In the well-known parable of the good Samaritan Jesus answers the question of a lawyer who wanted to know how to get to heaven. Jesus asked him what the Law said (Luke 10:26, implying that God's word makes us wise for salvation - 2 Tim 3:15). The lawyer had the right answer - Love God and love your neighbor. Jesus himself said this was the correct answer (10:28), although he did not tell him that loving God and loving our neighbor is only possible through faith in Christ! The law points to Jesus, who fulfills it and empowers us to obey God as we believe.
But the lawyer wanted to "justify himself" (v29) [he was not loving God and neighbor and wanted to still be accepted]. He asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" This man wanted to narrow the list of people he 'had' to love. Just give me the minimum, Jesus! Who do I really have to love?
Jesus answered by telling the story of the good Samaritan. A man (presumably, a Jew, since both Jesus and the lawyer are Jews) was beaten up by robbers on the road and left 'half dead' (v30). Two religious men passed him by without helping. But a Samaritan - a 'mixed breed' that the Jews "have no dealings with" (John 4:9; note the ethnic tension here) "saw him," and "had compassion" for him (v33). His compassion led him to action. He tended to the man's wounds and brought him to an inn and took care of him. He went further - he paid the tab and told the innkeeper to continue to take care of the man; he would pay the bill when he returned (vs 34-35). This Samaritan - the man the Jews would think most unlikely to help - had gone out of his way, interrupted his journey and dipped into his pocketbook - to help the man. It was not convenient, but he had loved.
Jesus now asks the lawyer which one was a "neighbor" to the man who was beaten. The lawyer responded, "The one who showed him mercy" (v37). Jesus said, "You go, and do likewise."
So the lawyer wanted to narrow the list of people he had to love, but Jesus encouraged him (even commanded him) to go and show mercy to the most unlikely of people.
This is truly a command for us as well. We are sent out as followers of Christ to preach the gospel and to show mercy as we live the gospel out. In that sense, we are to be like the good Samaritan in Jesus' story. But in a greater sense, we are not the good Samaritan in this parable; we are the man who was beaten up and left for dead!
The Bible says we were "dead in the trespasses and sins in which" we "once walked" (Ephesians 2:1). Through Adam's sin "death reigned" and "led to condemnation for all men" (Romans 5:17, 18). We were born in sin and lived in sin until Christ saved us. Just like the man in the story who was beaten by the robbers, we were helpless in our depravity, with no power to improve our condition. This is true, no matter how rich, educated or privilged we are in society.
But God, who owed us nothing (no Savior was provided for the angels who sinned!), had compassion on us! He loved us and sent his Son to rescue us from our sin. Jesus had compassion on us and inconvenienced himself (Philippians 2:6-8) to come to our aid. When we were helpless, Christ rescued us who by grace believe, through his death and resurrection! Jesus is the good Samaritan in this story!
Now consider the implications of this as we seek to help those around us. If we were the good Samaritans - the rescuers - we would have reason to boast. We would reach down from our lofty heights to save the weak and needy, lifting them up to our great position out of the goodness of our own heart. But because we ourselves have been rescued by Christ, we come to the needy on equal ground with them! We do not preach ourselves, but Christ (2 Cor 4:5). We come to the helpless, the poor, the weak, not as rescuers, but as fellow rescuees, proclaiming the greatness of the Rescuer, Jesus Christ! This makes all the difference. The glory is not for us; not for our church or our ministry, but for Christ alone.
This is the difference between non-Christian social justice programs and the gospel-impacted followers of Christ. Glory to the Rescuer!