One of the biggest challenges for Christians who have grown up in the church and have been raised on Bible stories from infancy is to hear them in the way the original audience did. Many Bible accounts are so familiar to us, that we never really stop to think them through. Jesus’ parable of The Good Samaritan is a case in point. The term “Good Samaritan” has found its way into the English language as a way to refer to someone who helps strangers without being asked and with no desire for reward. We might come a little closer to the mark if we think of a “Good Samaritan” as someone who sees everyone as their neighbour.
But, even then, we have scarcely begun to understand this parable and its radical message. So, what was Jesus’ point in this parable and how does he want us to live in response to it? In order to understand this parable (Luke 10:25-37), we need to understand the context in which Jesus told it. The parable was prompted by two questions asked of Jesus by an expert in Jewish law. The first was aimed at testing Jesus’ orthodoxy – “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, always less concerned with winning the argument and more concerned with winning the heart, turned the question back on him “You’re the expert in the law, what do you think?” In response, the lawyer, to his credit, gets right to the heart of the matter by going to the two greatest commandments “Love the Lord with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Jesus’ response is straightforward, “You’re right. Do that and you will live.” Jesus is not avoiding the lawyer’s question. The lawyer has asked for a way to earn entry into eternal life and Jesus has given it to him “All you need to do is love God wholeheartedly and perfectly and love your neighbour as much as you love yourself.” No problem!
The lawyer feels the impossibility of such an all-encompassing command and immediately seeks to do what we do – to interpret the command in a way which makes it achievable. God wouldn’t ask The Good Samaritan – a journey from law to grace exegeticaltools.com Faith in Focus Volume 45/5 June 2018 3 us to do the impossible so there must be some limits, mustn’t there? Interestingly, the lawyer does not seek to limit the first and more searching of the two commands. He likely assumed that keeping the OT laws and ceremon