O how many things we could observe from the parable of the Good Samaritan! But I have one main observation to make and apply to our situation. The parable begins with a lawyer trying to justify himself by asking the question “Who is my neighbor” (in verse 29), and ends with Jesus’ question in verse 36, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor?” Ten sermons could be preached on ten different issues raised by this parable. But I want you to see this one crucial thing: Jesus tells a story that changes the question from What kind of person is my neighbor? to What kind of person am I? He changes the question from What status of people are worthy of my love? to How can I become the kind of person whose compassion disregards status?
Let’s make sure we see this and then apply it. A lawyer asks in verse 25 about how to inherit eternal life. He is not sincere. It says he is testing Jesus. Jesus puts the question back to him in verse 26 to reveal the duplicity. What does the Law say? He answers in verse 27 that we should love God will all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus exposes him by saying in effect: So you already know the answer. He sees that he has been exposed and needs to cover up his hypocrisy and so verse 29 says, “Desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” In other words, it’s not so easy, Jesus. Life is complicated—like, which kind of people do we have to love? Who qualifies for being a neighbor in the command, “Love your neighbor”? Every race? Every age. The unborn?
Now how will Jesus answer? He does not like this question. Carving humanity up into groups some of whom are worthy of our love and others are not. Jesus does not answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” He tells a parable that changes the question.
Jesus Shifts the Focus
Between Jerusalem and Jericho a man falls among robbers and verse 30 says they “stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.” The first two people to pass by are a priest and a Levite—the most religious folks—and they both pass by on the other side (vv. 31, 32). Then came a Samaritan, not even a Jew, and the key phrase about this man is at the end of verse 33: “he had compassion.”
You see how the focus has shifted. The question about what kind of man is dying is not even in the story any more. The whole focus is now on the kind of people who are walking by. The first two felt no compassion. The Samaritan was a different kind of person. So when you get to the end, what’s the question Jesus asks? Was it, “So was the wounded man a neighbor?” No. That is not the question. Jesus asked the lawyer (v. 36), “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The lawyer said in verse 37, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
No answer to his question: Who is my neighbor? Instead: Go become a new kind of person. Go get a compassionate heart. This is exactly what Jesus died for. This is the promise of the new covenant in Ezekiel 36:26, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.” And Jesus said at the last supper, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). Those who follow Jesus all the way to the cross will see him there paying for their new heart.