Slideshow image

What’s the main point of Jesus’ parable about a Good Samaritan? It may surprise you, but if you carefully examine the context of the story, I think you’ll find it quite easily. Jesus’ main point in telling this story is not to show us how to be a Good Samaritan. His main point in telling this story is to show us how desperately we need the Gospel.

This becomes clearer when you examine the structure of the passage. Luke 10:25-37 has an obvious pattern. First, a lawyer asks Jesus a question. Then, as He often did, Jesus answered the question by asking a question of His own. The lawyer answers Jesus’ question, and then Jesus answers the lawyer. This pattern is repeated two times in the passage. It looks a bit like this:


Let’s examine this pattern a bit more closely.  


The lawyer asks a question.

Before we consider his question, we need to understand that this lawyer is a religious lawyer. The law he’s an expert on is the law of God in the Pentateuch. So he comes to Jesus the teacher with a question. In verse 25, he asks Jesus “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” That question is your clue to understanding the main point of this story. It’s a story about inheriting eternal life.

It’s obvious in the way this lawyer words his question that he doesn’t understand the Gospel that Jesus preached, a Gospel of grace. Normally to receive an inheritance you had to be born into the right family. There wasn’t anything you could do to inherit something. Yet this man wants to know what he can do to inherit eternal life.  


Jesus asks a question.

Jesus sees through the lawyer’s question and replies with a question of His own in verse 26, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” But why doesn’t Jesus answer this lawyer’s softball question? Why doesn’t Jesus just tell him to repent and believe?

Jesus knows this man isn’t ready to receive the Good News. He’s not sincerely asking. He’s trying to test Jesus (v. 25). So Jesus must prepare this proud lawyer to receive the Good News. He cannot receive it until he first understands how desperate he truly is. Predictably, Jesus drives this lawyer to the law of God to prepare his heart to receive the Gospel.  


The lawyer answers Jesus.  

In verse 27 the lawyer answers Jesus’ question, “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.”

On the one hand, this is a brilliant answer! The Greatest Commandment, to love God, is originally found in Deuteronomy 6:5. The 2nd Greatest Commandment, to love your neighbor, is originally found in Leviticus 19:18. In Mark 12 and Matthew 22, Jesus says these are the two greatest commandments in the entire Old Testament law. This lawyer knew his stuff.

But on the other hand, this is a horrible answer. Why? Because Jesus never said that by obeying these commandments we would inherit eternal life. Once again, it’s evident that this lawyer’s heart is not ready to receive the Gospel.  


Jesus answers the lawyer.

I imagine that Jesus has a twinkle in His eye and a slight smirk on His face, when He replies to the lawyer in verse 28, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

When Jesus says, “do this,” He uses the present tense, meaning “keep doing this.” Do you see what Jesus is doing? He’s telling this lawyer that the requirement is PERFECTION. Continue loving God and your neighbor perfectly. Forever. That’s what you can do to inherit eternal life.

Can any of you do this perfectly? R.C. Sproul puts it this way, "Imagine, if you will, that someone did actually succeed in loving God with all his heart, strength, soul and mind. Even then, he would still be only half-way home, because he would still have to fulfil the second part of the Great Commandment: Love your neighbour as yourself. That, at times, is even more difficult than to love God, for God is altogether lovely. There is no just reason for us not to love God, but there are plenty of reasons why we would find it difficult to love all of our neighbours as much as we love ourselves.[i]  

Jesus is surgically exposing the pride of this religious lawyer. He’s gently exposing his need for a savior. But Jesus isn’t done yet. The cycle repeats itself again.  


The lawyer asks a question.

In verse 29 the lawyer asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke tells us this lawyer is trying to justify himself. He’s feeling guilt and conviction. He knows that the law is an impossible standard!

It’s interesting that the lawyer asks about the second greatest commandment, not the first. I think that’s because most religious people think they love God well. But they know they do not love everybody as they should. As one Bible teacher put it, “It is easier to profess love for God and to observe religious rituals as proof of this love for him than it is to show love for one’s neighbor.”[ii]

Now in those days, it was common for the religious elite to teach that your neighbor was your fellow Jew, but certainly not everybody. This mindset is reflected in passages like Matthew 5:43-44, where Jesus confronts the teachings of the Rabbis: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”

This lawyer is hoping that Jesus will allow him to get away with only loving the people who are like him. Like any good lawyer, he’s looking for a loophole.  


Jesus asks a question.

Before Jesus asks the question, He tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. But He tells that parable in order to set up His second question. This is such an important point if you want to understand the main point of this parable. This entire story is set in the context of an evangelism encounter between Jesus and a religious lawyer.

After finishing the story, Jesus asks His next question in verse 36, “Which of these three [the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan in the story], do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”  


The lawyer answers Jesus.  

In verse 37, the lawyer answers Jesus by saying “The one who showed him mercy.” It’s interesting that the lawyer can’t bring himself to say “Samaritan.” The Samaritans were hated by the Jews. They were religious and ethnic half-breeds. Consider one example in John 8:48, The Jews answered [Jesus], “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Few accusations were harsher than to call someone a demon-possessed Samaritan.

But the lawyer can’t avoid the obvious answer to Jesus’ question. It is the Samaritan who proved himself to be a good neighbor.  


Jesus answers the lawyer.

In verse 37, Jesus responds to the lawyer and concludes the story: “You go, and do likewise.” This is brilliant. The lawyer asks, “who’s my neighbor,” and instead of talking about who our neighbor is, Jesus wants us to see what a good neighbor looks like!

Again, Jesus’ main point in telling this story is not to show us how to be a Good Samaritan. His main point in telling this story is to show us how desperately we need the Gospel. Do you always love those near you with this kind of love?

We don’t know how the lawyer responds to Jesus’ story, but the first right response for all of us should be, “Lord be merciful to me, a sinner.”



[i] Sproul, R. C., A Walk with God: An Exposition of Luke (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1999), 226. [ii] Evans, C. A., The Bible Knowledge Background Commentary: Matthew–Luke. (Colorado Springs: David C Cook, 2003), 294.