Luke 10:33

ESV But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.
NIV But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
NASB But a Samaritan who was on a journey came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion,
CSB But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion.
NLT Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him.
KJV But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
NKJV But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.

What does Luke 10:33 mean?

Jesus is speaking to an expert in the law of Moses. They have established that to inherit eternal life, the lawyer needs to love God and his neighbor. What's crucial is to establish what that "love" means and what it looks like in practice. The lawyer is used to arguing the finer points of the Law, so he asks Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:25–29).

Jesus tells him the story of the good Samaritan. A man is beaten up, robbed, and left for dead. Two religious leaders—a priest and a Levite—see the man and pass by. Surely, if "loving your neighbor" included helping a half-dead man in distress, the leaders would respond, but they don't (Luke 10:30–32). The lawyer may think whatever love he has shown is enough.

The story continues. It is not the religious Jews who stop to help. Instead, rescue for the injured man comes from someone seen as an enemy: a Samaritan. Centuries before, the northern kingdom of Israel practiced such great idolatry that God allowed Assyria to take them into exile. The Samaritans in Jesus' time were descendants of the poorest of the Jews and the pagan immigrants the Assyrians implanted from other conquered nations. Samaritan religion was a mix of pagan religion and God-worship (2 Kings 17). Jews of Jesus' era hated them for their mixed ethnicity and their polluted version of Judaism. Not only that, but there was also political friction. When the Jews rebuilt the temple and walls around Jerusalem in Ezra and Nehemiah's day, there was strife (Ezra 4; Nehemiah 6:1–9; 13:28–29), leading to the Samaritans building their own temple on Mount Gerizim. About a century-and-a-half prior to Jesus' earthly ministry, the Hasmoneans destroyed that Samaritan temple, along with much of their land. The Samaritans sided with the Romans when they conquered Judea around 63 BC, and later Herod the Great did much to rebuild. It seems some Jews and Samaritans intentionally incited one another. For example, it is believed that some Samaritans defiled the Jewish temple with bones just a few decades prior Jesus' public ministry. During Jesus' ministry, a Samaritan town refused hospitality to Jesus and His followers; James and John offered to call down fire to destroy the town (Luke 9:51–56). Clearly the animosity was real.

Shortly before this interaction between Jesus and the lawyer, Jesus prayed to God, thanking Him that He hid His truths from "the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children" (Luke 10:21). This lawyer is the pinnacle of Jewish wisdom and understanding, as are the priest and Levite in the story. The Samaritan, on the other hand, doesn't even accept the proper worship of God; yet he knows how to love.

When the lawyer said he knew he needed to love God and others, he used the Greek word agape which means a self-giving love that sees to the needs of others. Jesus uses "compassion" which means sympathy or pity. Later, the lawyer will say the Samaritan showed "mercy" to the victim: kindness for someone in need (Luke 10:37). Jesus teaches the lawyer that to love your neighbor is to compassionately act on their behalf, even if they hate you (Luke 10:27–37).

The lawyer is not the only person listening to Jesus; the disciples are there, too. They have seen some Samaritans welcome Jesus and other reject Him (Luke 9:51–56). Soon after they establish the church, Peter and John will witness a great number of Samaritans accept Jesus as their savior (Acts 8:4–8, 14–17). In this section (Luke 9:51—19:47), Jesus prepares the disciples for their future work. They make many missteps, but their eventual acceptance of the Samaritan believers is a credit to them and God's unifying work in His church (Galatians 3:25–29; Ephesians 2:11–22).
What is the Gospel?
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