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"When Divine Aid Comes from Unexpected Places" Dr. Terry Harman Explores the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37

The Purpose of Parables

The parable of the Good Samaritan has been told and retold so many times, I hesitated to write this blog. I am not a New Testament expert. Yet, the style of teaching with parables is truly a Jewish trademark. Storytelling was central to many non-reading ancient cultures of the world. Even if someone could read there was limited access to written materials, scrolls, and what we now call books.

Jesus told more than forty parables in the gospels. Storytelling or speaking in parables was a way for Jesus and other teachers to influence and challenge the audience's thinking and values in an attempt to cause them to consider a different perspective. These stories were drawn from everyday life and nudged the listener to walk in the shoes of the "other," and to understand the Kingdom of God from a fresh point of view.

The Theme of This Parable

Each parable told by Jesus has one main theme or point to make. Before Jesus shares the parable with his audience we might think the theme of the story will be, How do we inherit eternal life; what is the golden rule, or who is my neighbor? We do not gain insight into the theme of the parable of the Good Samaritan until the Jewish scribe ("lawyer" meaning the Laws of Moses) disrupts Jesus. The central point of this parable is having compassion for all people, even "the other" we do not get along with.

The First Trap Before the Parable

Jesus is teaching his disciples about the prayer of thanksgiving (Luke 10:21-24). Without notice, a religious figure stands and interrupts Jesus and "tempted him" (from ekpeirazó - to tempt, test, put to trial) about a completely different subject. The lawyer attempts to catch Jesus off guard by asking a question about inheriting eternal life. But is this the real question on the mind of the lawyer? Jesus thinks not and asks the lawyer a question.

And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live (Luke 10:25-28 KJV).

The Second Trap Before the Parable

The lawyer is still not satisfied with the response of Jesus. Luke informs us of the motive behind the scribe's questioning, "But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?" (v.29). The frustrated scribe tactically asks one more question about one of the central tenets of Judaism connected to loving God - loving your neighbor. Interestingly, the lawyer does not recite the entire portion of scripture but combines two portions that all Jewish children are taught from an early age.

HEAR, O ISRAEL: THE LORD OUR GOD, THE LORD IS ONE. And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thy heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thy house, and upon thy gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 JPS 1917) thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:18 JPS 1917).

The Parable (Luke 10:30-35 KJV)

And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.

And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.

And likewise, a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

The crowd surrounding Jesus and the lawyer closely followed the story. Jesus does not identify the "certain man" on the Jericho Road. Everyone listening to the story knew well the hazards of making the seventeen-mile journey from Jerusalem down the road to Jericho. It was notorious for harsh conditions and fraught with twists and turns and perfect hiding places for ambushing an unsuspecting traveler. Each of the main characters in the parable travels this road along except for the band of robbers.

Interruption to the Parable

Jesus identifies two people a priest and a Levite. Naturally, the listeners expect the third person to be mentioned in the story would be the common Israelite. But a surprise is coming. Jesus throws an unsuspected character into the storyline - a Samaritan, not a fellow Israelite.

Unexpectedly, a Samaritan, a figure traditionally at odds with the Jewish community and possibly the "certain man" lying beaten on the side of the road, approached the scene. Ignoring the historical animosities that permeated relations between Jews and Samaritans, he saw not a foe but a fellow human in need.

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine,

and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.

Six Acts of Neighborly Compassion

The Samaritan, aware of the hazards of the road and the vulnerability of the injured, immediately provided crucial first aid, demonstrating a compassion that transcended societal divides. In a compassionate act that defied expectations, the Samaritan then assisted the injured traveler to an inn, using his resources to secure lodging and ongoing care.

For the Samaritan the man in need on the side of the road needed assistance. He did not pass by saying, "These people do not like me, they believe I am beneath them. I should not get involved." Instead, he offered six acts of kindness and compassion. Today, someone might say the Samaritan was practicing medicine without a license. LOL

  1. Recognized the need and felt compassion

  2. Responded immediately

  3. Rendered basic first aid

  4. Provided transportation and shelter

  5. Provided financial assistance

  6. Ensured follow-up care

Lack of Compassion or Devotion to God

It is natural to want to rush to explain or make excuses for the priest and the Levite's lack of compassion for the man left for dead on the Jericho Road. Both men were traveling alone and coming from the direction of Jerusalem. Since Jerusalem is where the Temple stood, we may assume they were there to perform religious duties on behalf of others.

We could rationalize that both the priest and the Levite may have considered their primary duty to be the service in the Temple. In their religious worldview, the duties of temple worship and service to God took precedence over individual acts of mercy or charity. Prioritizing their religious obligations, they may have rationalized that by avoiding contact with the injured man, they were ensuring their readiness to fulfill their responsibilities in the Temple.

