It is said to have been St. Augustine who made the following explanation of the story in Luke 10, but it was probably the 4th century Chrysostomos before him, who explained it as this:
A man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, means he was walking away from God. Jerusalem is the city of God with the Temple and is the only place for reconciliation with God through offering. Jericho is the city of the curse as in Joshua 6:26; ‘Joshua laid an oath upon them at that time, saying cursed before the Lord be the man that rises up and rebuilds this city Jericho.’
During his descend, which is said to be one of the largest decent from one city to the other; 18 miles downhill, over a small path, the man was robbed. Robbers in all kind of variations exist. Robbers who steal not only wealth and money, but even more so someone’s dignity, job, hope, health and more through addictions ,forgery, you name it. Anything that will leave someone laying behind in the gutters of life or the gutters of our society.
First the priest passes by, also going downhill, walking away from God. The priest is the ultimate example of being a servant of God, but he simply steps over him. After the priest a Levite passes by, note; also going downhill from Jerusalem to Jericho. But the Levite whose people or tribe is appointed by God to stand in His presence and serve Him, evenso just steps over the wounded, helpless and hopeless man.
But then a Samaritan, a person of which the Jews in those days never wanted to be acquainted with, travels on the same road. Travelling means here that the Samaritan was going up on the road. He went the other way and was on his way from Jericho to Jerusalem. This man was not walking away from God, but on the contrary was on his way to God to find reconciliation and peace with God.
The Samaritan in the story is Jesus Christ Who became the definite means for acquiring reconciliation with God.
So far the explanation by the early Church Fathers on this parable.
All true and well, but we can say this because we’re at the other side of the events of what happened to Jesus Christ. We know the reason behind the death and resurrection of Christ, and so we understand the true meaning behind the parable.
But, what about the people hearing the parable? What do they make of it, when the lawyer asks: ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life’.
From a Christian perspective, after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we seem to put our emphasis, or focus, on eternal life. But, when we take the preceding word into its context, the parable might say something else to us as well.
When we focus not only on ‘eternal life’, but also on the word ‘inherit’, the parable tells us something more. The word ‘inherit’ in Greek and in Hebrew basically means the same which is ‘a lot’. Not a lot as many, but like a lot in the lottery.
In the OT casting lots is often done to divide a loot and it was done to determine which priest was going to assist in the Temple service. But, what’s more, the same word is used to divide Canaan in different sections for the Jews to live in; each was given by casting lot a particular piece of the land. So, from the word lot, derives the word inheritance. The land Canaan is given to the Israelites as an inheritance divided by lot.
For the Israelites ‘receiving by lot’ means that they did not conquer the land by their own power or strength, but that it was given to them by God. Ultimately, the word lot is rooted in the awareness of the people of the Old Testament that it is God Who exercises control. It is God leading the people into Canaan, and it is God Who assigns.
And when Jesus spoke this parable not much had changed about receiving by lot. When Jesus was crucified the soldiers divided His clothes by casting a lot. When the disciples choose another apostle to replace Judas, they cast lots to decide whom to choose.
So, what has been assigned by God, through casting a lot, becomes an inheritance for the Israelites. When you read Deuteronomy 6 it becomes obvious how important it is for the Israelites to keep God’s laws and commandments. Hence, what is mentioned here as eternal life is basically the permanent existence of Israel in the promised land.
The question raised here is not only about how we can live in eternity, but even more so how we live today. The Kingdom of God the lawyer was hoping for will not come about through the mind and hands of rulers and kings, but through keeping God’s statutes and to show loving kindness to our neighbour.
The answer given by Jesus to the lawyer, is as much valid today as it was in Jesus’ time. Jesus is giving here a lesson for life today and not primarily for eternal life. Therefore, the final words of Jesus at the end of the parable remain actual up to this day and beyond: ‘Go, and do likewise’.