He was a religious scholar of his time; he was educated on the Laws of Moses. He knew the Law inside out because he was educated on every bit of it. When you become a religious scholar (or a lawyer as they were called in those days), your duty to at least your nation is to uphold the statute. He was qualified to judge anyone who breaks the law. When people have disputes they went to the lawyers to get clarification because the lawyer was seen as someone who was an expert in the Laws of Moses and besides they were also teachers per excellence. The lawyers were never found to ask questions about the law from anyone; they were that good and never showed any signs of ignorance or weakness. They knew their onions; they were the best of their time and as such most Jewish sons had a dream of becoming a lawyer (a religious scholar) as they studied and went to the school of religious scholars.
He came to Jesus to ask with the hope of trapping him (he wanted to see what insight this great teacher had). He must have been covered with arrogance that he never went to meet with Jesus behind closed doors like Nicodemus; he decided to question Him publicly thinking as an expert of the law, he would make a mess of a Jesus whom he thought had lesser knowledge of the law than himself. He became so sarcastic in his approach as he called Jesus, Master. It is didaskalos in the Greek language, which means doctor, master, and teacher; it sometimes could also mean a false teacher. So you can actually see something wrong and cynical in the approach of this man. He was a smart pessimist. This lawyer did not come with a sincere heart as some who were looking to learn from the real Master.
It was obvious to all present and to Jesus that this man was a religious scholar, maybe because the lawyers carried themselves in a particular way and fashion; he knew what was written and instructed in the law. So why would he be asking a question about what he already knows, and he could have easily gone to check the contents of the book to clarify his question. Jesus threw the question back at him and said, “What is written in the law”? It was an opposite question to a doctor and an expert of the law; in turn, putting him to the test. The lawyer answered and said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.” Also, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Jesus said to him that if he does according to the law, he would live. The lawyer asked another question about who his neighbor is because he was looking for a way to justify himself.
The word “neighbor” in the Greek means “someone who is near,” and in the Hebrew it means “someone that you have an association with.” This construes the word in a restricted and inadequate sense, referring to a fellow Jew and would have excluded Samaritans, Romans, and other foreigners. Jesus then gives the parable of the Good Samaritan to correct the false understanding that the scribe had of who his neighbor is, and what his duty is to his neighbor.
Obviously the lawyer felt and assumed that there was something he had to do to inherit eternal life. Although this could have been an opportunity for Jesus to discuss salvation issues, He chose a different course and focuses on our relationships and what it means to love one another. Jesus obviously knew what was in the mind of the man and decides to tell a story because we glean a lot from stories due to the various lessons in them. Jesus in answering the lawyer gives the story of a poor man who fell victim to armed robbers. The poor man was left to die of the wounds he sustained from the attack. Obviously this poor man needs help to remain alive. Jesus continued in this blockbuster story and narrative.
Jesus introduces the priest in this story. He spends no time defining the priest and only tells of how he exhibited no love or empathy for the man by declining to help him and passing on the other side of the road so as not to get involved. If there was anyone who would have known God’s law of love, it would have been the priest. By nature of his position, he was to be a person of compassion, ever longing to help others. Sadly, “love” was not a word for him that necessitated action on behalf of someone else.
The Levite was the second character in this story. He came close to the dying poor man, looked at him and decides not to have anything to do with him, and also crossed over to the other side without doing anything. Jericho was the second city of Judea, a city where many priests and Levites lived. The Priest and the Levite mentioned in this story were apparently returning from temple duties, having not learnt that there is a difference between sacrifice and mercy. The dying poor man needed to be shown compassion but the Priest and the Levite justified themselves by the sacrifices offered at the temple. For what dealings do the Jews have with people who are not Jews?
The next person mentioned in His story that came by is the Samaritan, the one least likely to have shown compassion for the man. The Jews considered Samaritans as people of low class; they were a byword among them, since they had intermarried with non-Jews and did not keep all the law. Consequently, the Jews would have nothing to do with them. We are not told if the injured man was a Jew or Gentile, but it made no difference to the Samaritan; he did not deliberate on the man’s race or religion. The “Good Samaritan” saw only a person in dire need of assistance, and that assistance he rendered to the injured man, above and beyond the minimum required. He dresses the man’s wounds with wine (to disinfect) and oil (to sooth the pain). He puts the man on his animal and takes him to a hotel room for a time of healing and pays the hotel manager with his own money. He then goes beyond common decency and tells the hotel manager to take good care of the man, and he would pay for any extra expenses on his return trip. The Samaritan saw his neighbor as anyone who was in need.
Because the good man was a Samaritan, Jesus is drawing a strong contrast between those who knew the law and those who actually followed the law in their lifestyle and conduct. Jesus now asks the lawyer if he can apply the lesson to his own life with the question “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”. Once again, the lawyer’s answer is telling of his personal rigidity of heart. He cannot bring himself to say the word “Samaritan”; he refers to the “good man” as “he who showed mercy.” His hate for the Samaritans (his neighbors) was so strong that he couldn’t even refer to them in a proper way. Jesus then tells the lawyer to “go and do likewise,” meaning that he should start living what the law tells him to do.
Jesus is telling us, aside the lawyer whom he was addressing, to follow the Samaritan’s example in our own conduct; we are to show benevolence and love to those we encounter in our everyday activities setting aside prejudice. We are to love others irrespective of their race or religion; the criterion is need. If they have a need and we have the supply, then we are to give charitably and freely, without expectation of return. This is an impossible obligation for the lawyer, and for us. We cannot always keep the law because of our human condition; our heart and desires are mostly of self and selfishness. When left to our own, we do the wrong thing, failing to meet the law. We can hope that the lawyer saw this and came to the realization that there was nothing he could do to justify himself, and that he needed a personal saviour to expiate for his lack of ability to save himself from his sins.
The priest, like our “pastors” today represent religion in an apostate condition. The Levite also points to our “pastors” who preach the dos and don’ts coupled with legalism, which instills prejudice into the hearts of believers. The Samaritan is Jesus who provides the way to spiritual health.
Keeping the law in its entirety with the intent to save ourselves is an impossible task; we need a saviour, and this is Jesus. He died and was buried and on the third day, he was raised from the dead. This is what having eternal life is predicated on.