There is a difficulty with proclaiming the Parable of the Good Samaritan I think we can embrace in order to give structure to our proclamation. It is the problem of proclaiming the point of the parable.

If there are people outside your congregation who have heard of the Good Samaritan, what do they likely assume the point of the parable to be? My guess is they would see it as a story about being good and doing good and helping other people. They might think of a motorist stopping to help change a tire or a stranger attempting to provide CPR or use an AED on someone in distress. Your state may even have an officially codified “Good Samaritan Law” which makes the same point. Doubtless many preachers have delivered sermons to this very effect (and possibly only to that effect).

At the same time, there are certainly preachers who have attempted to correct such a Law-focused reading by telling their hearers how this parable is entirely about Jesus. It is not about you being nice to others. It is about Jesus saving you. Jesus sees us wounded. Jesus is not afraid of being contaminated. Jesus pays the price. Jesus bears the burden. Jesus gives mercy and so we are saved.

The parable has been preached as a call to action. And the parable has been preached as a call to faith. I would suggest embracing the tension between these two emphases: The parable of the Good Samaritan is both a call to faith in Jesus and a call to love our neighbor. While this is not necessarily a theological paradox, I think a Paradox Maintained sermon structure could serve us well.

Passively receiving God’s grace in Jesus through faith because He does everything to save us while we are dead is pure Gospel. Loving our neighbors and sacrificially showing mercy is Law. Might it be that God speaks both truths to us in a single parable? This is the tension, or paradox, I suggest we explore.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is both a call to faith in Jesus and a call to love our neighbor.

1. Establish the tension

Someone is reading their Bible or listening to a sermon, and they are presented with the Good Samaritan. Now what? Should they wait on the Lord and receive from Him? Or should they be vigilant in looking for a neighbor who needs mercy? Briefly explore how this same parable has been taught in different, seemingly contradictory, ways. But what if it is meant to be both? Perhaps the parable of the Good Samaritan is both a call to faith in Jesus and a call to love our neighbor.

2. What if we lost the first part?

Instead of the parable of the Good Samaritan being both a call to faith in Jesus and a call to love our neighbor, what if it was just a call to love our neighbor? In that case, we would end up in the same mess as this teacher of the Law. Luke 10:29 makes it noticeably clear his goal was to justify himself, to save himself.

So, what does Jesus do? He tells a story about a person who could not save himself, a person who needs to be saved. This allows us to then see Jesus our Savior in the parable. Instead of us being the hero, Jesus is the hero. Along comes this man who is one of us but still an outsider, despised and rejected. He has compassion, heals, carries, and is willing to pay whatever the price, so the least of these might be whole.

Jesus saves. We cannot miss the call to faith in Jesus in this parable.

3. What if we lost the second part?

So, if this parable is so obviously a call to faith in Jesus, maybe that is all it is. Instead of the parable of the Good Samaritan being both a call to faith in Jesus and a call to love our neighbor, what if it was just a call to faith in Jesus?

This is especially tempting if we focus on Luke’s words in 10:29. But it is harder to hold to the “just a call to faith” aspect when we listen to what Jesus Himself says in 10:37: “You go and do likewise.” We cannot dismiss Jesus’ call to go and show mercy to others merely as hyperbolic law which shows us our need for a Savior.

This is very much a real call to action. It is not a self-justifying action, to be sure. But it is a call to love others and show mercy, nevertheless. You might tell an imagined narrative of someone who hears this parable, trusts in Jesus, and then immediately walks by an opportunity to show mercy. As they walk past, they feel totally justified and even self-righteous, since they know the parable is really about Jesus. Their appreciation of God’s grace keeps them from showing love, because they have read the parable Christo-centrically instead of anthropocentrically.

4. Re-establish the tension

The Good Samaritan is both a call to faith in Jesus and a call to love our neighbor.

The Good Samaritan is both a call to faith in Jesus and a call to love our neighbor.

It is first and foremost about Jesus saving us. Rather than us doing something to inherit eternal life through self-justification, God makes us alive in Christ Jesus who paid the price for our eternal well-being.

At the same time, Jesus calls us to go and do likewise. Freely you have received, freely give. Christ works for you and in you, and Christ also works through you.

Closing note: I would encourage you to avoid making this about evangelism. It may be that God opens hearts and ears to hear the Gospel as His people live lives active in mercy, but we do not love others to leverage them into the Kingdom. To do so would be to fall into the same pitfall as this teacher of the Law. He wanted to use others for some other end, rather than love them as a neighbor. We can love without expecting anything in return; either from God as a reward or from the people as a debt to be repaid.

The Good Samaritan is both a call to faith in Jesus and a call to love our neighbor.

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 10:25-37.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 10:25-37.

Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Peter Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 10:25-37.