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Neighbors - The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)

Updated: Mar 11, 2021

Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Luke 10:25-37

We demonstrate our love for God in the way we treat one another. Jesus revealed the hardness of one man's heart through the timeless Parable of the Good Samaritan and issued the challenge to him (and us all) to be like that Samaritan.

“Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” Luke 10:36

Getting Started: Things to Think About

Neighbors from Hell

Back when we covered Proverbs 3 in Sunday School (just last June!), I called my supplement

(By the way, that passage came with some great summaries of what "being a good neighbor" looks like. If you need some examples of what to do/not to do, I put those summaries on the page linked above.)

Letting people talk about their personal experiences with neighbors over the years can be a great way to illustrate the concept of "neighbor", and here's why:

In our passage this week, it is assumed that "neighbors" take care of one another. How do neighbors treat one another today?

Let that sink in -- in our passage, both Jesus and the questioner assume that to be called a "neighbor", you are doing good for one another. Is that still a good assumption? Why?

I've had some great neighbors over the years, and some neighbors that we didn't really get along with. And here's what I've noticed about myself: I find it a lot easier to do favors for the neighbors I get along with. What do you think Jesus would say to me about that?

So, if you choose to use the "neighbor horror stories" approach to get people thinking about the Parable of the Good Samaritan, make sure to make the transitional point that Jesus wants us to be a good neighbor even to those horror neighbors.

Self-Justification Failures

If taking about neighbors doesn't seem to be the fun way to get your brain working, you might try this question: have you ever rationalized a mistake? Of course you have. We all do. We all have blind spots about ourselves, and we've all come up with ways to convince ourselves that they're not that bad. What are some of ways you've rationalized behavior?

One article I read ("The Good and Bad Sides of Self-Justification") gave this handy list of how to identify self-justification:

  • But what about…

  • It’s not as bad as…

  • It’s not my fault because…

  • It couldn’t be helped because…

  • It was wrong but…

  • It’s legal…

  • It’s my right…

  • I deserve it because…

  • I was protecting my interests…

  • It’s my job/obligation to…

  • I couldn’t because…

  • They left me no choice because…

So, we might be talking about the student who tries to justify cheating on a test, or the athlete who justifies taking an illegal substance, or employee who justifies hiding certain earning information from a client. This topic can get really serious -- people today attempt to justify anything, even sexual abuse or other crimes.

But as an opening topic, I would recommend keeping things on the lighter side! This could be a fun chance for self-deprecation. You will get serious later in the lesson.

Here are some of my personal self-justifications (I'll let you guess what I'm justifying):

  • No one else rides in my car, so . . .

  • I know where everything in my office is . . .

  • We can save money if . . .

So, how about you? What are the things you justify that deep down you know you shouldn't?

There's a lot of secular psychology you can study behind self-justification, and if you're going to use this as a topic for discussion, you should understand the connection with this week's passage. The psychology of self-justification unintentionally teaches a biblical perspective on humanity. One summary article I read ("Why We Rationalize Our Mistakes") drew these main conclusions about self-justification:

  1. self-justification is a necessary consequence of human fallibility, and

  2. self-justification is a result of cognitive dissonance.

That's all rather biblical. All humans are fallible (or, we would also say sinful). That means that we all make mistakes, and unless we're repentant, we're naturally going to justify our mistakes to feel better about them. As you and I have probably learned, Satan is very good at exploiting this tendency to self-justify.

And then secondly, cognitive dissonance is the term in psychology that describes the discomfort we feel when trying to hold two inconsistent beliefs (like, for example, the desires of the flesh and the desires of the spirit). God has created all people in His image, which means at least in part that we have His morality woven into us (i.e. our conscience). So, when we do something wrong, we know it, we don't like how it feels, and so we find ways to justify it. A common example given for this are people who know smoking is unhealthy for them and yet do it anyway. Again, biblical

In summary, in our passage this week, a man knows that the second great commandment is to love his neighbor as himself, and he knows that he hasn't been doing that, and so he attempts to justify himself by manipulating the definition of "neighbor". We're going to challenge ourselves to uncover any such tendencies to self-justify in ourselves . . .


This Week's Big Idea: Samaritans

Since the last time we talked in depth about the Samaritans, we studied the book of Isaiah, and so we should have even more context for what's going between Jews and Samaritans.

"Samaria" is the name of a mountain, a city, and the region in which they exist. Samaria was the capital city of the northern kingdom of Israel -- only about 40 miles north of Jerusalem. In fact, it was the only major city founded by the northern kingdom. Omri bought the location and moved the capital there, and his son Ahab (of Jezebel fame) built the ivory palace that drew ire from the prophets, and Jezebel made it a center of Baal worship (see 1 Kings 16, 18). Assyria conquered it in 721 BC (2 Kings 18).

