The parable of the Good Samaritan is the first part of a three-part lesson in what a disciple ought to be about. In short, he is to be about love (of God and neighbor) and prayer.
A man asks Jesus the most important question in all the world, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus allows him to show that he actually knows the answer. But the answer he knows only leads to despair. The law does, indeed, promise life to those who would obey. But in all of human history, there has only been One Who has kept the demands of the law, Jesus. The law as a path to life is not good news for the rest of us. But it does point toward good news.
Ever since the fall, man has been utterly unable to keep the law. We sin because we are, by nature, sinners. And so, when Jesus tells the man to “go and do likewise,” only a fool would be comforted. But the law does point us toward life. By pointing out our inability, it drives us to our knees in acknowledgment of our need. It drives us to humbly receive a righteousness from above, a righteousness that is not our own, but is received as a gift through faith. And, once we’ve taken hold of that righteousness, “Go and do likewise” has a whole new meaning. No longer are we loving our neighbor in order to inherit life or to please God. We are loving our neighbor <b>because</b> God is pleased with us and has given us life. The law is no longer an onerous burden. Rather, it is instruction, reflecting the desire and character of the God we love.
The lawyer our passage recognized that he could not keep the law. But, rather than falling on his knees and begging for mercy, he sought to limit the demands of the law by creating a subset of people who were disqualified for this duty to love them. Jesus turns the lawyer’s question on its head and demonstrates that love is something given, not earned.
The Samaritan in Jesus’ story was compassionate and readily gave up his money, his comfort and his time. And we ought to be similarly compassionate and live similarly open-handedly. Too often, though, this passage has been used to guilt Christians into service. Nothing could be farther from the purpose of this passage in the text of Luke’s gospel, though. Don’t misunderstand: There is an “ought” here … an ought to service and love. But the point of the passage is, rather, the gospel. How are we to inherit life? Service is important. But, as we’ll see next week, service is not central. Faith is. And the only service that is God-pleasing at all, is a service done in faith, not guilt.