Is the parable of the Good Samaritan good news? A man was traveling down to Jericho, where he got into trouble. A group of outlaws gave him the beatdown of his life, robbed him, and left him half dead on the side of the road. A priest came along, saw him, and crossed the road to avoid him. A Levite (another person whose job was to serve God by serving God’s people) did the same. Then, a Samaritan (the arch-enemy of the Jews) comes along, sees the man, binds up his wounds best he can, sets him on his animal, and takes him to an inn. He paid the innkeeper and told him that if the wounded man needed more time to recover, let him stay because he’d settle up and pay the bill when he returned. What an example of love and compassion. The Good Samaritan is what it means to be a good neighbor. But is it good news?
I’ve done a bit of a disservice by telling the story, but not telling you why Jesus told the story, found in Luke 10. The parable begins in verse 30, “And Jesus answering…” and then ends in Verse 36-37 with Jesus asking this man which of the three characters was a neighbor to the wounded man, and then told him to go and do likewise. We first need to figure out who Jesus is telling this story to and why he told him to go and be a good neighbor if we want to understand the parable. If you back up to Luke 10:25, you find out this man was a lawyer, an expert in the Mosaic Law. He came tempting Jesus and asked what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him about the law and how he reads it. The man says to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor. That is a pretty good answer. Jesus tells him he’s right and that if he does that, he’ll live. Is that good news?
The lawyer asked, “Who is my neighbor?” because he was trying to justify himself. The thought immediately convicts him that he is not a sinless and selfless person (he is, after all, trying to tempt Jesus with the Scripture). He’s trying to figure out where he can draw the line with his compassion. Once he knows who his neighbor is, he knows who he doesn’t have to love. He wants to retrofit the law to make sure he’s keeping it. Jesus answers his question with the Good Samaritan parable. Not to encourage him with good news and a sweet story, but to crush him with the law, showing his sinfulness. The gospel isn’t “go and do,” But the good news is that Jesus died for sinners. And you are a sinner. You are not the good Samaritan, but he’s the standard. And not simply the standard to aspire to, but the standard by which you’ll be judged.