The Parable of the Good Samaritan – To show mercy or to receive it?

The Parable of the Good Samaritan – To show mercy or to receive it?

© godfer –


Matthew 7:6 “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you?”

In a recent Bible study group-discussion, we were studying the parable of the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37). This parable may be seen to primarily highlight that we are to show mercy to our neighbours… to love them as ourselves, as God commands us. Clearly, this is true and vital. However, a closer look at this parable seems to highlight a crucial part of the Gospel message that is becoming more and more void within the western church – realising how sinful we are.

The lawyer, an expert in the OT law, was trying to test or tempt Jesus by asking Him “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus realising the lawyers intentions replied “What is written in the Law?” The man answered by saying to love God and your neighbour. Jesus responded “Do this, and you will live”.

The lawyer, wanting to justify himself, asked Jesus “Who is my neighbour?” This prompted Jesus to teach the parable of the Good Samaritan: A Jewish man is robbed and left for dead on the side of the road. A Priest and Levite pass him by, but a Samaritan stops to care for him. He cleans him and takes him to an inn where he pays the inn keeper two days wages to look after him. A Samaritan, a ‘wretched outsider’ in the eyes of Israel, was the one who showed mercy and saved the dying Jew. Jesus then asked the lawyer who the neighbour was. The lawyer’s response “The one who showed him mercy”. What did Jesus then say… “You, go and do likewise”.

Now it’s easy to miss the whole point of this parable or even grossly miss-interpret what Jesus is saying, as I think I have in the past.

The lawyer clearly had the attitude of what he must DO to gain eternal life. At first glance, Jesus seems to be saying he must be merciful to, or love your neighbour, to inherit eternal life. However what is Jesus’ real intentions in saying this?

At this point I think many Christians miss a crucial ingredient of the Gospel message. It’s not about us being more merciful and loving to others to gain eternal life. God’s expectations of us are listed in the law to highlight that we can’t be loving and merciful enough to gain eternal life. We fail miserably! Jesus is pointing the lawyer to the Law of God to convict him of his sin and therefore humble his heart. Only then can he see his need to be saved and live as God intends.

Unfortunately for the lawyer, there is no evidence that he got it. What did Jesus do? It would appear He moved on.

I want to highlight two points here:

  1. The Law of God is as important today as it was in Old Testament times. It’s role is different as a result of the new covenant. Effectively, it does two things now as it did then. It highlights God’s expectations of us in order to live with Him and points out how sinful and hopeless we are in meeting those expectations. One may think, ‘how cruel!’ However, the purpose of the law is to strike out any pride in our hearts. No one is good enough to measure up to God’s standards… we don’t even get close (Isa. 64:6-7; Phil. 3:7-9). We can only be justified by trusting in the work and person of Jesus Christ. He alone is without sin. He took our punishment – death, so that through His resurrected life we may have a new eternal life with God. The good news of Jesus takes on a whole new meaning when we realise how sinful we are!! How tragic when the western church leaves out the Law in its teaching in order to make people feel comfortable. It’s a vital ingredient to the Gospel message and a healthy, daily walk with God. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). Jesus has come to save sinners, not the righteous (Luke 5:31-32).
  2. When the lawyer appeared not to see the depth of his sinful depravity and the need for a saviour, Jesus seemed to move on. Jesus challenged him to be merciful not simply to encourage him to be more merciful, but rather to help him see he that he can’t live up to God’s expectations. It was meant to crush and humble the lawyer, to drive him to seek forgiveness and mercy from God, but his heart was not willing to let go of his proud attitude of earning his way into God’s good books.

Often we can spend too much time trying to convince someone of the Good News of Jesus, when it is obvious they don’t want to hear it. We must be careful not to keep throwing our “pearls” before them to be trampled underfoot. We can keep praying for them and be ready to tell them the gospel again in the future. However, we are not to waste our energy trying to knock down a door that is not opening. We are to wipe our feet and move on to more willing hearts.

That may sound harsh, but if we are to be effective in taking the gospel message to all people we need to discern when to move on. Ultimately, our salvation is in God’s hands… not our ability to coerce or persuade others.

Let’s trust in God to do the work only He can, and to help us be His instruments of change in this depraved world.


  1. Simon (Author)

    Nice one, Stu. I reckon you’ve nailed it. The lawyer is only interested in finding out which box he can tick in order to be righteous. I think we do the same! We read this, and a number of other passages (eg. the whole Sermon on the Mount), and like to think that now we know how to be a good Christian. As you’ve shown, that is not the point at all. We want to be righteous by our works, and we read the Bible looking for ways to do it. Anyway, you’ve explained it well. I recommend people dig in to the White Horse Inn’s recent series on the Sermon on the Mount. They discuss this stuff quite a bit, and I’ve found it really helpful.

  2. SDG


    The eye opener in this parable is the way in which the Lord Jesus turns the provocative question upon the lawyer. We should see ourselves in the lawyer, and the way we have behaved towards those we knew to be believers before the Lord met with us. Inasmuch as we behaved in a provocative way towards believers, we did this effectively to Christ. But the Lord certainly dealt with me very graciously and opened my eyes to truths I could not see. The big issue is the depth of the definition of mercy described, and our obligation to behave in this way.

