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How Does the Parable of the Good Samaritan Teach Us about the Plan of Salvation?

KnoWhy #667 | April 18, 2024

“But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.”

Luke 10:33–34

The Know

One day, a “certain lawyer” sought to test Jesus in His teachings as he asked the Savior, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). Jesus’s answer was simple, utilizing the man’s knowledge of the Old Testament scriptures to answer his own question: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself” (Luke 10:27; cf. Deuteronomy 10:12).

Then, in an attempt to “justify himself,” the lawyer further asked, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). The lawyer’s two questions—about the qualifications for eternal life and the identity of one’s neighbor—are key to understanding the parable of the good Samaritan.

Actually answering both of these two questions, Jesus then offered his most famous parable, involving a man who, while journeying from Jerusalem down to Jericho, fell among robbers and was left for dead. After a priest and a Levite passed him by without giving any aid, a “certain Samaritan” came along, poured on oil and wine and bound up the man’s wounds, took him to an inn, and then generously offered to reward the host for his care and lodging (Luke 10:30–35). After finishing the story, Jesus asked the lawyer which of these characters was a neighbor to the injured traveler. The lawyer replied, “He that shewed mercy on him”—meaning the Samaritan (Luke 10:37).

John and Jeannie Welch have suggested that in addition to identifying the ideal qualities of a true neighbor (in answer to the man’s second question), this detailed parable gives “a summary of the plan of salvation, from the wounded man’s beginning in a holy place to the promise of reward to the innkeeper upon the rescuer’s coming again.”1 Early Christian interpretations of this parable likewise see in this parable a microcosm of the history of the human family and the promised blessings given to the faithful through the healing powers of Jesus Christ and His Atonement. Thus, the writings of early church fathers—such as Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and Irenaeus—can offer many important insights to modern Christian audiences.2

First, the certain man who traveled from Jerusalem to Jericho was understood as representing Adam (Luke 10:30). In addition to referring to Adam himself, the word adam in Hebrew can also mean “man” or “humankind.” So the traveler can be seen as a dual representation of both Adam and humankind in general, as all of us at some point or another find ourselves spiritually wounded and vulnerable. “We all have come down as Adams and Eves, subject to the changes of mortality,” write the Welches.3

It is also noteworthy that the man “went down from Jerusalem to Jericho” (Luke 10:30; emphasis added). Such a shift from an elevated place of glory (Jerusalem) to the lowest city on earth (Jericho) is a fitting analogy for the fall of Adam and Eve.4 Concerning the similar descent that we all make into mortality, John Welch observes,

the language in Luke 10 implies that the man goes down intentionally, through his own volition, knowing the risks involved in the journey. In the tale, no one forces the man to go down to Jericho; and for whatever reason, the person apparently feels that the journey is worth the obvious risks of such travel, which were well known to all people in Jesus’ day.5

The potential risk of the journey was made a reality when the man “fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead” (Luke 10:30). Just as Adam and Eve could not redeem themselves after their fall (Mosiah 3:16–17; Helaman 5:9), so too was this man in a wounded and fallen state, unable to heal himself or progress on his journey without aid. He was therefore in dire need of a Savior.

As for the thieves (actually “bandits”) that attacked the man, they can be readily associated with “the devil, his forces, evil spirits, or false teachers.”6 And, in that sense, we all face various types of damaging thieves in our mortal journey. While it might seem like the priest and Levite should have rescued the man from the ravages of these highway robbers, they nevertheless failed to do so.7 It was only the Samaritan, who belonged to a group of people despised by most Jews during Jesus’s lifetime, that was willing and able to do so.

Unsurprisingly, the good Samaritan was seen by early Christians as a representation of Jesus Christ Himself.8 Although despised by many of His own people, He is the only one truly capable of rescuing humankind from its fallen condition. According to the Book of Mormon, Jesus offered an atonement for the sins of the world because of His “bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men” (Mosiah 15:9). As for the good Samaritan, the “Greek word literally says that the Samaritan’s bowels were moved with deep, inner sympathy. This word is used in the New Testament only when authors wish to describe God’s divine emotions of mercy.”9

As a part of his ministering to the fallen traveler, the Samaritan poured “oil and wine” into the traveler’s wounds (Luke 10:34). This likely refers to olive oil, which was used in the holy anointing of kings and priests and also correlates to the reception of the Holy Ghost. The wine “may represent the blood of Christ washing away sin and purifying the soul, bringing healing peace.”10 Finally, the Samaritan took the wounded man to an inn where he could receive additional care. Early Christians saw this final act of love as Christ bringing the wounded soul to “the holy church,” where His disciples (including the innkeeper or head of the Church) could further watch over and care for the individual.11

As the Samaritan left the next day, he promised to come back and pay the innkeeper again, employing a somewhat unique word in the New Testament that is found only here and in Luke 19:15, referring to the time “when the Lord would return to judge the people.”12 Likewise, some day in the near future, Christ will again return to the world and judge how well His followers have attended to one another’s physical and spiritual needs and will reward them accordingly.

The Why

Although seemingly simple on the surface, the parable of the Good Samaritan brilliantly answers both of the lawyer’s two questions with multiple layers of meaning. Christ shows that obtaining eternal life isn’t just about fostering a subjective feeling of goodwill toward God, nor is it simply a matter of helping injured travelers in dire circumstances.

Rather, it is about filling our mortal lives with true, neighborly, Christlike charity, as framed in the broader perspective of the plan of salvation. And to that end, the parable offers a beautiful synopsis of the entire plan—of our fallen and wounded state, of Christ’s merciful desire and ability to heal, and of the Church’s role in nurturing our souls in preparation for Christ’s return.

According to Elder Neil L. Anderson,

The Savior is our Good Samaritan, sent ‘to heal the brokenhearted.’ He comes to us when others pass us by. With compassion, He places His healing balm on our wounds and binds them up. He carries us. He cares for us. He bids us, ‘Come unto me … and I shall heal [you].’ … Look forward. Your troubles and sorrows are very real, but they will not last forever. Your dark night will pass, because “the Son … [did rise] with healing in his wings.”13

One of the most beautiful aspects of the plan of salvation is the ability we have to work with Christ for the salvation of others, just as He works endlessly for us. When understood in this way, we, like the good Samaritan, each have a responsibility to care for lost and wounded souls that come across our path during our mortal journey.

“At one level,” write John and Jeannie Welch, “people can and should see themselves as good Samaritans, acting as physical rescuers and as saviors on Mount Zion, personally and directly aiding in the rescue of lost souls and all people in need. … By doing as the Samaritan, we join with the Savior in helping to bring to pass the salvation and eternal life of mankind.”14

Just as we may be good Samaritans for others, “Disciples will also want to think of themselves as innkeepers who have been commissioned by Jesus Christ to minister to those in need and to facilitate institutionally the long-term spiritual recovery of life’s injured travelers.”15 In the recent words of Elder Gerrit W. Gong, “Brothers and sisters, may we each warmly welcome all to His Inn,”16 where plenty of room is always to be found.

Further Reading

John W. Welch and Jeannie S. Welch, The Parables of Jesus: Revealing the Plan of Salvation (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2019), 34–43.

Neil L. Anderson, “Wounded,” October 2018 general conference.

John W. Welch, “The Good Samaritan: Forgotten Symbols,” Ensign, February 2007, 41–47.

John W. Welch, “The Good Samaritan: A Type and Shadow of the Plan of Salvation,” BYU Studies Quarterly 38, no. 2 (1999): 50–115.

 

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