It is true, that priests were to avoid corpses (see Leviticus 21:1–3) unless it was a case of their immediate family members, but this regulation in Jewish law did not apply to Levites. This man was only injured not dead. Jewish law values life above all other devotion. It has been said, that to save one life is like saving the entire world. Therefore, saving the beaten ma's life would have been a priority. Yet, in this parable, ritual priority nor avoiding ritual impurity was the case.

Going Down the Jericho Road

Luke 10:30-32 indicates the injured man was traveling "down from Jerusalem" on his way to Jericho. Likewise, The priest "came down" (katabaino) the road from the same direction as the injured man. Both were traveling from Jerusalem. And "likewise" the Levite too was traveling down the road from Jerusalem. We are not told from which direction the Samaritan was traveling on the Jericho Road.

Jericho’s location was key to its significance. The city was situated in the lower Jordan Valley, just west of the Jordan River and about ten miles northwest of the Dead Sea. It sat in the broadest part of the Jordan plain more than 800 feet below sea level and nearly 3,500 feet below Jerusalem, which was only 17 miles away.

This geographical detail explains why Jesus said in His parable that the good Samaritan “went down from Jerusalem to Jericho” (Luke 10:30). In dramatic contrast to its desert surroundings, Jericho thrived as a fertile, spring-fed oasis. In the Old Testament, it was often called the “City of Palms” for its abundance of palm trees )Deuteronomy 43:3; Judges 1:16; 3:13; 2 Chronicles 28:15).

The injured man, priest, and Levite were traveling in the opposite direction of the Temple and Jerusalem. It can be assumed all three were traveling to Jericho, an oasis. A place of rest, relaxation, and refreshment. Being a Samaritan, he would not have been traveling from or to the Temple in Jerusalem out of religious obligation or duty. He may have been known by the innkeeper who trusted that he would return and compensate him for the ongoing care of the injured man.

The Point of the Parable (Luke 10:36-37 KJV)

Jesus is not casting aspirations on the priest or the Levite. He uses them in his parable because of their reputations of being devout men of faith. Their life was dedicated to the Temple and serving others. As the story unfolds the listeners would be inclined to let them off the hook for passing the injured man.

However, when Jesus inserts into the parable that the next person was not the expected Israelite but a Samaritan, heads would have turned and ears would have perked up! Why? Because a Samaritan would have been an unexpected agent of divine aid. Why? Jews and Samaritans had a very strained relationship. Animosity and distrust would be common between the two groups.

Did you forget the lawyer from the beginning of the story? He is still listening to Jesus. He did not walk away. Jesus turns the table once again to the lawyer who challenged him at the beginning of our story and asks him to comment on the parable.

Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

In contrast to the robbers, priest, and the Levite, the Samaritan, traditionally considered an outsider and despised by some Jews, demonstrated compassion and mercy. Jesus used this parable to challenge conventional religious attitudes and emphasize the importance of love and mercy over rigid adherence to ritual laws. The lesson of the Good Samaritan underscores the idea that genuine piety involves practical acts of compassion and kindness, transcending rigid interpretations of religious rules.


I close with my sermon outline from many years ago. I delivered this sermon at a maximum security prison where most of the men would die before their sentence was fulfilled and be released from prison. My prayer was I could encourage each man to consider offering acts of compassion to "the other" behind the prison wall and become the "agent of divine aid" that would be completely unexpected.

Last night I portrayed Caiaphas in a passion play named, Jesus of Nazareth." At the curtain call and before writing the conclusion to this blog, a man who is a former inmate of the prison I served, and was my keyboard player for the services I provided, waited patiently at the front of the stage to greet me. Mr. CLifton Boone spent forty years at the maximum security prison. He was released a few years back. He was doing well. He was one of "the others" who was an "agent of divine aid" to many newcomers to the prison. The Lord reminded me last night that Clifton was present when I preached this sermon.

"Compassion When It Costs You Something"

There are six people in the story of the Good Samaritan. Each has a different view of life and offering compassion to someone in need.

I like what Dr. Amy-Jill Levine states about the parable of the Good Samaritan. The parable offers … a vision of life rather than death. It evokes 2 Chronicles 28, which recounts how the prophet Oded convinced the Samaritans to aid their Judean captives. It insists that enemies can prove to be neighbors, that compassion has no boundaries, and that judging people on the basis of their religion or ethnicity will leave us dying in a ditch. (2)


(1) Note: The images in this blog are used with permission. Please do not copy from my blog. Go to the source. All images are adapted from and are the property of

(2) I encourage you to read Dr. Amy-Jill Levine's article about interpreting the Good Samaritan parable in Biblical Views, “The Many Faces of the Good Samaritan—Most Wrong,” Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2012.

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Mar 05
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Mar 05

thank you - I am glad you told the story - your knowledge increazsed my understanding of this parabel - blessings. Rev Anneli Sinkko Mphil

Mar 05
Replying to

Thank you for reading and the encouraging words. Terry

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