    I don’t agree that you can conclude that the Lord shook the sand off his feet and left this man to perish. I was startled by your inclusion of this allusion, and I don’t think it is warranted. There are clear condemnations expressed for the Pharisees, but not here, nor for the rich ruler. Should we really be so quick to brush people off if they don’t respond? The prodigal son not only rejected his father, but went to great lengths to get away from him and disgrace himself. But the father was looking out for his return. I thank God He was patient with me in my rebellious youth. Had the Lord shaken off the sand at my first refusal of the gospel, I would on that allusion have been condemned to become as Sodom and Gomorrah. I suspect that as I rejected those who taught me the gospel in my childhood, they could have shunned me, and moved on. I suspect many of those faithful, godly, and gracious people continued to pray for me for many years until the Lord revealed Himself to me.

    My appeal to you is to consider the forbearance of the Lord who not only is still despised and rejected by sinners, but we ourselves still offend him in many ways. I don’t know when it is right to give up on someone, but the love of Christ constrains me not to precipitate a rupture of relationship unless it is absolutely necessary. The primary lesson of the Samaritan, is that we show mercy, and above all to our enemies. The Christian has many enemies, but we are called to love them, be patient with them, and pry for them. That much I do know.


    • Martin Pakula

      Hi SDG. As usual I agree with most, if not all, of what you say here. However I think you might have really misread what Stuart is saying. There is a big difference between what we do and what the Lord Jesus did. Of course Stuart would agree with you that we must not turn our backs on people and write them off. I know that Stuart would never do that and is suggesting no such thing in what he wrote. However Jesus knows people’s hearts, and as you yourself alluded, he does sometimes do exactly that. Stuart only suggested that this might be such a case. Of course sometimes it is indeed clear that we should do the same: not throw our pearls before swine. We would of course still pray and wait, as the prodigal’s father no doubt did. But we might not continue the conversation when someone doesn’t want to hear.
      So, while I agree with your points, I’m sure Stuart does too and said no such thing otherwise as you seem to suggest.
      Stuart’s main points however are certainly worth us hearing.

  3. Simon (Author)

    SDG, I think you may have misunderstood Stu’s point. Also, I don’t agree that “the big issue is the mercy described, and our obligation to behave in this way.” I think you’re missing the point if make the parable about our obligation to fulfill some sort of rule. If you read the parable in a vacuum, without the preceding confrontation between Jesus and the lawyer, then that is a fair conclusion. However, Jesus’ main point is certainly not that we must show mercy. His point is that we can’t. We are unable to do it. The lawyer wanted to tick the box on his list of laws. Jesus is trying to show him that he can’t just tick the box.

    I do agree with the thrust of what you say about showing mercy, and about God’s mercy towards us while we were in rebellion. I don’t think that’s what Jesus is communicating here, though.

  4. SDG

    I did hope this was the case, but the pearls before swine incident is nothing to do with this incident, and it seemed incongruous to the passage.

    I don’t really see what all the fuss is about the ‘conflict’ as Simon puts it. The question was in terms of a test (thats what lawyers do, they test evidence and witnesses), and the Lord Jesus does not here indicate any offence at the question. It was very different with the Pharisees. The exchange led to a deepening of the meaning of loving your neighbour, and we simply don’t know what the lawyer did with this deeper insight. To make anything further of this is arguing from silence. To imply motive in the lawyer is as unfair as the exception any of us might take at having words put in our mouths or thoughts in our heads. He’s not here to defend himself is he? Did he contradict the Lord? No. Did he behave as the Pharisees in his hypocrisy? No. We all try to justify ourselves (you only need to read this blog to see that!), so why be so hard on the lawyer?

    The lawyer is a the channel through which the Lord Jesus explained the much greater extent of our obligation to love our neighbour (who may well be our enemy). It magnifies the grace of God. It points to what the grace of God should do in us. The beauty of God’s law is brought out exquisitely in this passage, and it shows not only our obligations as new creatures in Christ, but also shows an insight into the Lord’s dealings with us.
    I love this passage. Praise God for it!

    • Simon (Author)

      SDG, I think you’re still missing the point of the parable if you think it’s primarily about how we must behave toward our neighbour. I appreciate that there is an example of extraordinary grace and love towards a neighbour in the story, and you obviously recognise the importance of the law in the passage. It is a good passage – I agree!

  5. SDG

    There are a few preachers who have treated this passage in a way that I find helpful to believers. The graciousness and gentleness of the Lord Jesus towards the lawyer shows me at least that there is something greater than the lawyers motive, sinful depravity, and lostness. The focus is on the perfect summary of the law, and wonderful exposition of the depth of the meaning of mercy. Do I think I need to live out this mercy? Absolutely, because the Lord Jesus wants me to be perfect as my Heavenly Father is perfect. Seeing mercy in action is joyfully liberating, don’t you think, and the child of God WANTS to live like this. That to my mind is the main thrust of this teaching opportunity.

    Its a different way of seeing things. Its in a sense similar to Paul in Athens. He was grieved about the idols he saw. But instead of banging on in condemnation of idolatry, what did he do? He said ‘You are clearly religious, and I noticed an idol to an unknown God – this is the God I have come to tell you about’. Do you see the difference? In this, he followed his Master in his approach. I rejoice in this type of preaching. It is surprising, and the grace of God is not predictable, and He will have all the glory, whether it is in salvation or in condemnation. It is not about you, or me, or any human being. It is all about God and His glory. So forgive me if I put my focus on the mercy, and what it showed me about God, and my obligation to ‘go and do likewise’.
    That is why I made this point.

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