Good Samaritan had, you’ll be guided to help those you can help.
And it’s important not to feel guilty about not helping everyone you see that needs help. There’s no way to help everyone. And you may not have the talents, ability, or wisdom to offer someone the help they really need.
But we can’t use that as an excuse to ignore people in need. We can always respond with love and treat people with respect.
Have a real conversation with a real person
Several years ago, I was visiting Boise, ID for a conference and one afternoon as I was walking downtown, I saw a woman with a hand-lettered cardboard sign asking for help. She wanted to get to a nearby town. I felt such compassion and I sat down with her and asked her how she was doing. Then I simply said, “Tell me your story.” I don’t remember all the details, but she was really trying to get her life together never asked me for any money.
We just talked for about 10 or 15 minutes. It was a real conversation with a real person. I shared some ideas and some of my own experiences that seemed appropriate, which she appreciated.
Before I stood up to leave, we prayed together. Just before I said good-bye, I felt God nudge me to give her a few dollars, so I did. I knew this wasn’t going to solve her problems. But she was grateful and we were both blessed because I took the time to treat her with the love and respect every human being deserves.
I encourage you to think about the parable of the Good Samaritan in a fresh light and see how you can take the role God gives you when you’re helping someone. And if you ever find yourself in the role of the person who got robbed and beat up, you can trust God to send just the right Good Samaritan, innkeeper, and donkey to help you. Be humble and willingly accept all those who come to your aid.
I’ll leave you with these questions: Who is your neighbor? And whose neighbor are you? What will you do about it?
Photo Credit: Free Bible Images
James Early, the Jesus Mindset Coach, is a Bible teacher, speaker, and podcaster. He conducts Bible workshops online and in person. His focus is on getting back to the original Christianity of Jesus by embracing the mindset of Christ in daily life. Contact him here.
Luke 10:25-28 NIV
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ [Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18]”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
Deuteronomy 6:5 NIV
5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Leviticus 19:18 NIV
18 “ ‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”
Matthew 7:20 NLT
20 just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.
Luke 10:29 NIV
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Luke 10:30-37 NIV
30 Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.
31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.
32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.
35 The next day he took out two denarii [a denarius is a day’s wage for a laborer] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”