“What Shall I do to Inherit Eternal Life?”

By Akin Ojumu

Throughout His earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus drew on witty parables to elucidate His salvation messages. These insightful fables were often poignant, and the compelling tales usually packed a punch. The parables were cryptic with its meaning hidden from those with hardened hearts. The stories were encrypted; only those who desired the truth of God were given the keys needed to break the encryption code.

Of the more than forty parables that Jesus told, none is more popular than the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The parable has inspired painting, sculpture, satire, poetry, photography, and film. The phrase “Good Samaritan”, meaning someone who helps a stranger, derives from this parable, and many hospitals and charitable organizations are named after the Good Samaritan (Wikipedia).

So widely known is this parable in pop culture that it’s prominently featured in secular books such as “Good Samaritans” by Will Carver and “The Last Good Samaritan” by Chris Thomas. The parable is the theme of movies such as the Samaritan and Marvel’s Daredevil. Artistic depictions of the Good Samaritan have been featured in the works of famous artists such as Rembrandt and Vincent van Gogh.

Despite the popularity and widespread acceptance of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, it remains one of the most misunderstood parables in the Bible. From the intervening years of the Church’s history and up to contemporary times, several meanings and interpretations have been ascribed to the Good Samaritan parable by a potpourri of Bible scholars and Bible illiterates. Not surprisingly, many of these interpretations completely miss the point of the story.

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37)

Most people understand the Good Samaritan parable to be a story about kindness, compassion, and generosity. To many, Jesus was here teaching us to love our neighbor as ourselves and to always be willing to come to the aid of anyone in need of help even if they are complete strangers and foreigners.

While that’s all well and good, showing kindness, compassion, and generosity is not primarily the point of the Good Samaritan story. This parable is really a salvation story. In this narrative, Jesus was teaching the listeners what it’ll take for them to inherit eternal life. The instruction Jesus was passing to His audience here was the requirements and qualifications for making Heaven.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is Jesus’ personal evangelism to a self-righteous religious man who thought he had eternal life in the pocket of his long flowing robes with broadened phylacteries and longer than usual tassels.

The reason I know this is because the entire conversation to which the Good Samaritan parable is the conclusion was prompted by a question asked of Jesus by a certain lawyer. This clever by half expert in the Law of Moses came to Jesus with the intention of getting Him to say something that could later on be used as legal basis for His arrest. Unlike those who came to Jesus seeking eternal life, this religious scholar came to set a cynical trap.

“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”” (Luke 10:25).

Next time, we’ll examine Jesus’ response to the lawyer’s tongue-in-cheek question.


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