This map of the division of the land shows you that Samaria was located near the border between Ephraim and Manasseh, the two most influential of the northern tribes. In Jesus' day, "Samaria" still referred to that territory -- the region between Judea and Galilee.

Now, let's do a history lesson. You should remember that Assyria conquered Israel/Samaria while Ahaz was king of Judah (see the lesson from Isaiah 7). A takeaway I made from that prophecy was that Samaria would be unrecognizable within a generation. And that's what happened. Assyria conquered, and their M.O. was to resettle the region with conquered people from all over so they could not organize a rebellion. There were a few Jews left, but many were Gentiles (2 Kings 17:24). I cover more of the timeline in our lesson on Isaiah 31:

By the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, they felt like so much intermarriage had happened in Samaria that they did not allow Samaritans to participate in temple worship (Ezra 4).

You can only imagine what Judean Jews thought of Samaritans 450 later during Jesus' day!

Samaritans only recognized the Pentateuch. They basically cared about Adam, Abraham's family, and Moses. Mount Gerazim was their center of worship because they thought it was connected with Adam. It's safe to say that relations were strained.

You might remember when we talked about Jesus as a preteen that when Jews traveled from Galilee to Jerusalem, they took a long road down the Jordan rather than a direct one specifically so they could avoid traveling through Samaria.

Animosity ran both ways! In a passage we skipped -- Luke 9:51-56 -- a Samaritan village refused to welcome Jesus and His disciples. In response, the disciples asked if they could call fire down from heaven! No love lost between those.

I find it very interesting, and it's clearly intentional, that only after Luke introduces the turning point of Jesus' mission (9:51), does he talk about Samaria. And in those, Jesus rebuke the disciples for their attitude toward Samaritans (9:51-56), He makes a Samaritan a parable hero (our passage this week), and He praises a Samaritan for his gratitude (17:11-18). What more powerful way to establish a mission to all people than to focus on those people the Jews particularly disdained!

What people groups are you prejudiced against? It's a safe bet that Jesus will call particular attention to them as you seek to follow Him more fully.


Our Context in Luke

Last week, we established that Luke 9:51 is a dividing line in the Gospel, with Jesus' mission focused on traveling to Jerusalem so He can be crucified for our sins. In this section, Luke develops several themes:

  • God's people rebel and reject Jesus the prophet

  • Jesus is calling for a new kind of people

  • The necessity of the crucifixion for our salvation

We see them pretty quick:

  • Samaritans reject Jesus (9:51-56)

  • People misunderstand what it means to follow Jesus (9:57-62)

  • Jews reject the disciples (10:1-24)

  • The Parable of the Good Samaritan (10:25-37)

  • Mary gets an attitude adjustment (10:38-42)

And so on. Because Luke is telescoping a whole bunch of events that happen during a long trip, we don't have to assume that everything in there is chronological, which means that Luke probably organized things by topic to make his point clearer. I'll explain what I mean in Part 1.


Part 1: The Exchange (Luke 10:25-29)

25 Then an expert in the law stood up to test him, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the law?” he asked him. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,” and “your neighbor as yourself.” 28 “You’ve answered correctly,” he told him. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

The word "Then" is actually the Greek phrase "And behold". It simply marks a change in topic. We generally assume that it indicates a sequence of events, but it's not what the phrase means. A lot of Luke's transitions are topical, like "As they were . . .". And a lot of the words translated as "Then" are actually just the Greek word for "And". Some, like 11:1 ("one day when . . .") starts with the Greek word for "It happened that". I say all of that to say this: when Matthew and Mark and Luke report some of these events in different order, that's totally okay. Americans are the ones who think that chronological sequence is a critical matter; Luke is just telling us the different events that happened while Jesus was on His mission to Jerusalem.

Luke makes it clear that this is not an innocent question. This "expert in the law" had an agenda. The phrase "expert in the law" is probably a reference to a "scribe" (see Luke 11:53). These were men who had memorized the Scripture (and a specific interpretation), and people came to them for religious rulings. Jesus believed that they burdened the people with a viewpoint which was essentially legalism (Luke 11:45). (These are the guys who would call in to the Bible answer radio show and try to stump the host, feeling smug and proud.)

What was he testing Jesus about? What was he trying to get Jesus to say? I think he was just hoping to catch Jesus in a slip-up -- as in, he had an answer in mind and was ready to pounce on Jesus if Jesus said anything else. And this was a public teaching setting ("he stood up"), so he wanted to embarrass Jesus in front of others.

To do so, he picked perhaps the most important question anyone could ask. But the irony is he probably didn't actually care about the answer! This was a test. This was the kind of question that Jewish leaders sat around debating. It was data. A test of orthodoxy. An argument. Have you ever argued about something in the Bible not really having a personal interest in the matter but just wanting to show off your head knowledge?

