Just before Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan, a “lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ ” (Luke 10:25, ESV). The lawyer was hoping that Jesus would say something blasphemous.
He didn’t. He answered the question with a question. “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” (Luke 10:26, ESV).
The lawyer, an expert in the law, 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” (Luke 10:27, ESV).
Read the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5. You’ll find that the first four commands lead to love and reverence for God. The final six commands are incapsulated in Leviticus 19:18... “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Incidentally, when Jesus was asked about the most important law, He said that the entire law was summarized in this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” ...and ... “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40, ESV).
So, the lawyer got it right. Bullseye! But his plan failed, and he looked like a doofus. He had tried to trap Jesus but all he did was answer his own question. So, “desiring to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ ” (Luke 10:27, ESV).
That’s when Jesus told the memorable parable.
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side” (Luke 10:30-32, ESV).
The priests and Levites, both spiritual leaders and servants in the temple, could rationalize their behavior. They might have assumed the traveler was dead. If they touched him, they would become ceremonially unclean and therefore unfit for temple duty (Leviticus 21:1).
“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back’ ” (Luke 10:33-35, ESV).
Jesus’ portrait of mercy and compassion is extraordinary. The hated Samaritan, a half-breed Assyrian/Israelite, had truly demonstrated what it means to love a neighbor.
Jesus concluded with, “Go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:37, ESV).
Earlier, during His debate with the lawyer, Jesus had said, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:28, ESV). Was Jesus establishing the doctrine of salvation by works? If we go and “do likewise” ... can we work our way into heaven? Certainly not. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
It’s obvious! We’ll never be able to keep the Law. The Law condemns us! Mankind desperately needs a Savior!
The lawyer had asked, “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25, ESV). He should have understood. Instead of attempting self-justification, his response should have been something like: “If the law demands perfect love for God and man, and if this parable teaches God’s unreachable expectations, then I'm lost, helpless, and hopeless. Be merciful to me. Save me by Your grace!”