The first century church was built on two things: love and doctrine. Without love, we actively disobey the Lord (cf. Mark 12:29-30; 1 John 3:15ff.). By loving others “the whole law is fulfilled” (Gal. 5:14; cf. Rom. 13:8-10) and our “actual” justification before God (through faith alone) is demonstrated before man—, which was James’ entire argument in chapter 2.
But if a church or the spiritual life of Christian is all love, then theological confusion arises and thus, the significance and definition of the gospel becomes mottled and impractical.
Parable of the Good Samaritan
Sociologically, Samaritans were lowly and unpopular people, which intensifies the point of Jesus’ parallel. Starting in Luke 10:25-27, we read:
And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” 27 And he answered, “you shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.”
Note the lawyer’s question regarding eternal life and Jesus’ response: “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself” (see Mark 12:29-30 for the full commandment).
Verses 28-29: “And He said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this and you will live’ 29 But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” In response, Jesus presents the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Verse 30a: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.” Although this journey from “Jerusalem to Jericho” was about 17 miles, it was recognized as a very dangerous road that ran through areas of lone desert; where many robbers could hide. Jerome later termed this road as “the bloody way.” Lightfoot says that this was the “most public road in all Judea.”
Verse 30: “…and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead.” The term striped (lit., “having stripped”) is from ekduō (ek, “out” + duō, “garment”). —thus, “to strip out/off ones clothes/garments.” The same term is applied to Christ in Matthew 27:28: “They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him.”
Verse 31: “And by chance, a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.” The most frequent travelers on this road were priests and Levites. There is no reason stated as to why the priest refused to help him, but it is not significant to the point of the parable.
The phrase, “he passed by on the other side” is from antiparēlthen (lit. “he passed by on the opposite side”). The text implies that the priest actually went “on the other side,”—out of his way, totally avoiding the scene altogether.
Verse 32: “Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.” Here the Levite “saw him,” then passed by.” The two aorist participles, “having come” and “having seen” imply that the Levite took a “fast peek” then left in a hurry— note again as with the priest, the same term antiparēlthen is used: “he passed by the opposite side.” A. T. Robertson observes that this indicates “a vivid and powerful picture of the vice of Jewish ceremonial cleanliness at the cost of moral principle and duty. The Levite in Luke 10:32 behaved precisely as the priest had done and for the same reason.”
Verse 33: “But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion. . . .” The least likely person (in contrast to the grander priest and Levite), the Samaritan felt compassion. When the Samaritan “saw him, he felt, that is, he was “moved to compassion.” The two verbs (both in the aorist) “having seen” and“moved to compassion” denote a simultaneous action. In contrast to the two actions of the priest and Levite: “having seen,” “he passed by the opposite side.”
The action of the Samaritan (“felt, moved to compassion”) appears in the aorist indicative—from splagchnizomai. This verb literally denotes the inward parts of a body. Thayer defines the verb here as: “to be moved as to one’s bowels, hence, to be moved with compassion.” In fact, this term is frequently used of Christ in response to individual(s) suffering (see Matt 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 18:27; 20:34; Mark 1:41; 6:34; 8:2; 9:22). As also in Luke 7:13: “When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion [lit., “was moved to deep compassion”] for her, and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”
The Samaritan Difference
The Samaritan felt compassion for this man—expressed love for him (again keeping with the context of the text—love for God and neighbors).
“Showing” loving-compassionate actions towards others demonstrates one’s actual justification (salvation) greater than that of praising God, singing hymns on Sunday morning, endless praying, etc. Loving others (by actions, overtly) proves one’s faith as true (as the Apostle James argues). Calvin says, “Though the worship of God is greatly preferable, and is more valuable than all the duties of a holy life, yet its outward exercises ought not to be estimated so highly as to swallow up brotherly kindness.”
Note the next verse (34): where we find that Samaritan shows six acts of love/compassion:
- Bandaged up his wounds.
- Pouring oil and wine on them.
- Put him on his own beast (animal).
- Brought him to an Inn.
- Took care of him.
- He made sure the innkeepers took care of him.
Jesus then asked in verse 36: “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” Keep in mind as to the question to Jesus from the lawyer, that is, the religious expert, in verse 29: “But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” Here, Jesus turns the question around to the religious expert to a question of what it means to become a neighbor and truly (and openly) loving. Jesus is showing the religious expert of the law that it is irrelevant as to who the neighbor is, but rather, who he is (the religious expert) and his actions are what matters.
Verse 37: “And he said, ‘The one who showed mercy toward him.’ Then Jesus said to him, Go and do the same.’”
In a broad context, the priest and Levite representing the OT law would not or could not deliver a man from his pain and suffering. In a wider sense, the OT law could never redeem man or provide to God a ransom for him—that was never the intention of the law; it was powerless to do so—it only condemned (cf. Heb. 7-10).
In John 8:48, the Jews called Jesus a “Samaritan.” However, unrecognizable to the Jews, the similarities of Christ and the parable are remarkable:
- As the traveler went “down from Jerusalem to Jericho,” Christ made a journey coming down from heaven to earth, became flesh “being made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7).
- He came as powerful Savior to do what the priests and the Levites (OT law) would not nor could not do.
- Through His vicarious life and death Christ (unlike the priest and the Levite) provided redemption, rest, healing, and everlasting “peace with God” (Rom. 5:1).Christ, out of compassion for His people, came to save perfectly all that the Father gave to Him and loses no one, but raises “it up at the last day” (John 6:39).
- As the Samaritan “brought the wounded man to an Inn and took care of him,” Christ brings His sheep, yet wounded from the effects of sin, to an eternal dwelling place that He prepared for them.
In this sense, Jesus Christ was the ultimate “Samaritan.” His motivation for His atonement (vicarious redemptive work) was His love and compassion for lost dying (dead) sinners—He lived and died on their behalf. Christ is our only means of peace. In whom “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (cf. Eph. 1:7).
Christ, the ultimate Samaritan who saved us!