Jesus so smoothly and brilliantly turned the tables quickly. "What do you think the Bible says?" Because Jesus knew that this guy was full of himself Bible-wise, He knew the guy had to take the bait. The beauty and the tragedy of this exchange is that the guy knew the right answer -- in his mind. But he didn't know it in his heart, and that's why he didn't understand his own answer at all.

Think about it -- "What must I do?" First, note that he assumes that eternal life (this guy was likely a Pharisee) is synonymous with what we call salvation today. Yes, everybody has eternal life in the sense that they will live forever, but you really only want eternal life if it's in heaven with God. Second, note that he assumes that salvation can be obtained through works. And Jesus plays along with it, getting the guy to give this "correct" answer. (Jesus Himself combined these two separate commandments -- Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18 -- on multiple occasions (Matt 22:37-39, Mark 12:30-31), so He found them to be an accurate summary of the Old Testament law.)

So, what's the problem with this answer?

You can't do it. No one can.

Legalism is the idea that we can reduce God's law to a series of checkboxes. Do this, do that. And it seems to come with the audacious belief that you can and have actually done them all. How do you think any person, like this guy, can know God's law and believe they have actually done it all? I can think of three options:

  • You assume that God agrees with your assessment of your actions.

  • You redefine terms in your head (like "neighbor") to be able to check the box.

  • You're just a hypocrite.

What else do you think? This definitely reminds me of the Rich Young Man from our study of Matthew 19. In Matthew 19, Jesus had to confront the man with the limits of his obedience. In our passage, the expert is very well aware of it. That's why Luke says of the next question that he wanted to "justify himself". In other words, he knew that he did not love all of his neighbors as himself, so how could he get out of this without making himself look bad in front of all the people? His solution, to try to define "neighbor", just dug his hole deeper, as we will get to in the rest of the lesson. But for our purposes, note that just like the Rich Young Man, this guy assumed that he had indeed always loved God with his whole heart and mind. See all the different ways he had no idea how wrong he was?

  • He thought that salvation could be earned through works.

  • He thought that he had perfectly loved God.

  • He was looking for ways to get out of loving all people.

This leads to our setup -- sometimes the hardest thing to do is save a person from their religion. Are there things that you tend to get self-righteous about? All the while ignoring areas in your life that don't measure up to these great commandments? If you're not sure, read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and then see what you think of your behavior.


Part 2: The Story (Luke 10:30-35)

30 Jesus took up the question and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him up, and fled, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down that road. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 In the same way, a Levite, when he arrived at the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion. 34 He went over to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him. When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend.’

We all know the story extremely well because it is so memorable (Jesus is indeed THE master teacher). We know the story. We know the point of the story. We are emotionally attached to the stakes of the story. We know how to use the story to make a point to someone else! That's powerful teaching.

If you haven't before, turn this into a quick skit. You need "a man", some robbers, a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan. People already know the basic actions. It's a fun way to learn the parable. And here's what I would suggest -- pay attention to the "creative license" people use in their roles. What do the actors assume about the motivations or character of the people in the parable? How does it line up with what Jesus says? This can be a great learning and teaching exercise.

I'll put the map below. Note that Jesus does not identify the man's ethnicity. Why is that? Because it doesn't matter! That's the whole point of the story. The priest and the Levite passed him by. We are not told why. Maybe they were in a hurry. Maybe they feared it was a trap. But the Samaritan helped him. That's basically it.

Aside on people asking for money. We have had this discussion many, many times. We have all passed by people on street corners with the "please help" sign out. How does that line up with this parable? Have you thought about that before? On the one hand, I tend to be cynical about the "need" being portrayed to me by those asking for money. But on the other hand, I believe I tend to be more stingy than generous. For this parable to take root, I have to be honest with myself -- when there seems to be a legitimate need, am I willing to help meet it anything at all like what our Samaritan did? I like to think so. I like to think I would rise to the occasion of need. But would I?

Spend some time thinking of real-world scenarios in which someone needs help akin to this parable. First, establish the conditions. It requires not just your money, but your time, your energy, and your attention. How about:

  • You come across a one-car accident.

  • Your neighbors pipes have burst in a freeze.

  • The next town over has been evacuated by wildfire.

  • You come across a car with flashers on.

I had a hard time coming up with truly equivalent scenarios because our world is so different today. We have emergency services. People have insurance. Everyone has a cell phone.

For my part, this is what I came to -- am I willing to stop and make sure that "help is on the way"? And am I willing to stay there until help arrives? And if the help doesn't come like it's supposed to, am I willing to provide the help myself? My problem is that I tend to assume that the police have been called, or that the person knows what to do, or that someone has stopped to check on them. I wonder if I assume that because I don't want to be bothered with the inconvenience of the interruption.

