Living the Good News in the Gospel of Luke
Study 4

Being the Good Samaritan
Luke 10:25-37


One needs to become acquainted with the characters in this well-known story. There are five of them: a lawyer, a priest, a Levite, a Samaritan, and a man who fell among robbers.

A lawyer (Read vv. 25-29)
The term “lawyer” (more often referred to as “scribe”) has overtones of “legalist.” These scribes were often associated with the party of the Pharisees (see Luke 11:42-54). This lawyer has spoken up with the intent of trying to trap Jesus in rabbinic disputes over matters of the law, particularly regarding what laws one must keep to gain eternal life. Jesus throws the question back to him: “What is written in the law?” You will notice that the lawyer then gives an answer which is very similar to how Jesus has summarized the commandments in Matthew 22:33-40. So the lawyer shows he has good head knowledge; all he has to do now is live it. But he had tried to draw Jesus into a legal dispute, a head game, but failed. So he tries again with another point of dispute: “Who is my neighbour?” The real question behind this was: “Who am I required to love?” It was another head game. But Jesus gives a reply in this story which shows that the answer has to come from the heart. Of course, there were legal debates at this time over this very question. Leviticus 19:18 implied that one’s neighbours were fellow-Israelites (“sons of your own people”), yet Leviticus 19:33-34 extended that favour also to “sojourners,” that is, non-Israelites living among them. However, the Pharisees were very concerned that associations with non-Israelites had to be restricted because of their fear of contamination of belief, ritual purity and practice, as well as collaboration with the “enemy” (cf. Matthew 5:43; see also Sirach (Apoc). 12:1-7).

1. Before we go further into this, let us be clear as to what the issues are that separate us from others. Is it ethnic background, colour, doctrines, traditions, customs, status? Discuss these issues. How do we deal with them? With the head or the heart? Or both? Do we isolate ourselves from others for fear of contamination?

A priest (Read vv. 30-32)
In order to function as a priest, to officiate at the twice-daily sacrifices in the temple and other cultic worship, the priest had to maintain a state of strict ritual purity. As a religious leader, he held a privileged status in Jewish society. Any form of defilement through contact with a corpse or blood or disease or with a non-Jew would render him unable to perform his temple duties. He would be humiliated in the eyes of his fellow-priests and forced to undergo a costly and time-consuming process of purification. For a priest even to approach within six feet of a dead person could render him defiled. Such a concern would not encourage him even to check whether the man was alive or not. So he passes by “on the other side.” In doing so, he had kept the law! He had followed the rules of his religious system! Thus, he was a sincerely religious man. But his religion prevented him from acting in compassion.

2. What is true religion? Is it rituals and regulations? Take a look at Micah 6:6-8 and Hosea 6:6. How do you define ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’ in the light of all this?

A Levite
He carried out minor functions in and for the temple, but he was not permitted to enter the holy place or offer sacrifices (cf Ezekial 44:10-14). So the rules for maintaining ritual purity were not as strict as for a priest. Yet it was still a factor, so he preferred to follow the example of the priest before him. Of course, this road from Jerusalem to Jericho, which wound through the Judean hills for 28 kms, was a lonely stretch, and fear of brigands who took advantage of unprotected travellers, may also have played a role in both the priest’s and the Levite’s actions. In such a case, self-interest would have been the motivating factor.

3. Can you think of occasions when your religiosity or self-interest has gotten in the way of your acting in compassion?

A Samaritan (Read vv. 33-35)
Even though the Samaritans had the same basic laws as the Jews, they were generally despised by the Judeans, classed with Philistines, Edomites (cf. Sirach (Apoc.) 50:25-26), and foreigners. One rabbi held that “he who eats the bread of Samaritans is like one who eats the flesh of swine” (m. Shebiith (Apoc.) 8:10). Cf. John 4:9; 8:25. The Samaritan religion was seen as impure, diluted by foreign influences. Relations between Jews and Samaritans were generally one of hostility. In Luke 9:51-54, Samaritans would not receive Jesus into their village because he was headed for Jerusalem. Later, Luke reports the story of Jesus healing ten lepers (17:11-17) of which only one, a Samaritan, returned to thank God. In Acts, Luke reports on the success of the mission to Samaria (1:8; 8:1-14; 9:31; 15:3).

Although the victim likely would have been an Israelite, the Samaritan, whose religion was seen as inferior, acted in compassion, regardless of the cost to him. Yet he was bound by the same law, risked similar defilement, and was an easy target for the same brigands. The striking thing here is that those who claimed pure doctrine failed to act, while the one they accused of false belief was the one who reflected the compassion of God.

4. Where do we stand in this story? Which one of the four mentioned so far best reflects some of our attitudes and actions?Are we governed by rules, reason, or compassion? What really motivates us to be compassionate towards others?

The man who fell among robbers
What do we know about this man? Nothing, except that he was stripped, beaten and left half-dead. Jesus says nothing about his religion, his race, his social or economic status. He is simply a person in need. He could have been a rich man, a derelict, a priest or an atheist, but he was in need.

5. We have to ask ourselves: How selective are we in reaching out to others? Who is our neighbour in our world today?

And Jesus said: “Go and do likewise.”

Remember: This is not a law. Just let the mercy and compassion of our loving God in Christ work through you.