In this passage, the Pharisees have just brought a lawyer (who would be an expert in scripture and Jewish law) to test Jesus, stumble him in front of a crowd, and prove that He is not the real Messiah.
In the public arena, the lawyer outwardly shows reverence for Jesus as a rabbi by standing to address Him, but the question he asks is almost insulting. Being an expert in the law, the lawyer would most certainly already know the answer to this question: And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (v. 25)
Jesus answers the lawyer with a question, putting the burden of answer back to him (v. 26-28).
He said to him, "What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?"
So he answered and said, " 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,'and 'your neighbor as yourself.'" And He said to him, "You have answered rightly; do this and you will live."
Now the lawyer has been publicly embarrassed. He is an intelligent man who knows how to handle himself professionally, but in asking, "Who's my neighbor?" the man has not sought truth, but has been looking for a loophole or an excuse not to obey the law he already knows. Do you ever do this with God? Are there questions you bring to Him ("I know she broke up with me, but is this the woman I'm supposed to marry?"), already knowing the answer in your heart and choosing not to accept the truth?
But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" (v. 29)
Beginning in verse 30, Jesus answers the man's question with a story, using the real-life setting of the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, a dangerous and fairly narrow road seventeen miles long. In this story, a man is lying half dead and unclothed on the side of the road. We know no more about him, whether he is a Jew or a Gentile, his occupation, or any of his connections.
First, a priest passes by, probably heading back to his family after serving in the temple in Jerusalem. As he sees this man, he is faced with a choice: to help or to keep walking. This is not an easy decision, as being involved with a non-Jew would make him unclean, as would having any contact with a dead person. If he became unclean, the process to restore his cleanliness would take weeks of separation from his family. (By the way, serving God is always sacrificial, not convenient. People always come to us for help at the wrong time, and it is costly, always presenting a choice and a sacrifice.) The priest does not want to make that sacrifice, so he continues on his journey.
Next along the road comes a Levite. A Levite's job in these days was to support the priest and finish the priest's work. He would always be one step behind the priest, so it is not surprising that he is next to come along this hurting man on the road. He could probably see pretty far ahead of him on the road, and so having witnessed the priest's reaction to encountering the injured man, and he does likewise.
Jesus continues in verse 33:
But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.' So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?"
And he said, "He who showed mercy on him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
Samaritans were half-breeds and considered defiled among the Jewish people, Jesus' audience. It would have been irritating to the crowd that the Samaritan is the hero of the story, and so Jesus drives home His point: no matter who you are or what your responsibilities are, the greatest thing you can do is acknowledge someone, have compassion, and give what you have to assist him or her.
You can do this too. Pastor Ricky and his family just returned from Haiti where they met a young girl they have been supporting. He encouraged all of us to do the same. One thousand children are waiting to be sponsored! Giving $35/month may be a sacrifice, but it is worth sacrificing for the sake of another so his or her life can be changed.