Why Was the Good Samaritan Good?

Dee Bowman

JERUSALEM IS IN THE HILLS some 2,300 feet above sea level. Jericho is on a plain near the Dead Sea, some 1,300 feet below sea level. The road between the two cities, some 17 miles long, winds in a zig-zag fashion in order to accommodate the sharp drop. It provided an ideal place for robbers to ambush passersby. Josephus described the road as "rocky and desolate."

This road provides the setting for Christ's story of the Good Samaritan, one of the tenderest, most touching of all of Jesus' illustrations. Read the story in Luke 10.

Back during David's time, the priesthood became so numerous it had to be divided into twenty-four orders, each priest serving at the Temple in Jerusalem twice each year for a week. Priests often stayed at Jericho waiting their turn to serve at the Temple, so it was not an uncommon sight to see them on the road between the two cities.

The Levites were members of the tribe of priests, but who for some reason were not qualified for priestly service. They became servants to the priests, preparing the sacrifices, cleaning the utensils, etc.

Samaria was the capitol of the northern tribes following the division after the death of Solomon. In 722 B.C. the northern tribes were carried away by Assyria at which time many of the Jews were replaced in Samaria by foreign colonists (see 2 Kings 17:24). Intermarriage resulted, creating what came to be known at the Samaritans, a kind of half-breed Jew. For over four hundred years the Samaritans had been the object of Jewish segregation, scorn.

In the story of Jesus, a Jew had been robbed on the road to Jerusalem and left for dead. Along came a Jewish priest, a religious leader of his day, one who proclaimed himself the example of public morality. Rather than get involved, he chose to cross over on the other side. So did the Levite, himself a participant in the most religious ceremonies of his day and one who was in constant contact with the law. A Samaritan, seeing the situation, moved immediately to the role of benefactor. Not only did he provide the necessary emergency measures for the stricken man, but in an open show of neighborliness, the continuing care necessary for the wounded man's full recovery, even promising to remunerate the hospice for such services after he was gone. He was indeed the good Samaritan.

What was it that made the Good Samaritan good?


Compassion is feeling with someone. Compassion and empathy are kin. Arthur Gordon says empathy is "the imaginative projection of one's own consciousness into another being." Compassion is more than feeling, but actually becoming part of the situation. The Good Samaritan was compassionate.


There was danger involved in the Samaritan's actions. Sometimes robbers would stage events of this sort and, playing on emotional response, pounce on the respondent. The Good Samaritan responded in spite of the risk involved.


The Samaritan spontaneously reacted to the situation in spite of all the negatives which surrounded it. He obviously had reacted similarly in dozens of situations of lesser importance. He was willing to invest his own personal safety, comfort, and money in being a good neighbor.


The characteristics of the Good Samaritan should be ours. (1) He was moved by compassion. He not only noticed, he responded. The compassionate person is always a "with feeler," no matter the situation. (2) He was not afraid to get involved - in spite of potential personal discomfort. The mind set which does not respond to the situation may show recognition, but not concern. Fear of circumstances, or of being hurt, or other potential dangers do not deter one who cares enough to project himself into the lives of others. The fact that we're apt to get hurt should not alter the situation. (3) He had trained himself to help. We, through the rapid and consecutive handling of life's little inequities, form the same habitude of caring he had.

The Good Samaritan did not perform on this occasion so he would forever have a place in Luke's gospel - but because that's the kind of man he was.

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