Some have hastily concluded, in reading the parable of the good Samaritan, that the Lord answered the question, "Who is my neighbour?" by pointing out that wherever there is need we should do our duty towards our neighbour. But it should be observed that the man who fell among thieves is not mentioned as a neighbour towards whom the other acts, but the Samaritan was neighbour unto him. This is another principle of acting altogether to what was in the lawyer's mind when he said, "Who is my neighbour?" and stands out in contrast with it, because the lawyer merely wished to justify himself; i.e. to have clearly defined those who had any claim upon him, that he might have no outstanding debts. We know for ourselves the satisfaction in being able to say, "I owe nothing." Thus what prompted that question was really love to himself, and not love to his neighbour. Where love is in exercise, it asks not Who? but has its own delight in acting apart from the question of who deserves it. And this is the principle of grace which is here shown out in contrast to the principle of law, which was the fulfilling of duty towards one's neighbour. The one is meeting claim, the other is meeting need apart from the question of claim altogether.
And this is why the term "Samaritan" is employed, to present one on whom there was no claim; "for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans;" so that the Samaritan acts from himself, and not from any claim the other had on him. And this brings out what the gospel of the grace of God is. It is not the fulfilling of claim or promise, but the acting out of God's love to the lost. There were no promises to Adam, and a sinner has no claims upon God. Forgetfulness of this often keeps souls from having the blessing of the gospel; they will not have it for nothing. If they can establish some claim, whether by their prayers or religious observances, they would like it better. Why? Because this would be to give them some importance; but to be of no importance at all is humbling to the pride of man. It was this that kept the Syrophenician woman from the blessing at first. She pleaded the promises in saying, "Thou Son of David," and was thus putting in a claim on Him, when she had none, as a woman of Canaan. She was taking the children's (Jew's) place when she was only a dog, and so the Lord says, "It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs." Then she says, "Truth, Lord." She relinquishes all claim upon Him, and takes the place of deserving nothing; but there she gets everything. "Yet," she says, "the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table." The "yet" shows she had resources, though not now in the promises or in herself in anywise, but in Him and the love that brought Him down to meet the need of the lost. This was faith in Him, which He at once owns; for although He must deny her false claim, "He cannot deny Himself."
The Lord would willingly have been a neighbour unto the lawyer, and uses the law to produce a knowledge of his need; for the law is not a way of getting righteousness, as the lawyer was using it, but "by" it "is the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20), and this is how God uses the law. The Lord still further says, "Go and do thou likewise;" still that the man might know his deceitful heart, that such a principle of acting, i.e. in mercy, was foreign to his nature altogether, and that thus he might learn his need. We find the Lord always deals with souls according to their state; to a soul with felt need He would never say, "Go and do thou likewise;" or, "Strive to enter in at the strait gate;" as He says to another, who was merely inquisitive, and not needy.
One in writing on the parable briefly but forcibly makes the point of its teaching in these words: "It is the principle of grace in dealing as a neighbour, instead of the claim of God towards a neighbour." W. T. M.