This would be a great time to share stories of people who have helped you, or people you know who have helped others (again -- protect privacy). I would shy away from telling stories of when you helped someone; it can come across as tooting your own horn. I literally had my car pulled out of a ditch once, and I am still so, so grateful for that.

But make sure to bring it back around to Jesus' main point -- how many of those stories were about friends, and how many were about strangers? This Samaritan helped a complete stranger, someone who was likely antagonistic to him.


Aside on Jericho, Robbers, and First-Century Medicine

Jerusalem to Jericho was an 18-mile journey involving a 3,300 foot elevation change. This was a difficult hike that would have taken a healthy person a full day.

The following video starts out a little cheesy, but it actually contains some great detail about the road, including a helicopter view of the ancient road (which makes it really clear just how treacherous the road must have been):

There are so many twists and turns in the road -- many, many places where robbers could lie in ambush.

As you read this, realize that Jesus is deliberately being hyperbolic. The situation is extreme (a Samaritan who happens to have everything he would need to tend to a trauma patient and the skills to do it on a dangerous road outside of Jerusalem is probably rare). But that's the point. This expert thought he was a "good neighbor" -- but would he do this?

"Half dead" is a phrase used to describe a dire situation. The man on the road would have died either from exposure or from his wounds.

I think the scenario we're supposed to imagine is that this Samaritan is a merchant, carrying goods and money from place to place. But he was willing to use the inventory that would have been his income to help this person. Olive oil is antibacterial -- pour it on an open wound to protect the wound and soothe the pain. Wine can be as well -- pour it on a wound to clean it. Any fabric can be used as a bandage. The point is that the guy had extensive wounds, and the Samaritan was willing to use his own supplies to care for them (btw, if you ever come across someone like this, call 911 immediately).

But not just that! The Samaritan took money out of his own pocket, time out of his busy schedule, and maybe even sacrificed his own safety! We are given the impression that the Samaritan took the man to the closest inn (which was probably not at his destination). So, that would mean that the Samaritan was not in place to sell his goods the next morning, missing valuable customers. When the morning came (after a night of sitting with the man), the Samaritan hurried off to conduct his business, but with the promise of returning to check on the man and reimburse the innkeeper. If he had been traveling with a caravan (for protection from robbers), he left them in order to care for this man. That's a sacrifice.


Part 3: The Challenge (Luke 10:36-37)

36 “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 “The one who showed mercy to him,” he said. Then Jesus told him, “Go and do the same.”

What other response could this expert give? He tried to trap Jesus only for Jesus to expose the hardness of his own heart. Note that the expert cannot bring himself to say "The Samaritan" -- he's too embarrassed or ashamed or angry. This is a worst-case scenario for him. And that was Jesus' point. It wasn't original to Jesus! The prophets had been saying that to the Jews for centuries!

Micah 6:6-8

6 What should I bring before the Lord

when I come to bow before God on high?

Should I come before him with burnt offerings,

with year-old calves?

7 Would the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams

or with ten thousand streams of oil?

Should I give my firstborn for my transgression,

the offspring of my body for my own sin?

8 Mankind, he has told each of you what is good

and what it is the Lord requires of you:

to act justly,

to love faithfulness,

and to walk humbly with your God.

Will the expert listen to Jesus? Will we?

  • Do we care enough about others to care about their needs?

  • Are we willing to ask God to help us overcome our prejudices?

  • Do we pray for God's wisdom in knowing what needs to meet and how to do it?

So many great applications to this passage!


Closing Thoughts: Being a Neighbor in a World That Hates Us

So, Jesus pushed His parable to an extreme. I think we should, too. Let's be honest about the fact that vocal elements in our society and government want to eradicate the name of Jesus and the Christian church, and they are making legitimate headway. Persecution is coming, and it is going to get rough.

Are we willing to be a neighbor to these enemies of Christianity?

We'd better.

Jesus said that the world would know His disciples by their love. The church was built by the blood of Christ-followers who cared for their enemies even at the cost of their own freedom and lives. Those actions demonstrated to a hating world who Jesus was and what Jesus came to do for them. And because of those sacrifices, Christ-haters became Christ-followers, and the world changed. And that must be our desire -- not our own comfort, but the salvation of everyone around us.

Let's show compassion to everyone. Even and especially those who might want to destroy us.

This week kicks off our Week of Prayer for North American missions (this is a Southern Baptist thing, if you've stumbled across this page) -- we have missionaries serving all around us trying to live out the values Jesus described in this parable. We need to pray for them. If you want guidance in that, here's a great resource from NAMB:

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