The Parable of the Good Samaritan raises many questions. How do we relate to people who are different from us? What is our responsibility towards the many hurting people in our world? Who is our neighbor?
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:36-37).
“The Word is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). Christ often cuts deep into the heart of what we believe; His truth frequently threatens our comfort.
Who Were the Samaritans?
Samaritans appear to have emerged from the intermarriage of Jews and pagans. When “Assyria conquered Israel” in 722 BC, “they took most of its people into captivity” and “resettle[d] the land” with foreigners; “intermarriages also took place.”
This group did not adhere to Jewish law — God’s law — as strictly as the Pharisees did. The Samaritans were influenced by pagan traditions. “They were the despised enemies of the Jews.”
In Luke 10, Jesus was speaking to a Jewish lawyer, someone well acquainted with the history of Israel and of this long-standing enmity between the two groups. He and the rest of the audience were familiar with the fact that Jews and Samaritans hated each other. They would most certainly have crossed the street to avoid one another.
Jesus’ Simple Message in this Parable
In the Beatitudes, Christ had declared “blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7). Christ’s message was that if we wish to be reconciled to the Father, we must demonstrate love towards all people, regardless of race, religion, or social position.
Love is active, inconvenient, risky, and might not be reciprocated. What if, in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, the wounded traveler had died, or was unable to repay the Samaritan?
This parable foreshadows Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and the free gift of grace He offers to repentant sinners. Jesus took a risk: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He paid everything so that those who believed in Him for salvation would be saved while knowing many would reject the gift. God asks that we meet lost people in their painful messes and lead them to the cross, risking rejection but hoping to witness their salvation.
Why a Samaritan?
As with a hymn sung robotically to an age-old tune in the familiar rhythm, singers will often forget the song’s meaning. The lawyer had learned a lot about God, yet he did not have a relationship with Him or mercy for the broken.
Well-trained lawyers ask questions to which they already know the answer, and asking what must I do to inherit eternal life? “reveal[ed] that he had some insight into the matter of salvation.” He was “knowledgeable in Hebrew law” and “a scholar of Jewish literature.” The lawyer knew that he needed to wholly love God and love his neighbor, but the words had not impacted his heart.
Jesus’ parable and the choice of a Samaritan as the hero was like a new arrangement for those ancient words, set to a different tune and tempo. “The Master Teacher,” writes Wayne Jackson, invited the lawyer “to scrutinize his own attitude (if honest enough to do so), and perhaps come to a better understanding of his Creator’s expectation of proper social attitudes.”
Christ appears to be saying that even someone with a distorted understanding of the law could still reflect the heart of the Father more accurately than a law-abiding Jew. “Love your neighbor as yourself:” The words fell lifeless from the lawyer’s mouth, but Christ imbued them with meaning and power by illustrating how to live by them. “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).
Natural Enemies, Unnatural Love
Christ does not specify that the victim “attacked by robbers” and abandoned “half-dead” was Jewish, Samaritan, or otherwise. He is anyone. He is everyone. Jesus wants us to be moved by exceptional compassion; love that pays no attention to racial, religious, or socioeconomic categories.
The original Greek says that the Samaritan did more than “[take] care of” this man but offered “care and devotion” such as the kind “shown by parents and nurses to children.” The man’s emotional and financial investment in a stranger’s care, his generosity, was “staggering.” What the Samaritan paid to the innkeeper was “the equivalent of over $1500” or enough for “slightly more than three weeks lodging.” His love was extravagant.
He did not preach compassion to the innkeeper or return for payment from the beaten man. The Samaritan took responsibility financially and personally and lived out a belief: That your neighbor is the person who needs saving.
The word “splagma” used in the original Greek means “pity from your deepest soul.” The Samaritan’s heart was broken, reflecting a heart for God and the heart we receive from God for others when we embrace salvation through the mercy of Christ.
God invites us to see beyond the exterior of lifestyle, color, and even religious affiliation to the Imago Dei in everyone. He reminds us in Luke 10 that we were once the same as that broken, bleeding man. “Once you were alienated from God” and were even His “enemy” but you have been “reconciled [...] by Christ’s physical body through death” and are now “without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:21-22).
Our sin nailed Christ to the cross, and the Father has every right to despise us, yet He has made us “heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). This extravagant love should inspire us to love others extravagantly. His “radical grace” gives us a new identity that we are eager to share.
In this new identity, the Father also gives us dignity. Like the man who had been beaten and robbed in Jesus’ parable, we were once naked in need of covering. The Father clothed us in the blood of His Son. God rescued us from death for eternity, but He also restored us to communion with others and with Him today. He bestows value and dignity onto all who love Him, including those who are rejected by the world.
Royalty, ideally, serves their kingdom first. God established expectations for Israel’s kings. “The king must ‘not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left’” (Deuteronomy 17:20).
Colin Smith explains, “The most powerful man in the land must be the first to model commitment to the Law of God. Others were looking to him, and they would follow his example.” Expectations of leaders in the new church were the same. 1 Peter 5:3 says “that pastors and elders are to be ‘examples to the flock’ of God.”
All Christians inherit the kingdom of God. We are “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17). Therefore, those royal expectations apply to all believers. We do not merely inherit the kingdom; we inherit responsibilities.
The Good Samaritan represents Jesus, who paid every cost associated with healing the broken man. Like innkeepers, we are charged with the duty to care for certain individuals who come into our lives, broken by sin; alienated from God.
The Good Samaritan gave instructions to the innkeeper, and we have no idea what followed: how long it took for the man to recover; whether there were more bills to pay; if the man ever did recover. The story lacks a neat ending and many questions remain unanswered. Why would the innkeeper simply trust the Samaritan?
And who are we in this scenario? We were once the broken man. Our hearts and actions should now emulate those of the Samaritan. But perhaps we are really the innkeeper following the Samaritan’s (Christ’s) instructions because we know by His example that we can trust Him.
We want to serve Him by serving others. “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). Our means are limited, but Christ paid the price.
We are weak, but His Spirit empowers and equips us to do His work. “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us” (Hebrews 13:20-21).
Messy for Christ
The Samaritan provides an example of risk-taking love, and those who love Christ are inspired to follow that example. Picture the Samaritan treating this stranger’s wounds, pouring out expensive oil and the wine that would have quenched his thirst.
Imagine him tearing clean, costly cloth, perhaps from the very garments he wore, to bind the bleeding man. Then he hoists this dirty, bloodied stranger onto his donkey, his skin and clothes stained in gore and grime. Filled with splagma, he ignores the position of the sun and cares nothing for the inconvenience of this interruption.
Christ depicts the expectation that, as disciples, we will be “prepared in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2) to lead people out of their sin towards safety, healing, and forgiveness by His power. “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:18) “Them” is now “us.”
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.