The Jews loathed the Samaritans as a “mixed race” who were supposedly outside the grace and mercy of God. The amazing thing about the Good Samaritan’s example is that, without like-prejudice, he showed compassion on one who wanted nothing to do with him.
Notice how Jesus brought this home to the lawyer in a masterful way. When the lawyer correctly answered, “He who showed mercy on him”, the Lord responded, “Go and do likewise.” Thus Jesus was driving home to the law-expert the fact that a person’s heart must BE right before he can begin to DO right in the sight of God.
And changing hearts is the work of God’s Holy Spirit through the gospel. Only a heart newly-created by baptism and connected to Christ Jesus by faith can overcome the sinner’s natural self-righteousness, replacing it with a heart which shows true love for God and true compassion for our neighbor.
The selfless love shown in this parable by the Good Samaritan can be compared to the love and compassion which God’s own Son has shown us poor sinners, as Luther explains:
“But Christ, the true Samaritan, takes the poor man to himself as his own, goes to him and does not require the helpless one to come to him; for here is no merit, but pure grace and mercy; and he binds up his wounds, cares for him and pours in oil and wine—this is the whole gospel from beginning to end. He pours in oil when grace is preached ... cling firmly to this Samaritan, to Christ the Savior; He will help you, and nothing else in heaven or on earth will” (Sermons of Martin Luther, Vol. V., p. 30).
The final answer then to the question of the ages is: eternal life is not the result of something we poor sinners can or must do, but is the blessed result of what God has done for us through His Son.
The Gospel shows the Father’s grace,
Who sent His Son to save our race,
Proclaims how Jesus lived and died
That we might thus be justified.
It sets the Lamb before our eyes,
Who made the atoning sacrifice,
And calls the souls with guilt oppressed
To come and find eternal rest.
It brings the Savior’s righteousness
To robe our souls in royal dress;
From all our guilt it brings release
And gives the troubled conscience peace.
(Lutheran Service Book, 580:1-3)