The Good Samaritan
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
- Luke 10:30-35
Jesus shares this parable with a man who was a scripture-focused expert in the law and who wanted to feel confident that he had obeyed God’s command to love his neighbor as himself.
The story has a handful of main characters: the man who was beaten, left for dead, and rescued; a pair of temple officials (a priest and a Levite) who didn’t help the wounded man; and a good Samaritan.
The experts in the law (like the man who prompted Jesus to tell the story) and the temple officials (like the priest and the Levite in the parable) had significant disagreements. They were, in a way, like two warring political factions in the world of Second-Temple Judaism. They didn’t get along too well. But, then again, the Samaritans and their Jewish cousins didn’t get along too well either.
Part of the irony in this story is that the hero of the parable turned out to be a Samaritan. Can you see it? Imagine a story where a Democratic senator steps over the beaten man, followed by a Democratic congressman who also had no concern for the injured man. You’ve heard enough stories to know that the next character is going to be the hero. Who would you expect it to be?
Stories like these have the ability slip past our defenses. They challenge us without being obnoxious. They give us space to consider a different point of view.
Jesus’ parable tilts the conversation. Who can be the hero? Well, who would I want to help me if I were down and out, bedraggled and beaten, injured and alone? And who would I consider to have proven to be my neighbor?
We’re appropriately disappointed to see the priest and the Levite pass by the injured man. They’re too concerned with their own cleanliness and busyness and safety to help. We want to behave differently from them.
How can we be more like the Samaritan?